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Washington State could ink as many as 20 players – or more – when early signing period opens

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 18, 2018, 9:34 p.m.

Washington State  head coach Mike Leach leads his team from the bus to the locker room before the first half of the Apple Cup, Nov. 23  at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State head coach Mike Leach leads his team from the bus to the locker room before the first half of the Apple Cup, Nov. 23 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – For the most part, Washington State fans have learned to balance the highs and lows of the recruiting season.

By the time Mike Leach meets with media members Wednesday at 2 p.m., the Cougars will have signed a large majority of their 2019 recruiting class. At least, that’s the idea for WSU and other schools looking to maximize the NCAA’s early signing period – the three-day window rolled out by college football last year allowing recruits to ink their National Letter of Intent halfway through December rather than early February.

The 2019 class for WSU is expected to be in the low 20s, which should place the Cougars at or near the top of the Pac-12. WSU and Cal each had 21 oral commitments as of Tuesday night and had a slight edge on Arizona State, Oregon and UW, who each have 20 pledges. Stanford and Arizona were next with 19 and 17, respectively.

As far as the numbers go, Leach and the Cougars should stack up with the rest of their Pac-12 contemporaries by the time the early period closes on Friday.

“We’ve adjusted (from 2017), a lot more concentrated at this point,” Leach said last week, “and we’ll have quite a few sign on the 19th, I think.”

But when the other numbers are taken into consideration – number of stars per recruit, number of four-stars per class, number of hat battles won – it should be another ordinary day for WSU.

As in, nobody is expecting the Cougars to compete with the top flight of the Pac-12 the same way they have on the field, where WSU’s 26 conference wins over the last four years rank second in the league behind only Washington.

The Cougars aren’t landing a big fish like Oregon is, with defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux – the nation’s top overall high school prospect, according to most services.

They don’t have 12 four-star recruits coming their way, like the Huskies do, or thee top-100 prospects, also like the Huskies.

Even Arizona State, which won three fewer games than WSU under first-year coach Herm Edwards, has a trio of recruits rated four stars by the 247Sports composite rankings. The Cougars don’t have one such player committed.

But WSU fans know better than to take stock in such metrics. They’re devised to generate buzz this time of year, but they’re not always an accurate measuring stick when it comes to judging success of a college football program.

It’s been well-documented that WSU (10-2) has a chance to set a program record with 11 wins Dec. 28 in the Alamo Bowl vs. Iowa State. The Cougars are also making their fourth straight postseason appearance – a feat that’s largely been accomplished by three-star athletes who may have been courted by multiple Power Five schools but weren’t necessarily sorting between WSU, Alabama and USC on signing day.

Every WSU recruiting class over the last four years has ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-12, per 247. In 2015, eighth; in 2016, 10th; and in 2017 and ’18, ninth. Even without a composite four-star recruit, the 2019 class is ranked seventh.

The Ducks, meanwhile, have boasted three classes ranked in the top three of the Pac-12 since 2015 and expect to bring in the top class in program history on Wednesday. Oregon, however, suffered a fourth straight loss to WSU this year in Pullman, losing 34-20 after taking a 33-10 pounding in Eugene the year before. The Cougars have never had a higher-rated class than Stanford under Leach’s watch, but they’ve also won the last three against the Cardinal.

WSU’s efforts on the recruiting trail have generally mirrored those on the field, in that they’ve improved each year since Leach has been in Pullman. The Cougars seem to have a good grasp of how to attack the early signing period in the second year of its existence.

“I thought we adjusted well. I thought we adjusted better than some teams did, for sure,” Leach said. “I think teams are still adjusting to it and I think part of it is, the players, the prospects, as they’re getting used to the early signing period, it’s kind of a moving target what they’re doing also.”

But does Leach like the early period? Ask him again in a month.

“I’m mixed,” Leach said. “In January, I do. In December, I don’t so much. January, it’s great. It’s a pretty jammed December as far as the bowl and tending to guys as far as finals, that type of thing. We’ve been productive, though.”

WSU should fill plenty of needs this week, beginning with the defensive secondary, which loses a pair of starting corners in Darrien Molton and Sean Harper Jr. The Cougars, who also had two defensive backs defect, are expecting to bring in five high school/junior college players to help fill the gaps.

Quarterback Gunner Cruz, outside linebacker Travion Brown and running back Jamir Thomas are other class headliners who plan to fax their letters of intent to Pullman on Wednesday .

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