2011 Record: (4-8, 2-7 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Mike Leach (first year at Wazzu, 84-43 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2003 Holiday Bowl: beat Texas 28-20
Out of Conference: 8/30 at BYU, 9/8 vs Eastern Washington, 9/14 at UNLV
Stat to Cheer: scored 10.2 more points per game in 2011 than in 2010
Stat to Fear: allowed 38 sacks in 2011 (last in Pac-12)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 7; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Deone Bucannon (80 tackles, 3 INT), FS Tyree Toomer (59 tackles), LB Travis Long (43 tackles, 4 sacks), CB Damante Horton (4 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: WR Marquess Wilson (82 rec, 1388 rec yards, 12 TD), QB Jeff Tuel (18 TD, 12 INT in 2010), RB Ricky Galvin (602 rush yds, 5.28 ypc, 5 TD), OT John Fullington
The Paul Wulff era ended in Pullman after four seasons and only nine wins. Wazzu went just 4-32 in Pac-10/12 play during the Wulff era but they did have their best season in his last year. Washington State was clearly better on offense last year (increase of 10.2 ppg, increase of 83.1 passing yards per game and an increase of 11 rushing yards per game). They also saw some improvement on defense (decreased points per game by four and decreased yards allowed by 57.3 yards per game). Being that the improvement came in year four of Wulff's coaching tenure, it was too little too late but it does provide Mike Leach with a starting point.
Mike Leach has some talent on offense as QB Jeff Tuel returns from an injury laden 2011 season to take the helm at QB. Tuel has big-time talent and word on the street is that he has learned the offense quickly. He could be poised for a big season. If something happens, the Cougars do have a back-up with some experience in Connor Halliday (9 TD vs 4 INT in 2011). At WR, Washington State has one of the best players in the league in Marquess Wilson. As a sophomore he finished third in the league in receptions, second in receiving yardage and second in TD receptions. Wazzu loses two of their other top receivers but they have some good young depth at the position and those players should benefit from Leach's system. The Cougars also have a nice weapon out of the backfield in sophomore Ricky Galvin. Galvin ran for over 600 yards last year but he also caught 28 passes out of the backfield and he could be a big weapon in the Air Raid offense.
Statistically, the Cougars were a middle of the pack Pac-12 defense but those stats are weighted some by their four wins. In their eight losses, they gave up 37 points per game and 444 yards. Leach has brought in Mike Breske to run the defense and they will be changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4. A key will be getting the right guy to plug up the middle and they hope that guy is going to be 300 lb JUCO transfer Ioane Gauta. During the transition to 3-4 look for Wazzu to use multiple defensive schemes depending on what fits their opponent the best. It's really going to be a wait and see with this defense. With the offense running the Air Raid, the defense could be on the field a lot and depth will certainly be a concern.
The difference between having Mike Leach and having Paul Wulff should mean a win or two for the Cougars depending on how quickly and efficiently they pick up the system. It will be interesting to see how quickly they pick up the offensive and defensive schemes and I'm sure there will be lots of ups and downs in Pullman this year. Look for improvement and look for Wazzu to flirt with a bowl game this year.
2012 Prediction: 5-7
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