WSU Football Friday, Week 1 of 2018 Edition

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State
WSU Football Friday, Week 1 of 2018 Edition
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports


Greetings Cougs, and happy WSU Football New Year to you and yours!  It’s essentially New Years Eve actually here at the old WSU Football Blog headquarters, as we are jacked/excited/etc, but to be honest also a little unsure about what lies ahead?  We’ll get into all that later, but wow, football is back, and that is cause for celebration as we roll into the 3-day weekend.

First some housekeeping, and yes, it’s been FAR TOO LONG that we’ve all touched base.  Sutra, Longball, Huddy and myself have been in regular contact of course, but the blog has been awfully quiet since late in 2017.  Why?  Well, probably a long list of reasons both simple and a little complicated, but we won’t spend a bunch of time on that.  We always tend to take a bit of a sabbatical once the off-season arrives, and this year was about as “sabbatical-ish(?)” as it gets.  But the biggest thing from my seat today?  After probably the worst off-season in memory (maybe ever if you add it all up), it’s time to refresh.

Refresh as in, time to turn the page in a lot of ways.  And as Mike Leach said the other day, it’s just time to move forward collectively and play an actual football game?  After all the turmoil that started late last year and steamrolled all of us from pretty much every angle, at least now it’s time to take steps forward in something really tangible for the fans anyway.  Players and coaches have been dealing with a lot in a very short time, and they have been involved in some healing from all of it in one way or another, in extremely personal ways that we really have no business being involved with as a fan base.  But for fans like you and me, it’s been this long-running surreal show as viewed from a distance, with no real way to move forward as observers, I guess?  Sure, we lean on each other in tough times and post/tweet good things to try to help, but the tangible thing just isn’t really there.  Now, finally there is something to rally around and cheer for, and that’s the game of football.

So what do you expect for Wyoming?  Is this going to be a rough start to 2018?  Here are some quick thoughts, plus some weekly picks:

  1. Wyoming’s defense is really good.  Not exactly breaking news if you’ve read up on their success from last year, but Wyoming has something going on with the defense under Craig Bohl.  They were really a good unit last year, leading the nation in takeaways (38) and a whopping +24 in turnover margin, also good for #1 in the country (seriously, +24!?!?).  They were also a top 10 defense in scoring last year (#9), and even more, they were #13 in the nation in pass defense, which, you know, WSU likes to throw it?  At least 8 starters are back on D from last year and after watching them stuff New Mexico State last week, they look “as advertised” to my untrained eye.  We loved Speed D under Alex Grinch last year, predicated on being smaller/faster/aggressive/take that damn ball away, but these guys are basically the epitome of what Grinch envisioned WSU Speed D to be.  They are athletic, fast and deep and playing them on the road at 7,220 feet is not an ideal way to get your feet wet with a new QB!
  2. Speaking of new QB, all the tea leaves read that Gardner Minshew is going to be THE GUY starting out.  There’s been a ton written about him of late so I won’t go deep there, and our dear friends at Cougcenter covered him pretty well here.  but I will say this – I’m just not sure, at least not today.I mean he’s emotional from all reports and the players seem to have really taken to his Baker Mayfield-like approach.  But is he actually good?  There are Youtube videos of some of his throws, both good and bad, worth checking out.  And that has me the most unsure if you want to know the truth.  How will he handle the Air Raid under Leach?  Will he be willing to check to runs if he gets a favorable matchup at the line of scrimmage or the numbers look good in the box?  And will he figure it out after a short off-season of work and right into a real opponent, or will he struggle out of the gate in getting the small details down?  And most importantly, is he accurate?  Go back and read Leach’s book or look at some of his remarks over the years, and it’s clear he values accuracy and decision-making above pure arm talent any day of the week.  And in the value of the QB position under Leach, it’s not even all the plays you do make as a QB, but sometimes it’s just as important for the plays you DON’T make that are just as valuable.  What I mean there is does the QB have the stones to just throw the damn thing 10 rows into the stands and avoid a negative play, like a sack or ever worse, forcing a turnover?  I feel like Minshew is going to make plays, probably some in spectacular fashion.  But can he do all that while being accurate and avoiding the bad that can come in this offense?  We are about to find out!
  3. And how about the new coaches?  I don’t think at this juncture we can totally undersell what all the turnover means for going into a season opener.  New DC in Tracy Claeys, who while successful at Minnesota we really don’t know how it’s going to play out here in Pullman.  And five other assistants from last year are gone, so it’s been a real turnover on the sidelines.  Are they all on the same page going in to game 1?  Jim Walden hinted to Theo Lawson the other day, that new coaches going in to an opener can bring a ton of unknowns to the gameday experience.  It can be bumpy early on, there is no doubt about it.


