Pac-12: Jared Karstetter
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.
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.
2011 conference record: 2-7 (6th in North)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1
QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, OL John Fullington, S Deone Bucannon, LB Travis Long, WR Andrei Lintz.
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LT David Gonzales, OL B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter.
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Rickey Galvin* (602 yards)
Passing: Marshall Lobbestael (2,584 yards)
Receiving: Marquess Wilson* (1,388 yards)
Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis (88)
Sacks: Travis Long* (4)
Interceptions: Damante Horton* (4)
1. Tuel steps up: Remember that whole quarterback-competition thing? While Mike Leach hasn't officially named Jeff Tuel his starter, given the quickness with which he picked up the offense and the numbers he put up during the spring, it's likely that a proclamation that Tuel is the guy will come early in the fall. He's looked very good to date.
2. Plenty of weapons: Lots of them. Marquess Wilson returns as one of the top wide receivers in the conference -- and he showed in the spring game what he's capable of. Converted tight end Andrei Lintz had an outstanding spring at wide receiver and showed real chemistry with Tuel throughout the 15 practices. Gino Simone, Dominique Williams and Blair Bomber add depth to a very deep group.
3. New role for running backs: Can you catch? That's what Leach is looking for out of his guys. With the ball in the air 70 to 75 percent of the time, guys like Marcus Mason and Rickey Galvin will need to shift their focus from downhill to soft hands. There will be chances to run the football, but most of those will be after the catch.
1. Lineup: What's the offensive line going to look like? With players like Wade Jacobson (missed the final eight games last year with a back injury) and Matt Goetz (started nine games at center last season) missing time this spring, the starting five is likely to change. Which five and at what positions remains a question.
2. New-look D: With the Cougars switching to a 3-4 front, there is more focus on the linebacking corps. Travis Long should flourish in this system (12 tackles for a loss last season), but there are depth and position questions. Eric Oertel was a pleasant surprise this spring, as were Chester Su'a and Darryl Monroe -- though both saw their springs end early with injuries. Expect some growing pains as the group comes together in the odd front.
3. D-line depth: Xavier Cooper had a very good spring, but outside of him, Lenard Williams and Anthony Laurenzi (6.5 tackles for a loss last year), there are a lot of untested players. Matthew Bock saw some reps during the spring, but defensive coordinator Mike Breske will have to develop some more guys for the unit to be sound. A pair of Samoans in the recruiting class -- Robert Barber and Destiny Vaeao -- could be forced into action early.
Record: 4-8, 2-7 Pac-12
After winning three of their first four to start the season, there was cautious optimism that Paul Wulff might have actually turned things around in Pullman. Then came the UCLA debacle -- coughing up an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. That opened up the flood gates, and the Cougars went on to lose six of their final seven and eventually Wulff, who was fired after a 38-21 loss to Washington in the season finale.
It wasn't all doom and gloom. Back-up-turned-starter-turned-backup-turned-starter Marshall Lobbestael looked pretty good at times, throwing five touchdowns in Week 2 against UNLV and 15 touchdowns in his first five games. Sophomore Marquess Wilson and senior Jared Karstetter teamed up for 142 catches, 18 receiving touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards while the Cougars as a whole finished with the country's ninth-best passing offense, averaging 322.3 yards per game.
There was also a gutty, four-touchdown passing performance by freshman Connor Halliday in a shocking 37-27 win over Arizona State -- which ultimately cost the Sun Devils the Pac-12 South and a spot in the conference title game.
Offensive MVP: A top-10 receiver nationally, it didn't matter who was under center for Washington State, Marquess Wilson caught what was thrown his way. With 82 grabs on the year, 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns, the sophomore averaged 115.7 yards per game. He came up huge in the victory over Arizona State with three touchdowns and 223 receiving yards. He found the end zone in eight of 12 games.
Defensive MVP: Tough call between linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis and sophomore defensive back Deone Bucannon, who both stood out. But Hoffman-Ellis lead the team with 88 total stops -- 64 of them unassisted -- and had 11 tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception.
