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Washington State

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Washington State showed last season that 2015 was no fluke and now have 17 wins over the last two years. The Cougars have turned from an offense-only team to one that can compete on both sides of the ball with some of the best teams in the country. Of course, they’ve also lost to an FCS school each of the past two years, so that’s something that will have to change this year.

To help lead the way, Luke Falk is back for his third full season and shouldn't see any drop off even with new receivers. He has 38 passing TDs in each of the last two years to go with close to 4,500 yards and a completion percentage near 70. That’s part of the Air Raid and Mike Leach’s offense, but those are still impressive numbers to look at. Stepping up at wide receiver, Tavares Martin (728 yards, 7 TDs) is the best returnee while Isaiah Johnson-Mack led the way in the spring along with Dezmon Patmon. Even better is that the Cougars have solid running backs to work with in James Williams (584 yards, 6 TDs, 48 receptions), Jamal Morrow (575 yards, 5 TDs, 48 receptions) and Gerard Wicks (475 yards, 11 TDs, 29 receptions). This team won’t suddenly go run-heavy, but as seen last year, it has the tools to run the ball. The offensive line lost some starters, but has a couple seniors to work with in Cody O’Connell and Cole Madison that should keep the group rolling just fine.

But what really sets the 2017 version of Wazzu apart is the defense, which will be loaded with seniors, 10 in the two-deep. The Cougars allowed just 27.2 points per game last season and that includes getting ripped for 45 by EWU in the opener. Nose tackle Daniel Ekuale appears ready to set the tone for the defense with eight more starters returning around him. Hercules Mata’afa is one of the best in the conference at getting to the quarterback and he’s joined by sophomore Nnamdi Oguayo on the other side. Senior linebacker Isaac Dotson will run the show with safeties Robert Taylor and Jalen Thompson coming up behind him. If this group can reach that next level, the Cougars will be a real threat to compete in the Pac-12.

This team had a chance last season, but ultimately didn't have enough, closing the campaign with three-straight losses. The good news is that they open this season with five-consecutive home games, with the final one of those coming against USC. If the Cougars at least compete with the Trojans, it wouldn't be a stretch to think they’d see each other again in the Pac-12 title game. Of course, that would also require Wazzu to win road games against teams like Oregon, Washington and Utah, so it’ll be far from easy.

Because of that schedule (Colorado, USC and Utah out of the South), eight wins is a logical place to land, unless that defense steps up. The offense should be as good, if not better than last year’s group and that’ll help too.

Washington State doesn’t have bad odds (+1200 at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the conference, but still is projected to finish third in the North behind Washington and Stanford and slightly above Oregon. But if the Cougars can finally escape their non-conference schedule without a loss, they’ll be headed for eight wins at a minimum, and that’s before a bowl game.


2017 Washington State Cougars Football Schedule

Sept. 2 vs. Montana State
Sept. 9 vs. Boise State
Sept. 16 vs. Oregon State
Sept. 23 vs. Nevada

Sept. 29 vs. USC
Oct. 7 at Oregon
Oct. 13 at California

Oct. 21 vs. Colorado
Oct. 28 at Arizona
Nov. 4 vs. Stanford
Nov. 11 at Utah
Nov. 25 at Washington



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