Washington State only won 1 conference game last year and wen 3-9 overall under new head coach Mike Leach. Leach compiled an 84-43 record while known as one of the most innovative offensive minds at Texas Tech. Leach should have more success and finish the season around .500 but he is in a division with Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Washington and California, gimmies are few and far between on the Cougars schedule.
Leach at one time was one of the hottest commodities at the NCAA level and he is known as being very quarterback friendly. He can be terse and rub people the wrong way but he usually gets results and that is something this program is counting on over the next 2-3 years.
Jeff Tuel was a quarterback that thrived in the system of Mike Leach although it didn’t always translate on the stat sheet. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is protecting them is in the mission and an area where Washington State failed miserably a season ago. Washington State quarterbacks were sacked 57 times, the one and only stat they led FBS schools in. Connor Halliday takes over the quarterback reigns and he has a huge arm. What is not there for Halliday is consistency and accuracy in the short passing game but he is more mobile than his predecessor. Teondray Caldwell and Leon Brooks are a nice 1-2 punch running the football and they need to stay healthy for Washington State to start competing in the Pac 12. I need to see more out of Teondray Caldwell before he is considered a legitimate draft prospect.
Best Draft Prospect: N/A.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Without a doubt the wide receiver position is where Washington State shows the most promise on offense as they have a stable of players who can contribute night in and night out. Brett Bartolone led the team with 53 catches a season ago as a freshman but the most talent in that class may be fellow starter Gabe Marks. Both players are undersized but speedy receivers who rely on timing and route running, something common in a Mike Leach system. Dominique Williams and Bobby Ratliff are the other starters and both give the Cougars some height at 6-2 while Isiah Myers and Ricky Galvin will both be used heavily and are equally as effective.
Best Draft Prospect: Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone 4th and 6th Round in 2016.
To say this portion of the team was the weakest link a season ago is the understatement of the year as I have pointed out they led the FBS in sacks allowed. Experience is not an issue as four of the five starters on the line are returning seniors. The only non-senior starter is one who actually is the best prospect and like the wide receivers chronicled above, is a sophomore. Gunner Eklund at 6-7 and 310 pounds is very light on his feet and mobile. I am currently projection him as a 3rd round prospect who has all the tools to become a 2nd or even 1st rounder by 2016. With a big year against top talent we could see him setting himself up to leave early in 2015. Guard John Fullington is another player who has draft potential as I have him rated as the 17th rated guard in the senior class in the preseason making him a 7th round prospect at this time.
Best Draft Prospect: Gunner Eklund OT 2nd/3rd Round 2016 (On radar for a possible 2015 early exit).
The line is a versatile one that employs multiple formations, shifting and movement. Washington State stayed in a lot of games a season ago since the defense averaged 3 sacks a game employing schemes allowing them to blitz from anywhere. Ioane Gauta showed up last year after being one of the most highly sought JUCO transfers in the country and played a little heavy at 315 pounds. Gauta is down to 285 and looks like he will be creating lots of havoc with sophomore star-in-waiting Xavier Cooper at defensive end. Gauta is not on many radars but I have a feeling that is going to change and Cooper could be gaining steam as an early entrant for 2015. With two huge talents along the line looks for some double teams on one player while the other creates mismatches and gets results. This is the reason why I feel we will be hearing about Gaunta in the 2014 Draft. Cooper is such a raw and explosive talent that his mere presence is going to create a boatload of opportunities for Gaunta to deliver.
Best Draft Prospect: Xavier Cooper 3-4 DE 3rd Round 2016 (Possible 2015 early entrant).
The linebackers fly around the football and but do not have the individual star power the units in front and behind them have. Cyrus Coen has the most promise and at 218 pounds he is sometimes used as a rover in the secondary when adding a 5th defensive back to the mix. Coen could be a 7th round choice in 2015 with his versatility and looks like a special teams player that could contribute at the next level right away. Darryl Monroe and Logan Mayes are talents you can’t sleep on and while range may be an issue tackling is not.
Best Draft Prospect: Cyrus Coen 7th Round/UFA 2015.
Four season seniors lead this class and they are topped by free safety Deone Bucannon, my preseason #12 safety prospect for 2013 making him a solid 4th round talent. Bucannon was 4th in the Pac 12 in tackles and has proven to be very physical and durable. Damante Carpenter and Anthony Carpenter are one of the best starting corner tandems in the West and both have showed prowess blitzing off the edge, something we see more and more of at the next level. The only question here is how good is the secondary? Some wonder whether they are as good as advertised or aided by the consistent pressure Washington State got a season ago. I feel as long as communication is not a problem in the ever-changing schemes and setups Washington State uses this team will prove many of its detractors wrong.
Best Draft Prospect: Deone Bucannon FS 4th Round 2014.
Another weapon is kicker Andrew Furney who seemed to come out of nowhere last season and wound up second team Pac-12. Accuracy is not quite where it should be if he wants to be considered for the NFL heading into his senior year but leg strength is not a concern. Furney drilled a 60-yarder last year and you better believe that at least has him on the radar for the 2014 Draft. I would not consider him a strong prospect at this time but if he improves upon his surprising 2012 campaign he could get a camp invite and make some noise.
Best Draft Prospect: Andrew Furney K UFA 2014.
I mentioned the conference schedule which is brutal and Stanford, California, Oregon and Washington will all be road tests in 2013. I feel this is a team that should be 6-6 and get a bowl birth and even at 6-6 I have them ranked due to their very tough opponents in the Pac-12 North. Washington State is a team that if their defense is getting to you then you are in trouble. Do not be surprised if we see this team pull off 1-2 upsets in 2013, they are headed in the right direction.
The influence of Mike Leach can be seen as the draft classes and recruits are getting better and better. 2015 and 2016 are showing some big prospects and the fact that Washington State is so visible against quality competition is only going to help their cause. We even have a couple of potential stars at the next level in offensive tackle Gunner Eklund and 3-4 defensive end Xavier Cooper. Both are sophomores so we only have a limited base to work with but the signs are there and both project as possible early entrants in 2015 and could wind up in the first three rounds with Eklund showing glimpses that a 1st round selection is not unheard of.