Turning point: Has to be the UCLA game. Bowl eligibility would have seemed a lot more likely with four wins going into a stretch that had Stanford and Oregon in two of three weeks. And even though UCLA was down this year, it still would have been a victory over a brand-name conference opponent. Who knows what could have happened if the Cougars had held that lead in the fourth quarter.
Up next: Let the Mike Leach era begin. We know he has quarterbacks and receivers to work with. He'll excite the fan base and his offensive scheme could turn the program around in a hurry.
The Campbell Trophy winner gets a $25,000 postgraduate scholarship. It recognizes, according to the news release, "an individual as the absolute best in the country for his combined academic success, football performance and exemplary community leadership."
The announcement will be made between 8:30 - 9:00 p.m. during the 54th NFF Annual Awards Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on Dec. 6. ESPN3 will carry the event live, and fans can also watch a live stream at www.footballfoundation.org.
Here are the 16 finalists and their accomplishments.
Drew Butler - P - University of Georgia: Qualified for the Athletic Director's Honor Roll every semester during his college career . . . a consensus first-team All-American and winner of the 2009 Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter . . . punted 43 times for a 43-yard average, with a long of 59 yards, while pinning 16 kicks inside the 20-yard line . . . helped the No. 14 Bulldogs to a 10-2 record and the SEC East Division title . . . volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Club and at several elementary schools.
Kirk Cousins - QB - Michigan State University: Qualified for the Dean's List or the President's List every semester of his college career . . . became Michigan State's all-time winningest quarterback and career touchdown pass leader this season . . . led the No. 13 Spartans to a 10-2 record and the inaugural Big Ten Leaders Division title . . . volunteers at a local hospital and with numerous reading initiatives.
Micah Davis - QB - Delta State University (Miss.): Graduated summa cum laude and enrolled in Delta State's MBA program . . . led the Statesmen to the top seed in the Division II playoffs . . . Delta State will host North Greenville (S.C.) in the quarterfinals on Saturday . . . ranks eighth in Division II with 3,207 passing yards with 22 touchdowns . . . volunteers at elementary schools, Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity and at a children's hospital.
John Dowd - OG - U.S. Naval Academy: On pace to become the school's first two-time First-Team Academic All-American . . . anchored one of the country's top rushing offenses in 2010 and 2009 . . . the Midshipmen rank third nationally in rushing this season, totaling over 313 yards per game, and average 5.5 yards per rush on 628 attempts . . . devotes a significant amount of time to various community outreach initiatives through Navy Athletics.
Yaser Elqutub - LB - Northwestern State University: Named A 2010 CoSIDA/ESPN first-team Academic All-District selection and FCS Academic All-Star . . . A walk-on who became an all-conference player and led the Demons to a share of the 2010 league title . . . notched 55 tackles, 3.5 TFL, eight quarterback hits, four pass breakups and one forced fumble . . . one of just 11 players from the divisional ranks chosen to the 2011 AFCA Good Works Team.
Chris Ganious - RB - University of South Dakota: Named a 2010 CoSIDA/ESPN Second-Team Academic All-American . . . ranks among the top FCS active rushers in the country and third in school history . . . rushed 117 times for 471 yards and three touchdowns . . . also caught 14 passes for 106 yards . . . co-president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Clay Garcia - QB - Colorado School of Mines: Qualified for the Dean's List every semester, graduating summa cum laude . . . ranks among the top ten active Division II quarterbacks in multiple career categories . . . places fifth nationally in passing, completing 272-of-434 attempts for 3,118 yards with 20 touchdowns . . . designed and built a fuel-cell driven car and completed an LED conversion analysis for the city of Golden, Colo.
