Any football coach who boasts of his love for pirates and their swashbuckling ways is sure to inspire confidence in the local fanbase. That’s exactly what happened last season in Pullman, WA, with the arrival of ex-Texas Tech field general Mike Leach at Washington State University.
When word broke of Leach’s hiring, phones started ringing off the hook at the Wazzu ticket office. The WSU faithful hadn’t been this excited since, well, the glory days of Ryan Leaf.
Unfortunately, Leach’s inaugural campaign at Washington State failed to live up to billing. An “air-raid” oriented Cougars squad started with a thud, scoring just six points in an opening loss against BYU. Regardless, Leach played a boatload of newcomers, stuck to his style of ball despite a general lack of progress, and the end result was a 3-9 record—a game worse than the previous season under Paul Wulff.
Arizona State fans will have to fight over-confidence when the Sun Devils visit chilly Pullman on Thursday, Oct. 31, for a Halloween evening tussle with Leach’s rebounding team.
Washington State was the Pac-12′s No. 1 passing team in 2012, averaging 330.4 yards per game (No. 9 overall). However, it took them over 50 pass attempts per game to reach that statistic, while both Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday combined for a 1.1-to-1.0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. This season, WSU returns seven starters on offense, including Halliday, who continues to be the projected starter under center.
Given the radical changes on offense at WSU, Leach’s game plan was not going to be an overnight success story, but more pressure will be on this season for the Cougars. Their 2013 schedule opens with a bang and does not get much easier with just three true home games in the conference and having to play most of the top teams from the South division while missing lowly Colorado.
WSU begins its season with two big road games, playing at Auburn on the opening weekend and then kicking off Pac-12 play at USC the following week. These demanding matchups could take a serious toll on Leach’s players, or propel the Cougars to a new level of success if they pull off an upset or at least look the part.
Following the opening road swing, WSU has a pair of apparent cakewalk opponents in Southern Utah and Idaho before gearing up for eight consecutive Pac-12 battles (separated by open dates on Oct. 26 and Nov. 9). How the Cougars survive this challenge is anyone’s guess, but the betting odds aren’t in their favor.