The Cougars hired alum Paul Wulff as head coach, after the Cougar program went into a slide under Bill Doba. The Coug's haven’t been to a bowl game since they went to the Holiday Bowl back in 2003, and are coming off a season where they finished 5-7 overall and just 3-6 in the Pac 10.
Wulff will have his hands full early in his tenure at Washington State, as they have had a couple of mediocre recruiting years, and many players that just didn’t turn out like they were suppose to. Add to that a reduction in scholarships for not meeting NCAA graduation standards and you have a major rebuilding job on your hands.
Wulff could cause some problems for opponents early with his no-huddle scheme, but a lot will count on the arm of QB Gary Rodgers who has spent most of his career watching Alex Brink, who ended up setting numerous school passing records. Rodgers will have a solid target to throw to in Brandon Gibson who has All-Pac 10 talent. On top of that there are two youngsters in sophomores Daniel Blackledge and Jeshua Anderson who should be ready to step in and share the spotlight at receiver.
Last years starter at running back Dwight Tardy and backup Chris Ivory both missed spring ball, but it looks like Tardy should be ready to go by the start of the season. The team has a trio of solid tight ends on this team, and it looks like senior Devin Frischknecht will be the opening day starter.
The line should improve as they return 4 starters and the only spot left to fill is left guard, where they believe sophomore Andrew Roxas will be ready to go.
Wulff is bringing back the 4-3. With 4 returning starters at linebacker from a year ago, junior Andy Mattingly will move to defensive end to help the process go a little smoother, but he may have to do a little community service and face a suspension to begin the season.
Up front it looks like the team will be set at ends with Mattingly and junior Kevin Kooyman who has the talent, but was held back last year due to injury. Senior A’I Ahmu will return to hold down one of the tackle spots. DT Andy Roof could return after running into alcohol and assault related problems.
The linebacking group of Cory Evans, Greg Trent, and Kendrick Dunn are just ok, and they aren’t the best in pass coverage. Thats not a good thing when you really don’t know what to expect from your secondary.
In the defefensive backfield it looks like safety Alfonso Jackson and cornerback Chima Nwachukwu will swap positions in 2008, and its unclear if junior Devin Giles will be able to return after missing most of spring due to academics. Look for senior Markus Dawes to be opposite Jackson at corner, and junior Xavier Hicks to team up with Nwachukwu at the other safety spot.
How Do you Beat WSU?
I think the Cougars should be able to put some points on the board. Rodgers has been waiting for this chance for a long time, and even though he hasn't been a starter he should be able to do a decent job in 2008 with the targets he has at his disposal. The Coug's should also be able to run the ball well with a dynamic duo lining up behind an experienced offensive line.
The weak points on this team will be on the defensive side, and with overall team depth. The cupboard isn't exactly bare, but the Coug's can't afford to lose too many players as the season progresses.
You beat the Cougars by attacking a defense that should be less than stellar. The Cougars as usual have some very nice tools on offense, and you need to respect that. Depth is where most teams have the advantage over these guys so winning the fourth quarter and shutting down their offense in the second half is critical to success.
What Do I Think?
You throw out all the records and statisitics when you play the Apple Cup. The game is in Pullman this year, and Willingham is only 1-2 against the Crimson and Grey. On paper going into the season Washington is a better club with superior depth, and in game eleven superior depth is a huge factor.
I have to give the nod to Washington, but anything can happen on a cold day in Pullman with a bowl bid, and possibly Tyrone's job on the line.