Chandler Harnish - QB - Northern Illinois University: Named a Victory Scholar in NIU's Academic Excellence Program . . . ranks nationally among the top 20 active career leaders for passing and total offense . . . led the Huskies to a 9-3 mark and the MAC West Division championship . . . became the first quarterback in school history to guide the team to four consecutive bowl games . . . ranks seventh in FBS in total offense with 2,692 passing yards and 1,351 rushing yards . . . volunteers with underprivileged children and at local retirement homes.
Tysyn Hartman - DB - Kansas State University: Graduated in three and a half years, qualifying for the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll every semester . . . accumulated more than 220 career tackles and nine interceptions . . . helped the Wildcats reach the top 12 of the BCS Standings for the first time since 2003 . . . accumulated 57 tackles, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 2011 . . . volunteers with the Adopt-a-Family initiative, the Special Olympics, and the Read to Achieve program.
Chaz Hine - OL - University of South Florida: A two-time member of the Big East All-Academic Team and member of USF's Honors College . . . a walk-on who has played in more than 40 games with more than 30 starts, including three bowl victories . . . helped the Bulls lead the Big East in rushing offense while also ranking in the top three in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense . . . an accomplished opera singer with leading roles in Les Miserables, Hello Dolly, South Pacific and Grease.
Joe Holland - LB - Purdue University: A three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and a 2010 Second Team Academic All-American . . . amassed more than 284 career tackles, ranking among the nation's active career leaders . . . places among the top 15 Big Ten tacklers with 85 stops, also notched 8.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and five passes defended . . . helped the Boilermakers appear in their first bowl game since 2007 . . . volunteers at a local retirement home, the "Reading is Leading" initiative and with special needs children.
Jared Karstetter - WR - Washington State University: A member of the WSU Honors College and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars . . . ranks among the top ten in school history for career grabs and touchdown catches . . . snared 60 passes for 700 yards and six touchdowns this season . . . volunteers as a peer academic counselor and at the Shriner's Children's Hospital.
Andrew Rodriguez - LB - U.S. Military Academy: Ranked No. 3 out of 1,052 cadets in his class at West Point . . . accumulated 55 tackles, one interception, four pass breakups, five passes defended and two fumble recoveries . . . helped Army rank in the top 15 nationally in passing defense . . . chosen to participate in the West Point Academic Development Program in Italy.
Ryan Tannehill - QB - Texas A&M: Graduated cum laude and named an A&M Athletics Scholar four times . . . began his career as a wide receiver before moving to quarterback, becoming the only player in FBS history to record more than 3,000 passing yards and 1,500 receiving yards in a career . . . ranks 12th nationally in total offense with 3,415 passing yards and 296 rushing yards while accounting for 32 touchdowns . . . volunteers at local elementary schools and churches and collected presents for underprivileged children.
Patrick Witt - QB - Yale University: A 2011 Rhodes Scholarship finalist and a member of the Beta Gamma Sigma International Honor Society . . . claims more than 5,000 passing yards and 31 touchdowns in his career as a Bulldog . . . named All-Ivy League Honorable Mention . . . volunteers as a high school mentor, Habitat for Humanity and at the Safe Haven Homeless Shelter.
Michael Zweifel - WR - University of Dubuque (Iowa): A two-time Academic All-Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honoree . . . holds the all-division NCAA record for career receptions with 463 and ranks second in receiving yards with 5,979 . . . completed the 2011 season setting the NCAA Division III single-season receptions record with 140 grabs for 1,915 yards and 25 touchdowns . . . represented all IIAC athletes at the NCAA Student Leadership Conference.
Per the release from Washington State:
As a National Scholar-Athlete, Karstetter will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. He is also a finalist for the nation’s top scholar-athlete award, the William V. Campbell Trophy. If he is selected as the Campbell recipient, the scholarship will grow to $25,000.
Karstetter is the fifth Cougar to earn the prestigious honor, as Alex Brink (2007), Jason Hanson (1991), Ed Tingstad (1988) and Greg Porter (1982) were also named National Scholar-Athletes.
