Hope and concern: Washington State

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Tenth in a series on grounds for optimism and worry.

Biggest reason for hope -- The running game should improve.

A solid running game would solve a lot of the problems that plagued Washington State last year. Or at least significantly help them. There are reasons to believe that can happen. For one, four starters, including underrated center Kenny Alfred, are back on the offensive line, as well as three others with starting experience. Some of those guys were too young in 2008 and were physically overwhelmed. That shouldn't be as much of a problem after a year in the weight room. What's more, running back might be the Cougars deepest position, with Dwight Tardy, James Montgomery and Logwone Mitz forming a solid threesome. An improved run threat could cause a ripple effect, improving the passing game, limitings turnovers and sacks and allowing the defense to rest.

Biggest reason for concern -- The defense lacks depth and experience.

The Cougars were historically awful on defense last year, surrendering nearly 44 points per game. Just six starters are back, including just three in the front seven. The hope is some redshirts and JC transfers will be able to step in, but that's far from a sure thing. It didn't help either that promising defensive end Cory Mackay suffered a serious back injury after spring practice, or that defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm, a JC transfer who redshirted last year, is nursing a troublesome back. Or that two likely starting defensive backs, Romeo Pellum and Devin Giles, were dismissed from the team. If the Cougars are going to be competent defensively in 2009, guys are going to have to grow up quickly.