Previewing the Washington State Cougars in 2015:
2014 record: 3-9
Final grade for 2014: C-
Most important player: As ESPN's Kyle Bonagura noted, Marks "makes the departure of Vince Mayle (106 catches, 1,483 yards, 9 TD in 2014) a much easier pill to swallow."
Impact newcomer: DB Darrien Molton. The freshman had a strong start to fall camp, collecting two interceptions during the Cougars' first practice. Considering how bad the Wazzu secondary was last season (296.6 passing yards per game, second-worst nationally) and how terrible it was at causing turnovers (just three interceptions, also second-worst nationally), the emergence of someone like Molton could be a very, very good sign.
Best-case scenario for 2015: 7-5. The Cougars start the season 4-0, take care of business against Oregon State and Colorado and finish the regular season on a high note when they win at Washington. Seven wins takes the Cougs to the postseason and ensures writers another month of glorious Mike Leach quotes.
Worst-case scenario for 2015: 3-9. Washington State drops a game during the non-conference schedule and then wins only once in the more evenly matched games (Colorado or Oregon State) while struggling mightily against the Huskies in the season finale.
Biggest remaining question mark: What is this defense going to look like? A new defensive coordinator from Missouri, a new outside linebackers coach from Michigan and a new system mean there was quite a bit of turnover in Pullman this offseason. The result? We’ll see. The offense will do what a Leach offense always does, so if the defense can take even a few steps forward, it’s a good sign the Cougars could win more games in 2015 than they did in 2014.
Breakout player: Falk. He became a household name around the Pac-12 last season as a freshman, but most football fans across the country didn’t really know much about him. Give him an entire season to do what he does, and even people on the East Coast will be discussing the sophomore QB out of Pullman.
Most important game: Nov. 27 at Washington. This rivalry still means a lot to both teams and fan bases, but at this point, I’d say there’s a decent chance the Cougars’ postseason fate could rely on picking up a win in Seattle. That would make the Apple Cup that much more intriguing.
Upset watch: Oct. 31 vs. Stanford. By the time the Cardinal make their way to the Palouse, the Wazzu defense should be gelled and able to compete with Kevin Hogan and the Stanford offense. Meanwhile, the Stanford defense, which returns just three starters, could find itself in a very tough battle with Falk, who'll have had seven more games under his belt by Oct. 31, and his receivers.
Class of 2015 signee to watch: There are never enough receivers to go around in a Mike Leach offense, and without Vince Mayle, there will be even more receptions to go around in 2015. After Gabe Marks and River Cracraft made quick impressions in Pullman, things could line up for another former Southern California receiver to do the same in Kyle Sweet, whose terrific combination of hands and route-running starts his college career. -- Erik McKinney
Class of 2016 storyline: There isn’t the headliner yet of a Jeff Farrar in 2014 or Thomas Toki in 2015, but it’s a solid nine-man class thus far with a few big fish still out there. The Cougars always seem to pull in a prospect or two from American Samoa, and that could pay big dividends this year, including a big-time prospect in offensive lineman Frederick Mauigoa. With four wide receivers already committed, attention can shift to the front seven on defense, especially the defensive tackle position. -- Erik McKinney
Projected 2015 finish: Battling with Washington for the fourth-place spot in the North. If it comes down to the Apple Cup, it makes that game that much better, and no one at the Pac-12 Blog would be complaining about that.