Karstetter, one of 16 finalists from a group of 127 semifinalists, is being recognized for accomplishments in the classroom, on the field and in the community. He will be honored during the NFF’s 54th Annual Awards Dinner, Dec. 6, at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York City.
Hailing from Spokane, Wash., Karstetter earned Pac-10 All-Academic First Team honors in 2010 and Second Team honors as a sophomore in 2009. A three-time WSUCougars.com Student-Athlete of the Week, he is a President’s Honor Roll member, a member of the WSU Athletics All-Academic Team from 2008-10, and he was named a Cougar Academic Top 50 Scholar-Athlete for 2010-11. Karstetter is a member of the WSU Honors College and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. He was a First Team All-Academic District VIII honoree as a junior.
Quickly climbing Washington State’s record book, Karstetter ranks eighth in school history with 136 career grabs, and he is tied for seventh with 16 touchdown catches. In 2011, he is third on the squad with 30 receptions for 304 yards and three touchdowns for the Cougars. A two-time Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 pick, Karstetter grabbed 62 passes for 658 yards with seven touchdowns as a junior, and hauled in 38 passes for 540 yards and six scores as a sophomore.
Karstetter, a zoology major who intends to become a dentist, is in the process of submitting a senior thesis study on the correlation between neck strength and concussions among athletes. He has also served as a microbiology lab intern where he performed gel electrophoreses and protein purification. Karstetter is a peer academic counselor at WSU, a frequent visitor at Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, a Reading Buddies and Hoopfest volunteer and an assistant with Butch’s Bash Christmas party for local children.
While Washington State wasn't able to do anything with its first quarter interception of Andrew Luck, they were able to find the end zone after Stepfan Taylor's first fumble of the season in the second quarter.
But that was after the Cardinal were able to turn Jared Karstetter's fumble into points.
Corner back Johnson Bademosi forced the wide receiver to fumble at the Stanford 37 and Michael Thomas recovered and returned it 33 yards to the Washington State 20. Seven plays later, Jeremy Stewart barreled in from 1 yard out for the touchdown.
But with 2:18 left in the half, the Cougars got on the board on Carl Winston's 2-yard run following the Taylor fumble. It's the first fumble this season by a running back -- on a running play -- for Stanford.
Sloppy game thus far from both teams.
The big news for UCLA is another QB change/injury. Bruins starter Richard Brehaut suffered a high ankle sprain, which brought on Kevin Prince.
Prince almost immediately threw a 41-yard pass that set up the Bruins TD. He then threw an interception in the end zone to kill a scoring opportunity just before the half.
Heading into this game, it didn't seem like a potential defensive struggle. For one, if someone said the Cougars would outrush the Bruins -- 71 yards to 66 -- most would figure a big Cougs lead.
The Cougars got three short field goals from Andrew Furney, but that also meant they failed to get touchdowns in the redzone. Washington State even got a second shot after an odd "leaping" penalty on a missed field goal -- no, I have no idea what the official saw -- but couldn't punch the ball in after typically reliable receiver Jared Karstetter dropped a sure TD pass.
Nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, candidates for the award must be seniors or graduate students in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first-team player or significant contributor, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. The class is selected each year by the NFF Awards Committee, which is composed of a nationally recognized group of media, College Football Hall of Famers and athletics administrators.
The NFF Awards Committee will select up to 16 honorees for $18,000 post-graduate scholarships.
The Pac-12 semifinalists are.
Arizona State -- Aaron Pflugrad
California -- Giorgio Tavecchio
Colorado -- Travis Sandersfeld
Washington State -- Jared Karstetter
To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I FBS senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence -- community, classroom, character and competition.
The 30 candidates will be narrowed to 10 finalists midway through the regular season, and those 10 names will be placed on the official ballot. Ballots will be distributed through a nationwide voting system to media, coaches and fans who will select a winner.
