OTHER PREVIEWS: San Jose State | Army | Arizona State
Mike Leach's first season in Pullman was, on the whole, dreadful. The Cougars opened the year on a Thursday night at BYU, poised to show off their newly installed 'Air Raid' offense to a captive ESPN audience. Instead, they stunk up the joint and lost 30-6, managing -5 yards rushing and allowing three sacks in the process. The Pirate would need more time to right this ship, and things would get worse before they got better.
The Cougars lost to Colorado at home -- the Buffs' only win of the season -- in Week 4, the start of an eight-game slide. Following a 49-6 loss at Utah in early November, Leach called the performance by the Cougars' offensive line 'heartless' and talented wideout Marquess Wilson quit the team the next day.
2012 record: 3-9, 1-8 Pac-12
What to expect from the Cougars in 2013: The Cougars will start three seniors on the offensive line, so it's reasonable to think that the pass protection (nation-worst 57 sacks allowed) and run blocking (nation-worst 1.38 yards per carry) will improve. It almost has to, right? The Cougars will once again throw far more often than they run, but don't tell Leach his offense in unbalanced. If the offense is to improve in Leach's second season, it's imperative that Connor Halliday (15 TDs, 13 INTs last season) isn't running for his life. The Cougars were awful on third down (32%), while their defense allowed 33.7 points per game.
Best player: Wide receiver Gabe Marks. The four-star recruit out of Venice (Los Angeles) had 49 catches for 560 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. He's prepared to take on an even bigger role in the offense with the departure of Marquess Wilson, who quit the team during the middle of a workout last November. Dominique Williams is another candidate to become Halliday's top target, while senior safety Deone Bucannon, who had 106 tackles last season, is another name to watch.
Prediction vs. Stanford: The Cardinal struggled to put away Washington State in a 24-17 win at Stanford Stadium last year despite registering a school-record 10 sacks. Ed Reynolds saved the day with a fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown, as the Cougars held Stepfan Taylor to a season-low 58 yards on 21 carries. The #partyinthebackfield should be raging again, while the Cardinal should have more success moving the ball against the Cougars with Kevin Hogan under center than Josh Nunes.
Best Random Fact about Washington State: The great Keith Jackson graduated from Washington State in 1954. Whoa, Nellie!