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Washington State kind of came out of nowhere last year en route to a 9-4 record (beating Miami in the Sun Bowl) and a 6-3 Pac-12 record. It was a six-game improvement from the year prior and with plenty of talent returning, the Cougars are looking to hit that mark again. They beat Oregon, Arizona and UCLA on the road last year, but can we expect them to do that again?
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There's no reason not to think they can't with a loaded offense. Luke Falk (69.4% completion, 38 TDs, 8 INTs) is still only a junior and is expected to improve on last year's numbers after missing a game. That'll be possible because of top wide receiver Gabe Marks (104 receptions, 1,192 yards, 15 TDs). As expected, those two tore up the spring game and picked up where they left off. But it's not just Marks that returns at receiver with River Cracraft (615 yards, 4 TDs) and Robert Lewis (490 yards) both in check. The speedy Tavares Martin also steps into a starting role. The Cougars may not run the ball a whole lot, but they return their top three running backs and James Williams, who was getting tons of hype after the spring game.
The offensive line is the biggest priority on this side of the ball with two starters gone and there were some issues in the spring. The defense piled up a ridiculous 12 sacks in the scrimmage.
And that defense was the biggest reason Washington State had nine wins a season ago. Alex Grinch was great in his first season as coordinator and will look to build on that success in 2016. The line loses the most talent, especially at the end, but Hercules Mata'afa should be a building block after dominating the Sun Bowl. Linebacker is a bit of an unknown as well with only Peyton Pelluer having major experience in the middle. The secondary was the major improvement last year and only have to replace one guy in the starting cast so expect another solid season from this group.
The Cougars fell to Portland State last year in the opener and could end up with another non-conference loss this year, but against a better Boise State team on the road. Things get tough right away in Pac-12 play with Oregon, Stanford and UCLA in their first three games. A win in one of those would be considered acceptable. But another than that, Wazzu's schedule isn't too bad, and it helps they have just four conference road games.
Their over/under at 5Dimes was sitting at 7 but the over was at -270, so expect that number to jump. The Cougars are just behind Washington in the Pac-12 North odds (expected to finish fourth), but Washington State does host that game this year.
With an offense that is just as good, or better, to go with an experienced defense, the Cougars could easily reach nine wins again. But just how fluky were some of those wins last year? We'll soon find out.
2016 Washington State Cougars Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Eastern Washington
Sept. 10 at Boise State
Sept. 17 vs. Idaho
Oct. 1 vs. Oregon
Oct. 8 at Stanford
Oct. 15 vs. UCLA
Oct. 22 at Arizona State
Oct. 29 at Oregon State
Nov. 5 vs. Arizona
Nov. 12 vs. California
Nov. 19 at Colorado
Nov. 25 vs. Washington
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