The complete list of candidates:
Emmanuel Acho, Linebacker, Texas
Jeff Allen, Offensive Tackle, Illinois
Jake Bequette, Defensive End, Arkansas
Tony Bergstrom, Offensive Tackle, Utah
Michael Brewster, Center, Ohio State
Drew Butler, Punter, Georgia
Kirk Cousins, Quarterback, Michigan State
Jared Crick, Defensive Tackle, Nebraska
Austin Davis, Quarterback, Southern Mississippi
Jeff Demps, Running Back, Florida
John Dowd, Guard, Navy
Michael Egnew, Tight End, Missouri
Alan Gendreau, Placekicker, Middle Tennessee State
Kevin Goessling, Placekicker, Fresno State
Chandler Harnish, Quarterback, Northern Illinois
Aaron Henry, Free Safety, Wisconsin
Joe Holland, Linebacker, Purdue
Jared Karstetter, Wide Receiver, Washington State
Case Keenum, Quarterback, Houston
Chase Minnifield, Cornerback, Virginia
Dan Persa, Quarterback, Northwestern
Tauren Poole, Tailback, Tennessee
Nate Potter, Offensive Tackle, Boise State
Matt Reynolds, Offensive Tackle, BYU
Adrian Robinson, Defensive End, Temple
David Ruffer, Placekicker, Notre Dame
Will Snyderwine, Placekicker, Duke
Nate Stupar, Linebacker, Penn State
Bobby Wagner, Linebacker, Utah State
Dawson Zimmerman, Punter, Clemson
- Arizona cornerback Trevin Wade has regained his focus and swagger.
- Arizona State defensive tackle Corey Adams is emerging mostly because he's healthy.
- Trying to figure out how to feel about California's situation at quarterback.
- Colorado has a walk-on punter and other depth chart notes. Jon Embree is not afraid to play freshmen.
- Lache Seastrunk's departure likely means a couple of freshmen will see action. Frosh tight end Colt Lyerla is now a backup.
- Where do things stand with Oregon State receiver James Rodgers? What are the issues as the Beavers scrimmage today?
- Stanford was mostly impressive in its scrimmage. Ticket sales are up significantly.
- UCLA is still uncertain at kicker. Some notes, including frosh quarterback Brett Hundley's return to practice. More on that here.
- Competitions continue on USC's defense. Predicting the depth chart: offense and defense. The D will be better with two minutes left.
- Apparently the transition to Norm Chow as offensive coordinator -- which included a pair of demotions -- has been smooth at Utah. If there's a full moon, this Utes running back might be money.
- Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant is ready for his close-up. Sean Parker also looks to be a hit in the secondary.
- Washington State wideout Jared Karstetter is hoping for a payoff after remaining true to the Cougars. Making the case for Coug optimism.
Hmm. I wonder what reporters will ask Oregon coach Chip Kelly about?
I don't wonder what his answers will be: Some form of "no comment," though the exact phrasing might include some chippy Chipperism that we've all grown to love.
But even with those no comments, there will be plenty to talk about -- with Kelly and all the other coaches.
Do you have questions you want asked? Feel free to send them along. Or comment below.
Here a list of who will be there and what we're interested in asking.
Quarterback Nick Foles and coach Mike Stoops
Top questions: While the rebuilding of both lines is a prime issue, Wildcats fans will want an update on receiver Juron Criner's health from Mike Stoops. And they will want to know about 2010's late-season slide.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler and coach Dennis Erickson
Top questions: Are the Sun Devils ready to play as the favorites in the Pac-12 South? And is there any chance cornerback Omar Bolden plays this fall?
Receiver Marvin Jones and coach Jeff Tedford
Top questions: Is Zach Maynard the man to restore Tedford's reputation as a developer of QBs? How does Tedford feel about growing fan discontent?
Quarterback Tyler Hansen and coach Jon Embree
Top questions: Does it feel different heading into the season as a member of the Pac-12 instead of the Big 12? What went wrong under Dan Hawkins that's going to go right under Embree?
