In exactly one week, the Washington State University Cougars will officially begin the 2011 football season. Seven days. In commemoration of the final Sunday before college football begins in Pullman, we offer the answers to the seven questions we received this week, along with a few more than seven links and a few less than seven notes. Read on.
• Washington State: We're starting with the links and notes, because that's what we do and we're pretty conservative in our old age. (We were pretty conservative in our young age, too, but that was a long time ago.) The questions and answers are at the bottom of this post. … Correspondent Josh Wright caught up with former Cougar and Idaho Vandal Mac Hopson, who is playing hoops in of all places Argentina. … Someone in the Pac-12 offices leaked one day's worth of the conference's TV network schedule to our John Blanchette. … And that's about it about WSU stuff.
• Around the Pac-12: College football's season of change is almost upon us, and boy, the changes are huge. But not as big as they might have been. … And things are not quite as rosy around the conference as they could be… Washington: The Northwest is pretty quite. … Oregon State: That includes the Beavers. … Oregon: And the Ducks. … Colorado: Practice in Boulder will be tougher than it used to be – or, in reality, like it used to be a long time ago. … Utah: The Pac-12? Big deal say Ute fans. … But do the Utes have a quarterback that fits in the conference? … California: Not much. … Stanford: There is no player in the Pac-12 with a higher profile than Andrew Luck. … USC: It's quiet in LA as well. … UCLA: And that includes Westwood. … Arizona State: The Sun Devils' depth chart includes a Moos up front on defense. … Arizona: Nothing going on in Tucson today.
• So we are done with the links. Now on to your questions, picked in a random order, though not answered that way. Some of the answers were simple, others took some research. Some are definitive, others just opinion. Some are interesting, most are just me rambling. So let's get to 'em. …
Question: “I’d like to know the overall attitude of the players when it comes to the future of their coach, and whether or not they feel extra pressure to perform because the future of the coaching staff is on the line?”
Answer: Actually, a variation of this question was asked by a couple of people, so I asked every player I talked with the past week about it. And the basic answer is the same. Yes, they are aware of the talk (and really, how could they not be?). And yes, they understand their performance on the field could play a big part in the coaching staff's future. But, really, they don't spend a lot of time talking about it or dwelling on it. As Travis Long said, they really don't have any control about what happens, so why waste time thinking about it? But having gone through this type of season more than once with WSU (the final year of the Bill Doba era and, to a lesser degree, last season), I know the players will grow weary of the incessant questions as the season wears on, especially if the year turns south quickly. So this is a question that has one answer now and could truly have a different one in two months or so.
Q: “What will be the biggest change we’ll see with Chris Ball now being the sole DC, not co-DC?”
A: Honestly, there shouldn't be too much change. Ball has been the main force behind the defense for the past three years, at least on the practice field. He's the one who addressed the defense before and after practice, his was the main voice on scheme questions during. But there should be one change come game day. With Ball the lone defensive coordinator, there should be less headset discussion and more decisiveness on the pre-snap calls.
Q: “What are the chances (Toni) Pole and (Brandon) Rankin aren't eligible?”
A: At the Pac-12 media day, coach Paul Wulff said that Rankin's academic issue wasn't a big deal, that he was confident the senior defensive lineman would work it all out and be ready to go next week. Pole, also a defensive lineman, has to pass a summer class that just finished last week, so his status won't be determined until grades are released. But, honestly, if you had one class to pass to be able to do something you love, wouldn't you do whatever it takes to get through it? Seems like he should be ready to go. … We also went over this week the academic status of the incoming players, with Wulff saying JC transfer Niko Aumua was ineligible and five incoming freshmen were still to be determined. We'll keep on eye on that.
Q: “Who is the fastest guy on the team? The strongest?”
A: This question also included one about strength testing (yes, the players max out all the time, usually in winter and spring conditioning) and another about speed testing (no, WSU has never timed players consistently in the 40 since I've been on the beat). As for the fastest guy, I asked the players about this and there seems to be an argument revolving around two defensive backs (Daniel Simmons and Anthony Carpenter), a wide receiver (freshman Henry Eaddy) and a running back (freshman Marcus Mason). You'll have to pick among those four, because I'm not going to ask them to race. If one was to pull something during it … As for strength, that depends on the size of the person. Among the big guys, guard B.J. Guerra seems to be the man, while among the smaller folk, linebacker Darren Markle gets the nod.
Q: “Who will be in charge of WSU football blog coverage (First and Crimson) since WSU alum Joe Nickell went back to Boise State?”
A: WSU hired Bobby Alworth to replace Nickell earlier this year, and I'm sure Alworth will take care of the blog world. But, really, why would you need to go anywhere else but here?
Q: “What does (athletic director Bill) Moos say for expectations for this season? Any firm benchmarks like 6 wins?”
A: There is no way Moos is going to be pinned down on a number of wins that would ensure Wulff would not only finish his contract – it expires after next season – but also earn an extension – that has to happen if Wulff is going to continue at WSU because recruiting is nearly impossible without some sort of long-term guarantee. But we'll try to give you some pretty hard-and-fast benchmarks. If the Cougars win four or less games, there is little chance Wulff would return for his fifth year. If they win six or more games, it's pretty certain Moos would add a rolling extension clause into his contract (one in which a year is automatically added to the contract at the end of the season unless Moos denies it; such a deal is Moos' way). The questions arise if WSU wins five games. If the Cougars are 3-2 after the first five and pull two upsets in the final seven weeks of the season, five might be enough. If they are 5-0 then lose seven consecutive games, probably not. A 4-1 start then an Apple Cup win? That's a tough one. And this, my friends, is why ADs don't like to be pinned down. By the way, looking at the schedule this last day of July, it's obvious after the first two games (Idaho State and UNLV), the most winnable ones – on paper – are all on the road (Colorado, UCLA, Cal, even OSU in Seattle). I'm sure Wulff wishes the schedule was inverted this season.
Q: “Write about the lines and line play please.”
A: This really isn't a question, more like a request. But we're here to please, so we'll try. … The offensive line returns four starters – center Zack Williams was drafted by Carolina – so that's a positive. But the group has struggled the past two years, so there are still a lot of question marks. More than likely four seniors – left tackle David Gonzales, center Andrew Roxas, right guard Guerra and right tackle Wade Jacobson – will take the field against Idaho State, so that's a positive. But only Gonzales and Guerra played the same spots last season, with Jacobson moving back outside after a year at guard and sophomore John Fullington moving inside to left guard. This group, more than any single area, is the key to offense this season. If it plays well, the offense will not only be, as Wulff called it, explosive, but efficient as well. And that would really help the defense. One other note, with Tyson Pencer leaving for Canada – I have been told it was for financial reasons, as a Canadian player's scholarship money just doesn't stretch as far what with the taxes they are responsible for – the group is really thin. There is little or no major college experience in the backups, so health will be crucial this season. … As for the defense, if everyone is healthy (Long said this week his shoulder is great and he's ready for practice to start) and eligible (see question and answer above), this group should be deeper – and better – than last year. Ball wants to rotate more players through, giving everyone more time off in the course of a game and keeping them fresher. That may mean a freshman or two might see time and it also is predicated on Rankin and Pole being part of the squad. Those questions will be answered definitively over the next few weeks.
• That's it for this morning. We'll be back when events warrant. Until later …