Over the next few weeks the Pac-12 writers will be taking part in a debate series called “Buy/sell” in which two writers take opposing sides on a statement about the current status or future happenings of Pac-12 football.
Today, Chantel Jennings and David Lombardi begin with a topic abuzz in Pullman: Washington State will be the Pac-12's top scoring offense in 2016.
Lombardi: Buy it
Washington State averaged 33.8 points per game in Pac-12 play last year, a solid average -- but not a great one. Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State all scored more points during the league season.
But there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Cougars can vault to the top in 2016. For one, the Cardinal, Ducks, and Sun Devils must all replace their starting quarterbacks. Kevin Hogan, Vernon Adams Jr., and Mike Bercovici were all instrumental parts of those three offenses, so the fact that Washington State returns Luke Falk -- the nation’s leader in passing yardage per game this past season -- gives them the early inside track to the 2016 scoring title.
The sophomore Falk emerged as a bona fide orchestrator of Mike Leach’s Air Raid in 2015. After taking over for Connor Halliday late in 2014, Falk has used his season-plus of experience to develop excellent rapport with his receivers. Expect his connection with receivers Gabe Marks and River Cracraft to only improve this coming season -- both of those established targets are returning as seniors next year.
The Cougars' newfound commitment to the running game brings them even more scoring potential moving forward. Washington State more than doubled its rushing output behind three underclassmen backs. Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, and Keith Harrington all come back in 2016, ready to lend the offense even greater stability. The Cougars must replace two of their offensive linemen, but that transition seems manageable given the returning talent at every other key position.
All in all, Washington State returns all of the key pieces that the other top Pac-12 offenses don't -- and quarterback is the most important. We saw how much Oregon struggled without Adams this past year, and that fact alone makes me believe that Falk and his battle-tested crew are well-positioned to take next season's scoring title.
Jennings: Sell it
The Cougars haven’t even finished in the top half of the conference in scoring offense since Mike Leach became the head coach. And yes, I’ll concede that the jump from Connor Halliday’s first year leading the offense (20.4 points per game) to his second year leading the offense (31 points per game) was significant and perhaps a similar jump could be seen in Luke Falk. But I see that top jump landing them at No. 3, maybe -- just maybe -- No. 2. And even if we’re only looking at in-conference scoring, the Cougars have only finished as high as fourth (last season). I just don’t see them coming in during the 2016 season and getting away the No. 1 spot.
Yes, Falk and Gabe Marks are going to wreak havoc against defenses, I will give you that. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a defensive backs coach tasked with stopping that duo. But there are other teams that have just as explosive offensive weapons. The obvious choice here is Oregon. The Ducks will find the end zone plenty in 2016 between Royce Freeman, Charles Nelson, Darren Carrington, Dwayne Stanford, Taj Griffin (must I go on?) and every other player in the three deep. Then, you can’t ignore UCLA. With in-conference only scoring the Bruins finished just a hair behind the Cougars in 2015. In 2016, with a sophomore Josh Rosen and wide receivers like Darren Andrews, Eldridge Massington and Kenneth Walker, UCLA should be in good hands. And though USC is replacing a quarterback, the Trojans have weapons everywhere else -- Adoree’ Jackson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Justin Davis, Ronald Jones II.
The Cougars will score because they have the Air Raid and a true second-year starter and because, well, Leach. But, if I’m betting the Cougars or Oregon/UCLA/USC in 2016, I’m going with the latter.