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Friday, March 12, 2010
Strong & weak: Washington State

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The final entry of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.

Washington State

Strong: Experience

Why it's a strength: Yep, this is a bit of a cop-out. But it's also honest. It's premature to rate any specific area on the Cougars a strength based on their ranking last in the Pac-10 in every major statistical category in 2009. Thought about listing receiver here because everybody is back. But would leading receiver Jared Karsetter be the No. 1 guy for any other conference team? No. There's also some intriguing depth on the defensive line, led by sophomore end Travis Long and touted incoming tackle/end Brandon Rankin. But Rankin, a JC transfer, still has to prove himself vs. Pac-10 offensive lines, and it's hard to forget the Cougars surrendered 236 yards rushing per game in 2009,  which ranked 117th in the nation. But Coug fans can hang their hope on this: Not only are 19 starters from the Apple Cup depth chart back, almost the entire two-deep is back. Those young guys who got pushed around the last two seasons should be saltier in terms of experience and, hopefully, they will have used the weight room and track to recreate themselves as athletes.

Weak: Offensive line

Why it's a weakness: The O-line only loses one starter: second-team All-Pac-10 center Kenny Alfred. But he was the best lineman -- by a long stretch -- and the group's leader. On the plus side, seven players with starting experience are back, and the hope is those guys used their off-season to get bigger and stronger and quicker. But here's the problem: Washington State didn't block anyone last year. The Cougars ranked 118th in the nation in rushing (70.7 yards per game) and their 53 sacks surrendered ranked 119th (out of 120). Pause on that sack number for a moment. Fifty-three sacks is 22 more than any other conference team surrendered. In fact, that differential -- 22 sacks -- is more than four teams surrendered all season. And each of those teams played in a 13th game.  Or how about this: Stanford surrendered a conference-low seven sacks for minus-38 yards. The Cougars surrendered 318 yards on sacks. The Cougars won't be competitive again until they get better up front.