Over the next two weeks, the Pac-12 blog is going to be running through each conference team and looking at two specific positions -- one that's a strength, one that needs some help.
Today, we continue with Washington State.
Position of strength: Quarterback
Key player: Luke Falk
How he can help: Well, this one is obvious. Falk can help the Cougars with another season in which he leads the nation in pass yards per game. Mike Leach teams are famously reliant on the passing game, and Falk is the current driver of the Air Raid. His solid play extended beyond that gaudy statistics of 2016; Falk also delivered timely contributions with his legs to become a clutch presence that consistently put Washington State in position to win late.
This past season was a particularly interesting one for the Cougars' offense because they actually lined up under center a decent amount of the time (in the previous year, Falk had only taken one total non-shotgun snap). The coaching staff felt that Falk was the right man to lead Washington State into an era of greater offensive versatility, one which highlighted a downhill running game on top of its usual pass-happy antics. Falk proved more than capable, and the Cougars more than doubled their 2014 rushing production while enjoying a more stable offense.
With Falk returning for his junior season, expect Washington State's offense to grow even more reliable. He's a steady centerpiece of a unit that demands one to be effective.
Position of need: Left side of the offensive line
Who can help and how? The Cougars featured some big, impressive bodies along the offensive line in 2015. They'll have to replace left guard Gunnar Eklund and left tackle Joe Dahl -- both fifth-year seniors who have exhausted their eligibility -- in 2016. That's 615 pounds of experienced beef on the side of the line that is responsible for protecting Falk's blind side.
Dahl's back-up was Dillard, who saw some action last year. The 270-pounder is undersized for this position, but Washington State is optimistic about him -- especially if he can pack on some weight this offseason.
Eklund's vacated guard position is set for an interesting battle. The frontrunner there may be 6-foot-8, 346-pound behemoth O'Connell. If he blossoms into the force that those measurements suggest he can be, O'Connell can help the Cougars' offensive line maintain its high level of play. Washington State enjoyed a wall on the left side last year, and they'd certainly like to see that presence maintained in 2016.