Midseason report: Washington State

Washington State Cougars

Record: 1-5, 0-3 Pac-10

Washington State has lived up to low expectations. In the preseason, the Cougars were a unanimous pick to finish last in the Pac-10. And at midseason the likelihood of that happening appears even more certain.

Over the past two weekends against UCLA and then Oregon, however, the Cougars played competitive games into the second half. Sure, they ended up losing both by decisive margins. But the most reasonable hope in the preseason was a competitive team that showed improvement in a deep Pac-10. That seems to be happen in coach Paul Wulff's third season in Pullman.

Things didn't start off great at Oklahoma State, where they lost 65-17 and gave up 544 yards. That was the start of a trend. The defense was expected to be vastly improved. So far that hasn't been the case.

The Cougars grabbed their only win over Montana State in week two, but it required a late comeback to beat an FCS team. There was a fairly competitive loss at SMU, but things hit a low point when the Cougs were battered 50-16 at home by USC in front of mostly empty stands.

That's when "Wulff on the hotseat" gained momentum. And it's also where the Cougars seemed to find a little more fight. They were tied with UCLA heading into the fourth quarter and had a chance to close within six points of then-No. 3 Oregon if not for an interception on the Ducks 12-yard line.

While 14- and 20-point losses don't sound very good, they suggest that the Cougars margins of defeat might get even tighter in the season's second half. Heck, they might even win a game.

And competitiveness might be enough to keep Wulff in Pullman for a fourth season.

Offensive MVP: Jeff Tuel was thrown into the fire as a true freshman, but he's shown clear advancement as a sophomore. He's completing 58 percent of his passes and averaging 246.3 yards passing per game with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. It's worth noting that his pass efficiency rating is higher than the slightly more famous QB at rival Washington, a guy by the name of Jake Locker.

Defensive MVP: A defense that gives up 43 points per game doesn't really have an MVP, but linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis leads the Cougars with 40 tackles. He also has four tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and five passes defended.