Monday, May 23, 2011
Hope & concern: Washington State
By ESPN.com staff
Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.
Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.
Biggest reason for hope: Quarterback Jeff Tuel and a talented, experienced group of receivers.
Tuel will be a third-year starter in 2011 after ranking sixth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards per game in 2010. Tuel isn't just the guy behind center on a struggling team, either. He's probably going to be an NFL draft pick. He tossed 18 touchdown passes last fall, which was more than Washington's Jake Locker and just two fewer than Arizona's Nick Foles. His 12 interceptions were the equal of USC's Matt Barkley. And, suffice it to say, Tuel put up his numbers with an inferior supporting cast compared to those three. But not that inferior, which is the key element for hope looking forward. Receivers Marquess Wilson, a freshman All-American, and Jared Karstetter both ranked in the conference's top 10 in receiving yards, while senior Isiah Barton and junior Gino Simone have plenty of experience. Further, promising youngsters Kristoff Williams and Bobby Ratliff are expected to break through this fall. With four starters back on an improving line, the Cougars should be able to give Tuel time. And if he gets time, the Cougs should be able to pass on just about anyone.
Biggest reason for concern: The past three seasons.
If you look over Washington State's post-spring depth chart, review their late-season performances and then consider a fairly forgiving schedule, it seems clear the Cougars should win more in 2011 than they did in 2010, when they posted their only quality Pac-10 victory under coach Paul Wulff (beating a winless Washington team in 2009 felt good but was not of high quality). Most folks see the Cougs being a competitive team that might, in fact, push out of the conference cellar. But it's hard to predict big things for a squad that has won just five total games -- just three over FBS teams -- over the previous three seasons. The biggest reason for hope is the maturation of the young players Wulff recruited who represented a talent upgrade over the players he inherited. But the critical issue in terms of becoming a team that is a threat for a bowl berth versus one that might win, say, three games is acting, practicing and believing like a winning team. This team needs more than a chip on its shoulder. It needs confidence. After three years of being the conference patsy -- the one game every team automatically put in the win column in August -- it won't be easy for this team to swagger into a stadium and believe it's the best team on the field.