This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The heat of Mike Leach's seat may be a little overstated.
No, last year wasn't all that great. But for one thing, look at Leach's contract: He and Washington State are bound at the hip, for better or for worse.
And indeed, 2015 actually might be better than last year's 3-9 season. Although the Cougars are missing some big-time players from last season, their added talent combined with maybe a few Pac-12 North teams sliding might mean they could surprise.
Strengths • Simply look at offense. The biggest benefit will be the big uglies: All five offensive line starters are back, led by senior Joe Dahl. Quarterback and Logan native Luke Falk, who was unceremoniously thrust into action by injury, should feel comfortable in that pocket; also expected to produce is the run game, which has been an afterthought in previous years under Leach. While extremely talented receivers graduated, WSU will have a group of wideouts that include a guy who sat out last year (Gabe Marks), a guy who transferred in (Kyrin Priester) and a guy who was a thorn in Utah's side last season (River Cracraft).
Weaknesses • Simply look at defense. Leach never does well there. WSU had the No. 114-ranked scoring defense last season, and struggled to make stops late in close games against Oregon and Cal. It's up to first-year coordinator Alex Grinch to make a difference there. He has a task up front, where WSU is replacing a number of talented players. The secondary got experience last year, but is still very, very young. There's also some uncertainty about the early weeks of the season due to wildfires in East Washington: The Spokesman Review has reported the season opener against Portland State might be moved or delayed because of poor air quality.
Outlook • Despite a step back last year, excitement about football seems to be rising in Pullman, and Leach has recruited some very good talent, especially on offense. It will be a little tough to pull out wins against a winnable-but-not-pushover nonconference schedule and a road start to Pac-12 play at Cal and Oregon. But Wazzu could win games based purely on its offensive firepower, which may be an edge in a year when Washington and Oregon State both have pressing offensive questions.
Washington State schedule
Sept. 5 • Portland State
Sept. 12 • at Rutgers
Sept. 19 • Wyoming
Oct. 3 • at Cal
Oct. 10 • at Oregon
Oct. 17 • Oregon State
Oct. 24 • at Arizona
Oct. 31 • Stanford
Nov. 7 • Arizona State
Nov. 14 • at UCLA
Nov. 21 • Colorado
Nov. 27 • at Washington
Editor's note: This is the last in a series of stories previewing the Pac-12's upcoming football season.