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Washington State season review: Cougars deliver best campaign in more than a decade

Washington State won three games in 2014. It was, in short, a disastrous season, coming on the heels of a catastrophic 2013 bowl game in which the Cougars blew a late lead to lose 48-45 to Colorado State.

So, to put it bluntly, Uncle Mo’ wasn’t on Washington’s State’s side entering 2015. Mike Leach’s program needed a revival, and it got just that from a much-improved defense and a refined Air Raid attack. The Cougars finished this regular season at 8-4, their best mark since 2003. They were also in the thick of the Pac-12 North race until the very end; in fact, it was Washington State that dealt Oregon an ultimately fatal blow with a 45-38 overtime victory at Autzen Stadium.

So the Cougars have been very competitive again in 2015, and that has made this a very successful season on the Palouse. As expected, quarterback Luke Falk put up dizzying numbers in Leach’s system. Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has found a way for this team to force turnovers: Washington State has netted 21 takeaways, up from eight in 2014.

Team MVP: Falk put on the statistical show we have come to expect from the Air Raid. His 4,266 passing yards tops the Pac-12, and his 36 touchdown passes is only one shy of Jared Goff for the league lead. Perhaps most impressively, Falk has thrown only eight interceptions in 591 attempts, a spectacular ratio.

Season highlight: This one is a coin flip. Beating Oregon at Autzen Stadium was certainly memorable. But so was a dramatic trip to the Rose Bowl later in the season, one in which Falk delivered a clutch, game-winning drive capped by a touchdown pass to Gabe Marks with 3 seconds left. Falk came through in crunch time in both of his team's 2015 defining moments.

Season lowlight: Falk suffered a scary injury that brought out the injury cart in a November victory over Colorado. He wasn't able to play in the following week's Apple Cup at Washington, and the Huskies spanked the Cougars 45-10. It's never fun to lose big to a rival; it's especially unpleasant when that defeat adds a sour finish to an otherwise solid season.

Biggest reason for optimism heading into 2016: Falk is only a sophomore, meaning he'll be back to orchestrate the Air Raid next year, and he'll have several of his current weapons along for the ride. Furthermore, the Cougars developed a credible rushing threat this season -- they've compiled nearly 1,000 yards on the ground -- and their entire trio of running backs (Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington) is set to return. More balance can only help a defense that appears to be on the right track.

Biggest area of need/improvement heading into 2016: Despite the defense's upward trend, there should be concern about some key departures: Lineman Destiny Vaeao and linebacker Jeremiah Allison both exhaust their eligibility, and the Cougars must also replace a couple of big offensive linemen. Since this program hasn't seen consistent success in quite some time, it'll be interesting to see how WSU performs following a winning season.

Odds and ends: A Washington State passer has now led the nation in yards per game for two consecutive years. Last season, Connor Halliday held the lead (430.3 yards per game). This time, Falk checks in on top at 387.8 yards. Falk has thrown about five fewer passes per game than Halliday, though -- a testament to Washington State's more visible run game.