We continue our offseason coverage of Pac-12 football by taking inventory of each team's returning depth chart. Here are the top 10 players who will suit up in a Washington State uniform this coming season. These rankings are obviously subjective and comparing players at different positions is certainly not a cut-and-dried task, so keep that in mind as you read our take on it:
QB Luke Falk: He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors -- along with budding top-10 NFL draft pick Jared Goff from California -- after leading the nation's No. 1 passing offense with 380.5 yards per game and 38 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. When coach Mike Leach found his QB, things took off for the Cougars, and Falk's return is the cornerstone of the Cougars' high expectations heading into 2016.
WR Gabe Marks: Marks was Falk's No. 1 target and the Pac-12's No. 2 receiver in 2015. The first-team All-Pac-12 selection led the conference with 104 receptions and 15 TDs, and his 91.7 yards receiving per game ranked No. 2 behind USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster. The nation's No. 1 pass-catch combo returns in 2016, and the matchup with quality Pac-12 secondaries should be interesting.
DE Hercules Mata'afa: While Falk and Marks are already stars, this is a projection for a player who put up impressive numbers as a freshman backup. Mata'afa tied for the team lead with seven sacks and tied for third with 11 tackles for loss. He was the only freshman in the conference to rank among the top 14 in sack totals. A year refining his technique and getting stronger should promote Mata'afa from honorable mention all-conference to first team this fall.
FS Shalom Luani: If you are looking for a legitimate candidate for "Most Underrated" in the Pac-12, Luani might be your guy. While he did end up earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors after ranking third on the Cougars with 90 tackles, with three tackles for loss, four interceptions, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, few conference fans know who he is, in large part because he was an under-the-radar JC transfer last year. His four interceptions led the Cougs and tied for fourth in the conference, and he built up a rep as a sure and high-impact tackler
CB Darrien Molton: While first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch deserves a heap of respect for the nearly 180 degree transformation of the Cougars' secondary -- from horrible to pretty darn good in just one season. Players make plays, and Molton joined Luani as a critical character in the upgrade. As a true freshman, Molton became the secondary's top cover man, which typically means his side of the field is where things are quiet. He didn't have a lot of numbers but it's meaningful Pro Football Focus tapped him as one of the top two true freshman cornerbacks during the 2015 season.
OT Cole Madison: While much will be made of the Cougars losing two starters on the left side of their line, the right side is in great shape. Madison earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a junior, while senior OG Eduardo Middleton is no slouch. Madison is a former tight end who has eclipsed 300 pounds and might raise a few NFL eyebrows.
LB Peyton Pelluer: Pelluer isn't going to wow you with his size or speed, but the junior is the field marshal of the Cougs' defense from his "mike" LB position. He led the defense with 101 tackles last year, which included 11 TFL, an interception and two forced fumbles. His efforts earned him Pac-12 honorable mention honors.
WR River Cracraftt: While Falk-to-Marks is the Air Raid's first option, Leach's offense is not predicated on a star system but a system of distribution. Cracraft, the Cougars' No. 3 WR in 2015, is the guy who will keep defenses from bracketing Marks. He's a strong No. 2 option who can make plays and keep a defense honest. He caught 53 passes for 615 yards and four touchdowns in 2015.
C Riley Sorenson: Sorenson should be on the short list of "best centers in the Pac-12" this year after earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2015. At 6-foot-4, 327 pounds, he doesn't look like a center, and his size means those oversized nose tackles don't bother him so much.
RB Gerard Wicks: While the Air Raid leads with passing, Wicks gave the Cougars a solid run option last year, and he leads a solid troika of returning running backs into 2016. The 6-foot, 224 pounder rushed for 624 yards last year, averaging a strong 5.7 yards per carry with three touchdowns. He also caught 38 passes, making himself a viable option in the passing game, too.