Pac-12: Isiah Barton

Every team has a strength -- that one position group that can make a play on offense or make a big stop on defense when needed.

Based on what happened this spring, we're going to look at the strongest position group for each school. It could be on either side of the ball -- and it could be subject to change after fall camp gets into full swing.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Washington State

Strongest position group: Wide receivers

Headliner: Marquess Wilson (82 catches, 1,388 yards, 12 touchdowns).

Supporting cast: Andrei Lintz (7/96/1), Bobby Ratliff (28/348/1), Kristoff Williams (9/134/2), Gino Simone (4/69/0) and Dominique Williams (RS).

The skinny: Wilson is an elite wide receiver among a conference of elite wide receivers. He showed what he's capable of in a Mike Leach offense during the spring game. And it's scary good. The pecking order was fairly clear last season with Jared Karstetter and Isiah Barton behind Wilson. There is more depth this year, though what impact and in what order is still up in the air.

Lintz exploded onto the scene this spring as a tight-end-turned-big-wide receiver and showed great chemistry with quarterback Jeff Tuel. Ratliff, Williams, Simone and Dominique Williams should all see quality field time -- especially because of Leach's pass-first mentality.

The new coach in Pullman has produced some big-time wide receivers and their year's crop -- Wilson in particular -- should flourish.

Hope & concern: Washington State

May, 23, 2011
5/23/11
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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.

Next up:

Washington State

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.

Washington State notes: Who's in, out, up and down

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
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Will have lots more from my visit to Washington State, which starts spring practices Thursday, but here are some notes from a conversation with coach Paul Wulff.
  • The Cougars are much healthier this spring than last: 24 players missed offseason workouts last year. This year, just four will sit out spring practices: running back James Montgomery (knee, calf), defensive tackle Josh Luapo (knee), linebacker Louis Bland (knee) and cornerback Anthony Houston (knee).
  • As for Montgomery, he had knee surgery in addition to his scary episode with "acute compartment syndrome" with his calf. Wulff said he won't be cleared to start full-speed running until June. As for the depth at running back Wulff listed Marcus Richmond, Chantz Staden, Logwone Mitz, Carl Winston and Leon Brooks, a walk-on who's made a positive impression.
  • Wulff said there's no hope for receiver Johnny Forzani returning to the program: "He's going to try to play in the CFL." The Cougars have four receivers back who caught at least 20 passes: Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone, Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge. Wulff said he expects JC transfer Isiah Barton and perhaps a couple of the four incoming freshmen receivers to contribute, most particularly Marquess Wilson. "Most everybody in the Pac-10 was trying to go on him," Wulff said. "He's a big-time, big-time player."
  • Offensive lineman Brian Danaher, a 12-game starter over the past three seasons, won't be back because of recurrent concussions.
  • Starting defensive tackle Toby Turpin's status is questionable due to an academic dispute, which Wulff said should be resolved -- positively or negatively -- within the next week or two. Turpin will be allowed to practice until his case is resolved.
  • Wulff, perhaps surprisingly, said he believes the offensive line will be the strength off the offense. Andrew Roxas, who missed all of last season due to illness, will step in to fill the void at center due to the departure of stalwart Kenny Alfred. B.J. Guerra, Zack Williams and Steven Ayers will compete at guard. At tackle, two JC transfers will be in the mix this spring -- David Gonzales and Wade Jacobson -- along with Micah Hannam, Tyson Pencer and Alex Reitnouer. Wulff also said the he thinks incoming true freshman John Fullington might be ready to immediately contribute. "I think he was one of the best [high school] offensive linemen in the country," he said.
  • Tight end Zach Tatman was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which means the Cougs will have three experienced tight ends with Skylar Stormo and Andrei Lintz.
  • Redshirt freshman Sekope Kaufusi will see time as a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end. Wulff said he's been impressed by redshirt freshman end Jordan Pu'u Robinson during the off-season.
  • Touted JC transfer Brandon Rankin -- he was offered a scholarship by Alabama -- will play both end and tackle.
  • Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm continues to struggle with back problems, but Wulff said he was "moving around and participating in drills better since his back surgery. So that's promising." Still, it's likely his action will be limited this spring.
  • Depth at defensive tackle is a question, but sophomore Dan Spitz, who started five games at tackle and end last year, redshirt freshman Justin Clayton and sophomore Anthony Laurenzi are promising prospects.
  • Wulff said the defense will be much faster at linebacker. When he's healthy in the fall, Bland will move to middle linebacker. Mike Ledgerwood also is a top candidate in the middle, along with redshirt freshman Darren Markle. Alex Hoffman-Ellis will move from middle to weakside linebacker. Arthur Burns will move from running back to "Will" linebacker. Myron Beck and Andre Barrington will man the strongside. Incoming recruit C.J. Mizell also could be in the mix.
  • The secondary, hit hard by injuries a year ago, should be much improved with LeAndre Daniels, Tyree Toomer, Chima Nwachukwu, Jay Matthews and redshirt freshman Anthony Carpenter, Casey Locker -- Jake's cousin -- and Jamal Atofau competing at safety and Daniel Simmons, Aire Justin, Terrance Hayward and promising redshirt freshman Nolan Washington at corner.

Washington State adds a JC transfer

February, 5, 2010
2/05/10
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Washington State announced Friday that junior college receiver Isiah Barton has signed and will enroll this coming fall, which makes him the 23rd member of the Cougars recruiting class.

Barton, 6-1, 190, transfers from Fresno City College, where he led the Valley Conference in all-purpose yards at 141.8 per game. He prepped at Westchester High School in Los Angeles.

“I think Isiah is an outstanding football player," coach Paul Wulff said in a statement. "He should give us some immediate help. He will give us quickness and speed at the slot and receiver positions as well as maturity. We’re very happy he is on board.”

For more, go here.

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