So what’s going to happen?  Well, unfortunately I don’t have a lot of great vibes coming in.  I have been unsure to say the least all offseason about this year in general, and that we seem to be the consensus pick to be near the bottom of the P-12 North (5th or at most optimistic, 4th just ahead of Cal).  And I think it’s easy to go there when you look at all the turmoil from last year and roll it in to the loss of some good players on both sides of the ball, including your all-time leading passer in Luke Falk and your havoc machine in Hercules on D!  But there are still good players here, players who have been in the program a few years now and really they only know one thing, and that’s winning and bowl games.  So it’s not like they are a bunch of Paul Wulff holdovers who haven’t experienced anything other than frustration, know what I mean?  I think this year more than anything else will be a referendum on the kind of program Leach has actually built.  Is it smoke and mirrors and a lot of luck?  Or is it something a lot more than that?  Years like this one upcoming tell you a lot about the foundation of what’s in place and what has been building over the years, and if they have the ability to reload rather than a full rebuild.

For tomorrow however, I’m not feeling it.  Wyoming’s offense isn’t much to get excited about but they will do everything possible to run the ball, control the clock and move the chains on the ground.  And defensively I think we can expect Bohl to unleash hell, and Minshew and company can expect a lot of confusion out of the gate.  In the end this one kind of reminds me of that awful Nevada road game a few years back, a frustrating 24-13 loss on the road.  Jacked up Mountain West school that had some good defensive talent just grabbing and holding and hitting and playing fast all night long in front of the home fans (and maybe some fan-friendly refs as well looking the other way on all the grabbing and holding of WSU receivers??).  Maybe it’s just because of so many unknowns, but I think week one is going to be tough.  The Coug D-line is thin in size and numbers, and by the end they will be worn out as Wyoming rolls with the heavy, between-the-tackles run game.  The slow starts at WSU under Leach continue (did you know Leach is 1-5 in 6 years at WSU in openers?), so I’ll go Wyoming in a close, lower-than-expected score of 23-20.

Other Pac-12 picks:

Stanford 33, San Diego State 17 – Lots of love for Bryce and the Heisman campaign gets off and running with the Cardinal in a rout.

CSU 24, CU 16 – While Montez is back at QB, the rest?  Eh.  Rams handle the Buffs.

tOSU 58, Beavers 13 – It’s ugly in Columbus as Urban Meyer keeps denying/creating his own reality?  Anyway on the field they have far too much talent to blow this one.  Beavs will be bad again, but maybe there is hope if Jonathan Smith can keep it interesting?

UW 19, Auburn 16 – Slugfest of slugfests as both defenses feast.  And while I love UW this year to roll through the season with 1 loss, I don’t think they’ll lose this game (and don’t ask me where the loss comes from, but it will happen).  Spies tell me Jake Browning has worked his butt off this summer, but might be a little “tight” coming in to this season after a down Junior year and hot shot prospects making noise in camp behind him?  Neither team will run the ball well, but Browning gets it done on a last minute FG drive for the walk-off win.

CAL 37, UNC 21 – Golden Bears will be tougher and should battle WSU for 4th in the North.  They should be good early in the year but do they have the depth over the full 12 weeks?  Anyway they’ll handle the Heels.

USC 54, UNLV 20 – New frosh QB in JT Daniels generating serious buzz/hype, and he should pick up where Sam Darnold left off.

UCLA 31, Cinci 30 – The Bruins might be the most interesting product to watch on the field, at least when they have the ball.  But the fit at QB with Michigan transfer Wilton Speight with Chip Kelly’s offense seems….weird?  They’ll hold on in this one but it might be a slow start in LA-LA land.

Oregon 63, Bowling Green 17 – Justin Herbert might be the biggest sleeper for going to NYC in December.  Ducks ROLL big time.

ASU 42, UTSA 28 – Weird start for Herm’s crew.  They’ll struggle early but pull away late as the more talented team.  But still not sure what to make of these guys!?

Khalil Tate 57, BY-Who 30 – Man the conference has some real top-end QB talent, but Tate may be the best of them all.  He’ll run WILD and the Cats roll.

But all that said?  At least football is back baby!  And for that, as a hack fan like me, I’m incredibly grateful!  All for now, and as always, GO COUGS!

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