Tight end David Paulson and coach Chip Kelly
Top questions: Er, any comment on Willie Lyles? What about those rebuilt offensive and defensive lines? What's up with suspended cornerback Cliff Harris and linebacker Kiko Alonso?
Safety Lance Mitchell and coach Mike Riley
Top questions: What went wrong last year? How's James Rodgers knee doing? And about those lines...
Quarterback Andrew Luck and coach David Shaw
Top questions: Does it feel different to be a frontrunner rather than a darkhorse? What's going to be different under Shaw compared to Jim Harbaugh? What about holes at receiver and on both lines?
Running back Johnathan Franklin and coach Rick Neuheisel
Top questions: Is this a win or else season for Neuheisel? What's going to happen at quarterback? What's the status of O-lineman Jeff Baca (broken ankle)?
Quarterback Matt Barkley and coach Lane Kiffin
Top questions: What's the approach with no postseason as a motivation? Injury update, please! What about the depth on the O-line and LB? And is Armond Armstead going to play in 2011?
Offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom and coach Kyle Whittingham
Top questions: Do the Utes think they will become an immediate contender in the Pac-12 South race? Is quarterback Jordan Wynn 100 percent and back to his old self after shoulder surgery?
Running back Chris Polk and coach Steve Sarkisian
Top questions: What's the offense going to look like post-Jake Locker? What's the pecking order at linebacker? What does the bowl victory mean about the state of the program?
Receiver Jared Karstetter and coach Paul Wulff
Top questions: Is this a win or else season for Wulff? Will the defense improve enough to support what should be a good offense? How good can quarterback Jeff Tuel be?
Typically, the team's player choice goes one of three ways: 1) The team brings its biggest star, as it should in the spirit of media day; 2) The team brings its quarterback, which seems fair enough; 3) The team brings a senior it wants to honor.
Of course, this process often creates a bit of tension when the player draws a "Who?" while representing a program with a guy who's on preseason All-America teams.
See if you can guess which leading Heisman Trophy candidate won't be attending media day.
QB Nick Foles
QB Brock Osweiler
WR Marvin Jones
QB Tyler Hansen
TE David Paulson
S Lance Mitchell
QB Andrew Luck
RB Johnathan Franklin
QB Matt Barkley
OT Tony Bergstrom
RB Chris Polk
WR Jared Karstetter
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.
It was raining, but the six soon decided to go outside to toss the rock around. Shortly thereafter, what had once been lazy chilling transformed into what it typically does around Tuel: earnest football.
"Nolan is telling me about playing corner and what he does with his feet," Tuel said. "Gino is showing me releases. I'm showing him quarterback stuff. It's goofing around but it gets serious. It's non-stop with us, whether we're talking serious game planning or chucking it around in the street, it's non-stop with us."
Because football matters to Tuel.
The problem for Tuel -- as well as Washington State and its fans -- is Cougars football has been irrelevant for a while now. Washington State hasn't enjoyed a winning record since posting three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001-2003. In three seasons under coach Paul Wulff, the Cougars are 5-32 with just two Pac-10 victories.
"Without a doubt," Tuel said. "Any true competitor does not like to lose. It pisses you off. And when you don't get the respect you feel like you deserve, it will start a fire underneath you as well. It's definitely a humbling feeling a times, but you put somethings in the back of your mind, for sure."
That was in the back of Tuel's mind last season as the Cougars lined up in victory formation in November against a quality foe -- Oregon State -- for the first time since 2007. Tuel took a knee and was thrilled. But he was also, well, still upset.
"It was kind of like, 'Holy crap,'" Tuel said. "But for me personally, I was kind of like ... I don't know how to describe it. Almost angry in a sense because it's like, 'Dang, we could have been doing this the whole year.'"
Angry is good. That tells you there's fire and belief inside Tuel, a junior who heads into his third season as the Cougars' starter and the biggest reason some expect the program to line up in at least a few more victory formations in 2011.
