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WSU adds a receiver

Even as Washington State begins adds commitments for t 2016, the Cougars are still wrapping up their 2015 recruiting class. Sort of.

Tavares Martin from West Palm Beach, Florida, turned in his national letter of intent to the WSU coaching staff on Tuesday, according to multiple outlets. Martin was recruited in the 2015 class but will likely count as a member of the 2016 class for the Cougars. More on that below.

Martin originally planned to sign with West Virginia, but had his scholarship offer rescinded following an arrest for attempted burglary. Martin allegedly broke into a home and stole some stuff, including a flat screen TV.

While the arrest happened long before Martin committed to WVU, various reports state that it was the reason for the scholarship offer to be revoked. He then signed with Ellsworth Community College in Iowa.

Because theft is one of WSU coach Mike Leach's three violations that are cause for immediate dismissal, Martin will undoubtedly be under tight scrutiny from both fans and coaches.

Martin told Cougfan.com that he had a one-on-one meeting with athletic director Bill Moos, who apparently gave Leach the go-ahead to sign the talented receiver.

In the article, available to Cougfan subscribers, Martin said, "(Moos) told me that he's glad that I learned from my mistakes and that I need to make better decision. I need to hang around better people … Mr. Moos gave coach Leach the stamp of approval."

In Martin the Cougars are getting an undeniably talented receiver, one who reportedly had scholarship offers from Alabama, Forida, Ohio State and many other successful programs.

He also fills a need, since Rickey Preston (another late addition to the class), opted to sign with Tulane a few weeks ago. Because WSU already has the max of 25 scholarships given out for 2015, the plan for Preston was to sign financial aid papers and count against the 2016 class, while still being able to play right away. It seems reasonable to assume that's what Martin will do, and that he actually signed financial aid papers, rather than an NLI. I'm still trying to confirm that's the case and will update when I can.

Athlete Renard Bell commits to play at WSU


In the early afternoon on Thursday, Renard Bell of Cathedral HS in Los Angeles called WSU assistant Roy Manning.

Manning, a linebacker coach but the primary recruiter for the Cougars in southern California, has been recruiting Bell since early April, texting him or touching base almost every day.

That constant contact paid off, because Bell was calling to tell Manning that he plans on playing for WSU next fall.

"They showed a lot of love. They were the first team to offer me and ever since they offered me, they could not stop showing me love," Bell said. "My parents loved it and they were the school really showing me love out of all the offers that I have. So I felt comfortable and decided to go ahead and commit."

Bell also explained how Manning formed a relationship with him, saying, "They were being cool, asking me how my day was going, how's school, asking about track because I'm a track guy. They were joking around a lot and I felt very comfortable."

The Cougars initially recruited Bell as a cornerback, but the offensive coaches thought his talents as a receiver also merited a scholarship. Eventually they told the speedster, who clocked a 10.89 100-meter dash this spring, that he could play on either side of the ball. He says he prefers receiver.

Bell says he also had scholarship offers from Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada.

"And I was talking to a lot of schools, Wyoming, UCLA, Boise State, Arizona State, Utah, Utah State and Colorado, and a couple other schools," He added. "But Washington State hit me up every day, every week and they were just keeping up with me."

Bell is friends with Jalen Thompson and Daevon Vigilant of Downey High in California, both of whom already have scholarship offers from the Cougars.

He will take an unofficial visit to WSU in June and then an official visit in the fall. He hasn't ruled out visiting other schools to compare, but says he will first talk with WSU's coaches.

  

WSU men’s basketball avoids APR restrictions

The first thing Ernie Kent did when he and his staff arrived at Washington State wasn't call recruits or install his scheme. Instead, he made sure the departing players that he would never coach—D.J. Shelton, James Hunter, Royce Woolridge, Will Dilorio—got their degrees and that the remaining players were in good academic standing.

The academic emphasis paid off for Kent today, as the Cougars narrowly avoided penalties in the NCAA's just-released Academic Progress Rate (APR). The NCAA gives each team a yearly APR score out of 1,000 that measures its academic performance and retention. If a team's average score over a four-year period dips below 930 it faces penalties, including potential postseason ineligibility.

The reason for Kent's urgency? A score of 900 in 2010-11 that, paired with a 926 last season, seemed almost certain to result in some sort of academic punishment for the WSU men's basketball team. In fact, because basketball has so few scholarships (here is an explanation of how the scoring works) even one player leaving in poor academic standing could have torpedoed the Cougars below the 930 threshold.

Instead, the Cougars posted a 963 for 2013-14, keeping their four-year rolling at to 938 and effectively out of the danger zone.  Next year that 900 score will no longer be included in the multiyear average, meaning the Cougars would have to post an especially bad score to face any sort of sanctions.

Here is the APR info for all the WSU athletic teams. No other teams appear to be in danger of sanctions and the men's and women's cross country, women's basketball, women's golf, rowing  and volleyball teams all posted perfect one-year scores.

WSU ranks last in 2014 Pac-12 athletic revenues

Washington State's overall athletic revenue went up more than $7 million in 2014. However, that still left the Cougars last in the Pac-12.

 

WSU took in  $54,426,818 which ranked No. 54 in the country, according to USA Today, which released its annual examination of athletic department finances (you can check out the methodology here). Also shown is how much of the budget is subsidized by student fees, state money and direct and indirect institutional support.

While the athletic department took in significantly more money than it did in 2013, ticket sales were down by nearly $1 million and contributions fell almost $1.3 million.

Meanwhile, the expenses went up by about $16 million, and WSU spent about $13 million more on athletics than it took in ($10 million of which was paid for by start-of-year surplus), as we detailed back in January. The Cougars still spent less than every Pac-12 school besides Colorado and Utah.

