Spring practice is already in bloom in the Pac-12, so we’re taking a look at each program to see where things stand. First up: Washington State.
2015 record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12 North).
Three-year record: 18-20.
Coaching situation: Let’s be honest, it was turbulent for a bit. Mike Leach took a minor (and totally undeserved) PR hit in his first season dealing with the ridiculousness that was the Marquess Wilson situation (accusations of abuse that were later recanted). But after a couple of up-and-down seasons and multiple staff moves, it feels like the right pieces are in place. One of the best coaching moves of last season was bringing in defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who worked wonders. And now that Leach has a roster of “his type of guys,” you can see the Air Raid really coming into its own as one of the most dangerous offenses in the country. As a result, the entire staff was given raises for a job well done. If Leach can consistently reach the postseason and challenge for the division, he could have a statue in Pullman by the time he’s done. Or at the very least, a drink named after him at The Coug.
Roster situation heading into 2016: Solid. The defense continues to improve, and there is depth to replace the guys who left from a unit that shaved its points allowed from 38.6 in 2014 to 27.7 last year. Quarterback Luke Falk should continue to build off of stellar numbers in 2015, when he posted 38 touchdowns to just eight interceptions and averaged more than 380 yards per game. There are even rumblings of Heisman buzz. He also gets his favorite receiver back in Gabe Marks, who hauled in 15 touchdowns. With Falk at the helm, the Cougars have also been less hesitant to run the football because he’s taking what the defense is showing. This group is going to put up points. And if the defense continues to improve, Washington State has to be taken seriously as a team that could win the North Division in 2016.
Recruiting situation: It's always going to be difficult to post highly regarded recruiting classes at Washington State. The Cougars have finished 61st, 54th and 56th nationally the past three years, and dropped from ninth to tenth to eleventh in the Pac-12 over that same stretch. It looked as though they would take a step forward after a pretty good 2015 haul, with a few four-star prospects and some dynamic three-star athletes. Wide receiver Isaiah Johnson was a very nice addition in the 2016 class, but he was the only four-star signed by Leach & Co., and the Cougars missed out on signing a true quarterback prospect when Ian Book flipped to Notre Dame and Quentin Davis flipped to Fresno State. – Erik McKinney
Trajectory: Washington State is definitely trending up. After a breakout season in 2015, which included a win over Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, there is talk that the Cougars could/should be a preseason top 25 team. The fact that athletic director Bill Moos dedicated more than $500,000 to the coaching staff shows he recognizes the progress and he’s committed to keeping them intact and in Pullman as long as possible. Grinch, for example, is sure to be a head-coaching target sooner rather than later. Falk is the second straight Leach-coached quarterback to put up huge numbers, and that will likely attract passers and receivers. A brutal stretch to open conference play awaits them in 2016 (after a game with Boise State they open league play vs. Oregon, at Stanford, vs. UCLA and at Arizona State). We’ll likely know by Halloween if the Cougars are legitimate conference contenders. But optimism is warranted.