That would be good for Wulff, who's on the hot seat this fall after receiving only a luke-warm endorsement from athletic director Bill Moos. One school of thinking asserts that Wulff needs a bowl game to survive into 2012, though that might be a bit ambitious for the Cougars, who are still young.
Tuel, the best quarterback most of the nation has never heard of, is the Point A for hope. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns last year and welcomes back his top two receivers in freshman All-American Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter, who combined for 117 receptions. The Cougars could pass on anybody last year, and the conventional thinking is they'll be even more potent in 2011, particularly with the rise of talented youngsters Kristoff Williams and Bobby Ratliff.
"We're a lot sharper [during spring practices]," Tuel said. "It was sloppy my previous years, but this was for sure our best spring. We looked really sharp. We had a lot of fun this year. It's hard for us not to be confident and excited when spring ball went the way it did."
The Cougars were far more competitive in 2010 than the previous two years under Wulff, but it was a humiliating 42-zip loss at Arizona State that seemed to transform the season. At that point, more than a few folks thought the Cougs might pack it in and bail on Wulff. They clearly weren't ready to play in Tempe and they didn't put up much of a fight.
Yet the loss seemed to trigger an immediate, positive response.
"We all were just fed up. We heard what people were saying. It's embarrassing to throw up a donut against a team like that. It was kind of a thing of, 'That's enough,'" Tuel said. "There was not really one moment or a speech by an individual. The team came out hungry and ready to practice Monday and it carried throughout the whole week. That was something we hadn't had, but it seemed to come together. It sort of jumped-started a lot of guys."
The Cougars nearly beat California before yielding 20-13. Then they won at Oregon State and lost a barnburner to rival Washington, 35-28, after overcoming a 21-7 second-quarter deficit. In that game, Tuel outplayed Huskies quarterback Jake Locker, the No. 8 pick in last week's NFL draft, passing for 298 yards and three touchdowns, while Locker had 226 yards and two touchdowns (both tossed an interception).
"Once we got rolling, we were going. They didn't have an answer for us. We just kind of ran out of time," Tuel said. "Guys went into the offseason with a lot of confidence and belief in each other and where this is going."
If that confidence helps create wins, then Wulff's job will be safe. But Tuel said the focus isn't on saving Wulff or just preventing a negative result. It's about football -- winning football.
"We want to win for everybody, for the fans, for the coaching staff, for ourselves, for the Cougar Nation," he said. "I don't think as a team we are dedicating our wins to an individual. We just want to win, man. We know that winning cures everything. When you win, everyone is happy."
First of all, plenty of top non-seniors from the conference might -- or are likely to -- enter the draft, including Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Oregon RB LaMichael James, Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict and USC QB Matt Barkley. Those four range from sure to likely first-round draft picks.
But this list includes only players in their final year of eligibility. And some might rate a bit of a reach as NFL prospects.
Arizona: QB Nick Foles, WR Juron Criner, CB Trevin Wade
Arizona State: CB Omar Bolden, DE James Brooks, C Garth Gerhart
California: S Sean Cattouse, TE Anthony Miller, LB Mychal Kendricks, LB D.J. Holt, OT Mitchell Schwartz, P Bryan Anger
Colorado: OG Ryan Miller, RB Rodney Stewart, DT Conrad Obi, TE Ryan Deehan
Oregon: TE David Paulson, SS Eddie Pleasant, OT Mark Asper, LB Josh Kaddu
Oregon State: S Lance Mitchell, WR James Rodgers, FB-TE Joe Halahuni
Stanford: WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleenor, S Delano Howell
UCLA: S Tony Dye, FB Derrick Coleman, TE Cory Harkey
USC: LB Chris Galippo, DE Armond Armstead, TE Rhett Ellison, RB Marc Tyler
Utah: OT Tony Bergstrom, LB Chaz Walker, OT John Cullen
Washington: DT Alameda Ta'amu, WR Jermaine Kearse, OT Senio Kelemete, K Erik Folk
Washington State: DT Brandon Rankin, OG B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter