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WSU FB Blog Thoughts, August 1st Style

Greetings Cougs, and a happy August 1st to you and yours! Yep, August already, and no, I can’t believe it either. Where does the time go?? Here I was thinking wow, June got here fast, but now time has flown by in a flash and we’re ready for some football. Really amazing when you think about it (if you’ve had time to do so!). But since it’s August and football is back, well, it’s time to write again.

First things first – you’ve found us, REPEAT, you’ve found us.

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We are at TheSportsDaily.com obviously (as in, “THE” Sports Daily??), but sadly you got here not via the old method of good ‘ol wsufootballblog.com. As you may not have heard, yours truly FREAKIN’ BLEW IT with the whole URL renewal this spring. And, well, someone decided to scoop up the web address that had been ours for so long during a short lapse of URL renewal, and now the proud new owners are squatting on it (read: squatting on URL’s is kind of a thing? We don’t own a trademark on wsufootballblog.com so we really have nothing we can do). It sucks, and it’s 100% my fault. And note – if you bought our URL for whatever reason? Let’s talk, or whatever. Shoot me an email at wsufootballblog@yahoo.com.

ANYWHO, regardless of the direct link of the web address to this site fading into the mist, we’re still here. We are still calling ourselves WSU Football Blog, that fantastic generically named entity that served us well all these years. We’ve updated our Twitter/Facebook bio’s with the URL, so it’s still easy enough to get here. But feel free to bookmark/save/etc our new address, thesportsdaily.com/wsu-football-blog.com.

On to business. So it’s August as you know, and with the M’s in full .500 mode again it’s time to switch focus to the joys of fall. Summer for yours truly usually includes camping in the RV, fly fishing for trout or maybe even sea-run Cutthroats if you are in to that, and of course, digesting the football preview mags that are pretty much everywhere! Phil Steele, Athlon’s, Lindy’s and whatever else you can get your hands on and digest all things 2017, for the Cougs and everyone else. So we have that going for us, which is pretty cool.

By the way, really quick on the M’s – I know this gets bandied about among the faithful, but is it time to clean house? The trading deadline is gone and there is still the waiver trading period, so Jerry DiPoto’s hands are probably tied to do something big. They are in a weird place though. To me it’s obvious now that this crew as it’s currently built just isn’t going to win anything. They are that epitome of .500, aren’t they?  Where they can rise up and win 7 or 8 out of 10 and you think they have it figured out.  Then they hit that level of success and immediately go the other direction for 4, 5 or 6 games.  They seem like one of the most talented .500 teams we’ve seen here in a while, so there is a bit of an “underachiver” feel right now. The offense is pretty good, probably one of the better offenses in the last 15 or so years in Seattle.  However the starting pitching has just been in tatters for most of the year, and even today with the returns of Paxton and Felix they are still down two guys they thought would be mainstays in Drew Smyly and Kuma-Bear.

Anyway it was a valiant effort to try and get King Felix into the postseason at some point in his M’s career, I mean the guy pitched his ass off and it almost happened the last few years. But sometimes you just have to look in the mirror and figure out just what the heck you really are.  Are you willing to go all in with a mix of some youth, but your true stars are aging rapidly in guys like Cruz, Cano and Felix with all the miles on his arm?  Do you decide to make a change, and bite – HARD – and just dump everyone under 30 who has value?  Other than a couple of guys you can really hope to build around, maybe it’s time to punt?   (**at this point if you did go full-blown fire sale,  I would keep Kyle Seager, Jean Segura, Ben Gamel, Mike Zunino and maybe Mitch Haniger as position players, and James Paxton and Edwin Diaz as pitchers. But the rest? Good luck to you in your future endeavors!).

At this point, why NOT!?

I guess it is kind of like being an 8-seed or having the “best of the worst records” and being on the outside looking in of the NBA lottery. The odds are so long that you’ll likely never land a Kevin Durant, the generational-altering-type player picking back in the teens, but you also aren’t exactly awful and actually in the hunt with a million other teams for that ever-elusive 2nd wild card.

But it is that “no-man’s land”,  the in-between world where you are neither great nor terrible that leads to, well, a whole lot of nothingness over the long haul.

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The only thing you really get out of an existence like that is frustration among the fan base as patience wears thin! So maybe it is time to go scorched earth, fry it down to the soil, and maybe in 4-5 years you’ll break through with a young core.

OK, enough of that. Some quick preseason thoughts on the Cougs and the rest of the Pac-12, plus a few links:

1) So I think we could see the Cougs be a pretty good outfit again – Way to go out on a limb, right? It’s not often you return 15+ starters plus a senior QB who throws for 4,000 yards and approaches 40 TD’s per season, plus one of the better offensive lines AND a loaded backfield.  But after the positive press of spring ball and watching the spring game in person, there is a sense that bigger and better could be coming soon. Why? Well, for one the good ol’ “eye test” was a positive experience at the spring game. Obviously it can be hard to glean TOO much from a spring game scrimmage. I still recall shaking my head in disgust after watching the 1997 spring game on tape delay back on some cable channel (Prime Sports/Ticket!?), and I think the score was like 6-3 or something awful. Spring ’97 of course was the eve of one of the two or three best seasons in WSU HISTORY. And I was also there in Joe Albi in 2011 in Wulff’s last year and came away convinced we were headed for a bowl, and felt the same again in 2012 watching Leach’s first spring game. And I was wrong, REALLY wrong after both of those years.

But this spring, it wasn’t just the offensive line or the running backs or Falk doing his thing, but in a more general sense the team just looks BIGGER. Oh, they are smallish on the d-line and at linebacker, but that is also a product of design, hence the term “speed D”. But it was noticeable to my eyes especially in the O-line, where Cody O’Connell is a MOUNTAIN of a man.

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(not pictured – Cody O’Connell)

But it was also something to see in the WR position, where so many new faces are going to be showing out this fall. I mean there is real, legit size in the group, and not just tall guys either, some legit thickness that looks like really good weight. Tavares Martin and Isaiah Johnson-Mack are 6-1 and 6-3 respectively, but you also have Dez Patmon (6-4) and CJ Dimry (6-5) providing some legit length as a group we just haven’t seen.  Sure, there are smaller-type guys like Robert Lewis doing his thing, but there is good length outside and the balance looks to be there in terms of body size at the position.

2) There are some good-looking athletes on D too – Easy to get caught up in the offensive fireworks, but I like the looks of at least some of the D as well. The secondary looks quick, and there were several angles where you don’t quite see it on TV where they closed some ground – FAST – when initially you think a play in the flat or in space is going to go for a good chunk of yards. In years past we might see a big play like that, but now you see some legit closing speed. And like everyone else, I love the LB duo of Peyton Pelluer and Isaac Dotson. Pelluer is who he is, a bit undersized and not a burner in terms of speed but he is that scrappy sideline-to-sideline guy who just seems to always be where the football ends up on any given play within 10-15 yards of the line of scrimmage. But Dotson especially looks fantastic with added muscle while still flashing safety speed at linebacker, and if he stays healthy could have a huge 2017.

3) The bad? Well, while fast/quick everywhere, the D is smallish. They look that way on TV and you can definitely see it in person as well. And maybe here is my biggest concern of all for 2017. While happy to see them flying around, I still wonder how the smaller speed type guys will hold up over the grind of the full season schedule. Like you, I too have memories of how overwhelmed physically they looked at Colorado late last year and against Washington, where there were times they just got manhandled up front and were torn apart by Sefo Liufau and Jake Browning.  The CU game on the road was tough on the grass and at altitude, and CU’s style was more of a smashmouth approach on offense that wasn’t a great matchup, plus we had some guys missing on D in that game.  But does anyone recall the lack of a pass rush in the Apple Cup!? I’ve never seen a QB with so much protection as Browning had in that game, and he could have been making ham sandwiches in the pocket he had so much time!

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That said, I also understand like you, that the game has just changed over the years.  For example, they were replaying the 1997 UCLA-WSU game the other night on the Pac-12 network, the game of the famous Leon Bender goal line stand.  But what was crazy to watch that again wasn’t just Leaf’s amazing arm or body type (seriously, he was enormous and had a rocket), but I think I could count on one hand the number of times either team was in shotgun for that whole game!

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The days of just playing a 4-3 base defense against offenses with a tight end and fullback are long gone, and now you even see it in the NFL where teams are like 60+% in nickel packages.  The game has become a spread offense game, and to combat that you must put as much speed as you can find on that side of the ball in hopes of shrinking the gaps out there.  Get a bunch of smaller faster kids who can fly around and that can definitely work in the Pac-12!  But the downside of smaller and faster is that it is harder to hold up with the weekly poundings.  So hopefully the depth is better than it has been in a while on D, but if there is a top legit concern it’s how they hold up as the season wears on. For you know injuries will happen, especially if you are of the smaller/faster types and you are involved in several high-speed collisions every week.

4) Like everyone else in the free world, I like USC in the South and UW in the North – Again, WAY out on a limb. USC and UW were the runaway favorites during the Pac-12 media days, and for good reason.  However, it must be said that both USC and UW actually DO have some questions, namely USC’s offensive line and some big time talents in Juju Shuster-Smith and Adoree Jackson taking their act to the league this fall. And UW is replacing some big names in the secondary, their best secondary in school history, as well as John Ross, who absolutely shined as a major X-factor in his ability to take the top off of opposing defenses and opening up the running game and underneath stuff for Browning and company to do their thing. But I think all things considered, like everyone else I can’t help but already start speculating on what that Pac-12 title game might look like between SC and UW.

If you are looking for predictions or previews or whatever, they are everywhere.  While we are pretty much the consensus 3rd or 4th in the north, flip-flopping with Oregon, one of the least-optimistic projections I’ve seen for WSU in 2017 is from CollegeFootballNews.com, as they rolled out their mega-previews for this year.  How does 6-6 and 4-5 in the Pac-12 sound?  Not great, I know.  They peg us for a 4-0 start, but a dreadful 2-6 finish (yikes!).

So, do I think WSU will win the North? No, I don’t think so. Now they did come very close the last couple of years to making the title game, just one game out of first at the end of the grind in both 2015 and 2016. So obviously it’s not impossible, and a break here or there with something we just can’t see in August and it could happen. But until we can see them somehow stay healthy at the end of the year AND figure out the UW defense, it just doesn’t seem likely outside of some real fortunate circumstances on the injury front. But hey, that is why they play the games! It’s AUGUST, so now is the time for optimism.

Elsewhere:

Our friends at Cougcenter have a whole new look they rolled out this spring/summer, and I salute their place in the blogosphere. They have kept at it and kept at it and Nusser has really built what he set out to build in the beginning, and that was to create a community of Cougs. Congrats Nuss. I’m not sure how he finds the time or energy to keep hammering away, but they are still going strong.

We are Peasants – not sure if you all caught this last month or so, but Stewart Mandel ranked 66 BCS programs into a four-tier hierarchy.  Of course, we are in the lowest tier, peasants of the college football pecking order along with Pac-12 cohorts Arizona and Oregon State, plus teams like Rutgers, Vandy, Wake Forest, etc.

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You get the idea, but feel free to check it out to fully understand the criteria.  It’s fair, I guess, to put us in that group – for now.  But I do like the trajectory of football at least, so we may take a step forward sooner rather than later and move on up.

Finally, Ryan Leaf has been making the rounds, now five years sober. I don’t know if you caught the ESPN 60 deal on him, but it was eye-opening to say the least.

I actually saw him a few times right before he went to jail, once at a WSU football dinner in 2011 and another time at a sports apparel store where he was signing autographs. At the 2011 dinner he was drinking and seemed a little off, still had a bit of that behavior of “Bad” Ryan? But he was kind and gracious at the apparel store, talking to my young kids at the time and showing us his scar from brain surgery.

His story is tough, and he truly is now acting like a man on a mission of redemption. But I guess he could look at this as his third act of his life.  Act one we get introduced to the hero and he is wonderfully talented yet kind of an entitled ass?

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Act two is he falls flat on his face and hits bottom, so much so that the favorite/hero that he was becomes this massive underdog that looks pretty hopeless.

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Now in Act Three, we see the hero rise back up after his failure and (hopefully) flourish in whatever it is, whether it’s something huge like the world or counseling fellow drug addicts and hoping to save those from the personal, humbling hell he himself just endured.

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But good for Ryan. WSU fans have hung tough with you all along, and even after everything that’s happened we are still here for you now. I believe in that old saying that “pain causes change”, and it’s too bad we often have to fall – HARD – to realize some big changes are needed, no matter who we are or what we do. But congrats on cleaning up and doing good things, for being in a healthy state of mind, and I look forward to your remainder of act three.

All for now. Enjoy your day, and as always, GO COUGS!

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