ESPN.com Insider Ryan Magee looks at five promising rebuilding jobs for 2012, and he rates Washington State as a team "finally turning the proverbial corner."
Here's what he writes as he predicts the Cougars will be heading to their first bowl game since 2003 -- you might recall the Cougs' upset victory over Texas and Vince Young in the Holiday Bowl:
Now, let's not go crazy here. After 14 wins in five years, Wazzu isn't going to suddenly win 11 games and go to the Rose Bowl for the first time in nearly a decade. But as poor as ousted head coach Paul Wulff's four-year record was, last year's team showed remarkable improvement, the kind of improvement that new boss Mike Leach should be able to capitalize on.
They started three different quarterbacks in 2011, but still ranked ninth in the nation and second in the Pac-12 in passing, thanks in no small part to All-Pac-12 second team receiver Marquess Wilson. The Cougars improved their points per game output from 20 to 30, and increased total offense by nearly 90 yards per game. The defense allowed 57 fewer total yards, 63 fewer rushing yards, and four fewer points per game than the season before.
I also see Washington State taking a strong step forward in 2012. Even with a new head coach in Mike Leach and an entirely new staff, the Cougars set up well for becoming bowl eligible. My one quibble with Magee's take is he list quarterback as a question mark. Leach has two strong options in Jeff Tuel, the 2010 starter who was hurt most of last year, and Connor Halliday, a freshman who performed extremely well late last season before getting hurt himself.
While Tuel is the favorite to win the job, it certainly will be a competition worth watching this spring and during fall camp. Whoever prevails will have a strong crew of receivers to spread the field, as Leach loves to do.