We're finishing our Pac-12 triplet rankings with Washington State at No. 1. Here are the parameters: We’ve selected a trio of skill players from each team in the conference.
The rules: Each player comes from a different position group, so the offensive version of this series features a quarterback, running back and wide receiver. We then ranked each program’s troika against the others in the Pac-12, and we unveiled each in reverse countdown order.
QB Luke Falk: In his first year as the starter, all Falk did was lead the Cougars to their best season in over a decade. Along the way, he shared first-team All-Pac-12 honors with the draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Jared Goff, was named the Sun Bowl MVP and engineered three last-minute game-winning touchdown drives. Whatever stigma exists in regards to Mike Leach quarterbacks being products of a pass-happy system shouldn’t apply here: Falk is the real deal. The one-time walk-on is a legitimate candidate for every major honor headed into a season in which the Cougars’ offense will be expected to be among the highest scoring in the country.
RB Gerard Wicks: Those outside the WSU fan base will be caught off guard by this, but the Cougs actually have one of the deepest stables of running backs in the conference and Wicks (107 carries, 610 yards, three touchdowns last year) is the headliner. The Cougars went 47 games without a 100-yard rusher under Leach before Wicks ran for 123 yards on 13 carries against Colorado last year. He’s shifty, he can break tackles, he can pass protect and caught 38 passes as a safety valve in his sophomore year. Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington compliment him well and many believe the most talented running back on the roster might be James Williams, who redshirted as a true freshman last season.
WR Gabe Marks: A potential All-American and Biletnikoff candidate, Marks already owns the WSU career receptions record (227) and is on pace to break the Pac-12’s career mark set by Colorado’s Nelson Spruce last year (294). He led the Pac-12 in touchdown receptions (15) – including this game-winner against UCLA with three seconds left. Like Falk, it’s easy to get bogged down with the numbers, but Marks is one of the more complete receivers in the country and is surrounded by several other talented pass-catchers.
Evaluation: The Cougars clearly have the most proven group of skill guys in the Pac-12. There is high-end talent along with impressive depth and while that, of course, doesn’t guarantee anything, it has raised expectations considerably in Pullman. Not since the early Bill Doba years has there been as much optimism going into a season.