Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Washington State Cougars

Washington State Cougars
The Washington State Cougars came to life in 2016 under Mike Leach, and there are plenty of pieces in place to make sure that the party has not ended. The offense still promises plenty of explosiveness under QB Luke Falk, and the defense showed major improvement last season, allowing just over 26 points per game. In short, the Cougars are still the best prepared team in the PAC-12 North to challenge the Washington Huskies this season, but is there enough in the tank to pull the upset and steal the North division in 2017?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Luke Falk is back, and there are few better QBs in the nation coming back in 2017 to major college football. Falk passed for 4468 yards and 38 TDs in the Air Raid offense last season, and he added 38 TDs to 11 INTs. He avraged 343.7 yards passing per game last season, and completed an amazing 70% of his passes. He should run one of the most efficient passing offenses that you will see all season from any given team.
Jamal Morrow and James Wicks will return at RB. The run game is very much secondary in this offense, but what they do have is explosive, big play ability out of the group that they have. Morrow averaged 6.39 yards per carry, and wicks averaged 5.4 yards per carry.
The Cougars lost some serious skill in Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, but they do return an exciting group of receivers to the fold this season, and there should be little drop off in play. Tavares Martin, Jr. will return as the leader this season. He caught 64-728-7 last fall. He is joined by Kyle Sweet (27-357-3), Robert Lewis (33-394-3), and Isaiah Johnson-Mack (35 receptions).
The line is solid as well, with the return of three seniors in Cody O'Connell (LG), BJ Salmonson (RG), and  Cole Madison (RT).
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
It's hard to pick apart anything in this offense, but there is a certain lack of depth at WR beyond the starts this season. Ten different Cougars caught at least 20 passes last season, but three of those players are gone, and two more are stepping into starting roles, leaving depth somewhat lacking. There is no doubt that the coaching staff will identify opportunities in camp, but right now, the numbers are lesser than a year ago.
PK Erik Powell simply struggled last fall. He hit just 9/15 FG tries in 2016, and is back to try once again. It would be good to find an alternate if he struggles again. The Cougars lost to Eastern Washington and Boise State by exactly three points per game. It would be brutal to lose games like that again.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Cougars have one of the most underrated DEs in the nation in Hercules Mata'afa. He finished with 13.5 TFLs last season and added five sacks, all as a sophomore. Look for him to breakout entirely in 2017. He will be joined at DE by Nnamdi Oguayo, who finished with 3.5 TFLs a year ago as a freshman. Daniel Ekuele is back at NT after finishing with 23 tackles last fall.
Peyton Pelluer is back at MLB for the Cougars, and led the team in tackles last fall with 93. He added 7.5 TFLs, and is one of the more active MLBs in the conference. He will be joined by WLB Frankie Luvu, who finished with seven TFLs on 46 tackles last fall.
The Cougars are in excellent shape at the Safety spots this fall with the return of FS Robert Taylor and SS Jalen Thompson. Thompson was rock solid in coverage, finishing with seven PBUs and 51 tackles. Taylor finished with 61 tackles on the year.
Erik Powell handled Punting duties as well last fall, and averaged a booming 48 yards per punt. He will be a huge piece to the puzzle with field position in 2017.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The RUSH spot is beset with lack of production returning with Dylan Hanser slated to start this fall. He finished with just 21 tackles last season as a reserve, while backup Logan Tago finished with just 12 tackles.
The CB spot will be a tough one as well. Darrien Molton is solid, as he finished with six PBUs last fall, but Marcus Strong is extremely inexperienced, and will be starting as a sophomore.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Montana State, 9/9 Boise State, 9/16 Oregon State, 9/23 Nevada, 9/29 USC, 10/7 at Oregon, 10/13 at California, 10/21 Colorado, 10/28 at Arizona, 11/4 Stanford, 11/11 at Utah, 11/25 at Washington
Final Overview
Washington State could very well push into 10 win territory this season, as I feel that they match up extremely well to beat Boise State at home this season, as they very nearly did on the road last season. Wins are assured against Montana State and Nevada in non con play, and USC comes to Martin Stadium early. Colorado and Stanford also come to Pullman, but the Cougars do go on the road to take on Washington in Seattle last fall. The time is now if the Cougars are going to pounce, and they should be one of the more underrated teams nationally speaking this fall. It should be another fun ride on the Palouse.

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