Washington State season recap

Washington State's season was half-full. The (mostly) empty half is where the wins go, however. Wins are what coach Paul Wulff needs in 2011 to keep his job for a fifth season.

But the Cougars were good enough -- improved enough -- this season for Wulff to get a shot next fall. After two seasons of getting blown out just about ever week, Washington State was consistently competitive in 2010, and it ended a 16-game Pac-10 losing streak when it won impressively at Oregon State.

Things didn't start well. The Cougars were blown out in the season opener at Oklahoma State (most at that point thought the Cowboys would finish near the bottom of the Big 12) and then needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat Montana State, an FCS team. A 50-16 loss in a half-empty Martin Stadium to USC suggested that Wulff might be in trouble.

But thereafter the Cougs seemed to find a rhythm. They still lost, of course, but games weren't over at halftime and the offense, in particular, was playing better. Scoring 21 fourth-quarter points and giving Stanford a bit of a scare showed the team was still fighting.

But a 42-0 loss at Arizona State on Oct. 30 showed no fight, and again Wulff's critics started to chirp.

Over the final three games, however, the Cougars played competitive football. They led California at halftime before losing 20-13. They whipped the Beavers 31-14. They lost the Apple Cup on a late TD pass 35-28 a year after losing at Washington 30-0.

The question: Will the take a step from just being competitive to actually winning a few games next year?

Offensive MVP: True sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel took the proverbial "next step"in 2010, passing for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns, while completing just under 60 percent of his passes. With most of his skill players coming back next year, Tuel could become a darkhorse for All-Conference honors.

Defensive MVP: True freshman safety Deone Bucannon didn't become a full-time starter until midseason, but he still led the Cougars with 84 tackles, including four for a loss. He also led the Cougars with seven pass breakups and tied for the team lead with two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He'll be the centerpiece of an experienced secondary in 2011.

Turning point: The 42-0 loss at Arizona State on Nov. 6 was horrible in every way. It seemed to indicate the Cougars had lost their fight. But the fact that they played their best football in the three games after that is probably why Wulff kept his job. Wulff's ability to refocus and rally his players showed he still had his their attention.

What’s next: Wulff isn't out of the rough yet. He's must translate just competitive to wins next year. Do the Cougars need to reach a bowl game for Wulff to be back in 2011? Maybe. When you look at what they have coming back, however, a bowl game isn't an unrealistic expectation. While the offense looks to be pretty darn salty next fall, the big question will be the defense, which ranked among the nation's worst in most statistical categories this season.