We've done our bowl primers, but now we take a quick look at teams that are sitting at home this holiday season.
WASHINGTON STATE (3-9, 1-8)
What went wrong this season? Believe it or not, it was the offense. If you go back and look at some of the fall scrimmages and spring games, the offense was putting up huge numbers. This team looked poised to seamlessly transition into the Air Raid. Quarterback? Check. Elite wide receiver? Check. Offensive line already built to pass block? Check. Crazy-smart new head coach ready to rally and excite the fan base? Check and check. It all seemed to make sense. But that wasn't the case. The quarterback play was inconsistent -- as was the week-to-week starter. It didn't help that whoever was quarterbacking was sacked -- on average -- almost five times per game. That was worst in the country. I know that running the football isn't a huge part of the game plan -- but averaging 29 yards per game on the ground certainly adds more pressure to the quarterback. And then there were the off-field distractions. Mike Leach's posture with the media and the clashes with certain players didn't help public perception. It appears most of that has sorted itself out. But it was just another cloud hanging over a real bummer of a season.
Low point: Not only did the Cougars lose to Colorado back in Week 4 (the only victory of the season for the Buffs), but they blew a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Instead of riding a three-game winning streak heading into their showdown with Oregon, the loss kicked off an eight-game losing streak in which the Cougars were outscored by an average of 37-19. Things pretty much spiraled from there. That is, until the Apple Cup. Let's give credit where credit is due.
How can it get fixed? For starters, the Jeff Tuel-Connor Halliday debate will be put to rest since the NCAA -- in its finite wisdom -- denied Tuel an additional year. Halliday will get some competition, but more than likely he'll head into spring knowing he's the starter. The constant looking over the shoulder and not knowing the status week-to-week had to be unsettling. Plus, Leach isn't for everyone. And some players on the roster simply didn't mesh with him. The more he gets "his guys" in there, the better off the Cougars will be.
Bowling in 2013? Probably not ... but I think the Cougars are closer than most think so I wouldn't be shocked if there are six wins out there. They open at Auburn, a team that struggled this past year and they are home to Southern Utah and Idaho. Both should be wins. Plus another offseason learning the systems will be helpful. The defense actually made pretty good strides transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4. They were one of the best teams in the country in tackles for a loss and sacks. But a lot of that had to do with Travis Long, who won't be around next year. With the nine-game conference schedule, the Cougars are on the road for five conference games next year. Not a good thing since they failed to win a conference game on the road this year and have just two conference road wins in the past three years. But the Apple Cup victory provided a little spark and some hope that change might come sooner than later.