Season review: Washington State

We begin a series on Monday reviewing each team in the Pac-12 in 2013. Most of these grades will reflect what the preseason expectation was compared to how the team finished, while also looking at statistical improvements (or failure to improve) from last year to this year.

We begin in reverse alphabetical order with Washington State.

Offense: Improvements across the board. That’s what you want to see, right? In Year 2 of the Mike Leach era the Cougars made significant gains in total offense, passing offense, and even some improvements in rushing offense (53.4 yards per game compared to 29 in 2012). But the name of the game is scoring points. And the Cougars averaged 31 points per game in 2013, up from 20.4 in 2012. I’d call an average of nearly 11 points per game improvement significant. Connor Halliday steadily improved as the season went on and finished with 34 passing touchdowns. Though the interception count of 22 is way too high. Gabe Marks is proving to be the weapon we thought he was with 74 catches and seven touchdowns, and 10 different receivers logged at least 20 catches. Worth noting, too, that the offensive line yielded 57 sacks last year, but cut that number down to 32 this year. The reflected grade is as much about the improvement as the overall performance. Grade: B+

Defense: While the offense took significant steps forward, the defense, at times, either stagnated or moved backwards. The Cougars actually allowed, on average, only one fewer point per game than last season (33.6 in 2012 vs. 32.5 in 2013), and they allowed more total yards per game this year than last year. They also had 21 sacks compared to 35 last year. All-American safety Deone Bucannon was plenty deserving of his AA status, finishing with a league-high 114 tackles and six interceptions. The Cougars were stout in the red zone and they improved on third-down defense, allowing teams to convert at 38.1 percent this year compared to 45.4 percent last year. The Cougars weren’t terrible defensively, but they weren’t great either. Despite some improvements, there simply weren’t the big-picture improvements like we saw with the offense. Grade: C

Special teams: Kicker Andrew Furney was solid again, hitting on 16 of 20 field goals with a long of 52 yards. Though they were near the bottom of the league in punting, the Cougars did have the No. 2 kickoff coverage unit in the league. They also blocked three kicks. The Cougs didn’t return any kicks or punts for touchdowns and gave up one kick return for a touchdown against Auburn ... which ended up being the difference. Overall, not outstanding, but pretty solid. Grade: B-

Overall: From where the Cougars finished to what was expected of them, it has to be considered a successful season. They were a couple of bad red zone drives away from beating Auburn, they knocked off USC in Los Angeles and were solid on the road. And the fact they went to a bowl game for the first time since 2003 bodes well for the future of the program under Leach. Sure, the way the bowl game ended is disappointing. No need to rehash the gory details. We all know how it went down. But that shouldn’t stunt too much of the momentum -- if it all -- that was gained in Year No. 2 under Leach. The program made big strides, was mostly competitive and scored a couple of big road wins at USC and at Arizona. All in all, this should be considered a solid season. Grade: B.