Klay Thompson is first All-NBA Cougar

Klay Thompson was named to the 2014-15 All-NBA third team on Thursday, the first such honor for a graduate of Washington State University.

Thompson, along with NBA MVP teammate Stephen Curry, helped lead the Golden State Warriors to a franchise-record and NBA-best 67 regular season wins. The "Splash Brothers" and co. are currently up 1-0 over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals.

The 25-year-old Thompson averaged a career-high 21.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists over 77 games (all starts). Furthermore, Thompson's plus/minus of +10.1 is the third-highest in the NBA.

The Cougars have put good players into the NBA before, such as Craig Ehlo, Don Collins and James Donaldson. But none achieved the individual success that Thompson can already claim.

In 2011, the Warriors made the 6-foot-7 shooting guard the 11th pick in the NBA draft, the highest selection in school history, after Thompson led the Pac-10 in scoring with 21.6 points per game as a junior.

However, his school records in 3-point field goals made (242) and 3-point attempts (620), were bested this year by senior guard DaVonté Lacy, who will now try to earn a spot in a league that a fellow WSU alum is dominating. 

Morning links: Halliday calls it a career

Spokane and Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday ended his prolific career, retiring from football just before Washington started its rookie minicamp.

John Blanchette wrote that Halliday doesn't need to explain the surprising decision, which I reported in this blog post and story.

In other news…

— The NCAA men's basketball rules committee proposed a number of rule changes yesterday, which we covered here.

— Joe Pistorese threw a gem to lead the WSU baseball team past Arizona State.

— A pair of Wildcats faced off for the first time as pros at the NBA combine in Chicago.

— Arizona State signed a late addition to its 2015 recruiting class.

— Oregon's basketball team just secured a commitment to play from the top junior college recruit in the country.

— A Stanford safety may skip his senior season to pursue a professional baseball career.

— The Pac-12 Blog examines who from the conference could be a Heisman Candidate next season.

Updated: Halliday is done with football

3:55 p.m. update: Connor Halliday told 700 ESPN this afternoon that he is not injured but has decided that he is done playing football.

Connor Halliday has been rehabbing since November to prepare himself for professional football, but now appears to be finished with the sport.

Washington signed Halliday, who was not drafted, but the quarterback is no longer listed on the team's roster ahead of this weekend's minicamp. John Keim of ESPN reported this morning that Halliday may be done playing football permanently.
  

If so, the timing is curious considering the work the quarterback put in to reach this point after breaking his ankle against USC on Nov. 1. Halliday was invited to the NFL Combine but did not throw there, waiting instead to conduct his own pro day at WSU on April 1, following an extensive rehab process in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Halliday threw well at his pro day, and Washington general manager Scot McCloughan seemed to take a lot of interest in him as a player, scouting him heavily throughout the pre-draft process.

In the past, the Spokane native has said that eventually he wants to coach high school football. His former coach at Ferris High, Jim Sharkey, says he has not spoken with Halliday about leaving football and that earlier this week he seemed excited for the chance to earn a roster spot.

I have reached out to Halliday and will update when we know more.

 

NCAA proposes rules changes to college basketball

The NCAA men's basketball rules committee has proposed some changes with the goals of reducing physicality in the sport (to increase scoring) and speed games up.

The proposals include:

  1. Reducing the shot clock to 30 seconds.
  2. Strict enforcement of defensive rules (apparently officials weren't doing this before?).
  3. Providing offensive players the same verticality protections as defensive players.
  4. Moving the restricted-area arc out from three feet to four feet.
  5. Decreasing the number of timeouts from five to four, with no more than three carrying over to the second half.
  6. Instructing officials to more strictly enforce resumption of play after timeouts and after a player fouls out.
  7. Team timeouts within 30 seconds of media timeouts will become media timeouts, with the exception of the first media timeout of the second half. 
  8. Coaches will no longer be allowed to call live-ball timeouts.
  9. The 10-second backcourt rule will no longer reset following a timeout.
  10. Eliminating the five-seconds closely guarded rule.
  11. Reducing the number of technical foul shots for hanging on the rim to one.
  12. Allowing dunks during pregame warmups.

​The committee has had some misses in recent years (the "let's never call charges" fiasco, for example) but these changes will likely be pretty popular, even if coaches are reticent to give up timeouts.These are all proposals, to become rules they must be approved by the NCAA's playing rules oversight panel on June 8.

WSU releases post-spring depth chart

For the most part, the depth chart is pretty much what we saw and reported throughout the spring. There is one notable surprise, however. David Bucannon is listed as a backup cornerback. At 6-foot, 197-pounds, the former safety is by far the biggest cornerback on the team.

The Cougars are expected to add some corners this offseason, including junior college transfer Treshon Broughton, so it will be interesting to see if Bucannon can hold onto the position in fall camp.

It's also interesting to see Andre Dillard listed as the backup left tackle. While the coaches have been pretty excited about Dillard since he first started practicing, I'd still expect Gunnar Eklund to slide over if for some reason Joe Dahl couldn't play. Despite being limited all spring, River Cracraft is still the starting Y receiver and "Dan Post" did enough to play himself into the backup position at X.

Courtesy of WSU Athletics:

Polè will attend Bengals rookie camp

The Cincinnati Bengals will hold their opening meeting of rookie minicamp tonight and Kalafitoni Polè will be in the room.

The former Washington State defensive tackle went undrafted, but still has a shot to make an NFL team. Rookie minicamp is the first step and, while the focus will be on the drafted players, if Polè can impress the coaches, perhaps he can score an invite to training camp in the fall.

Quarterback Connor Halliday will be hoping for the same thing for himself at Washington's training camp next week.

Now for some links:

— In the paper yesterday we had a feature on WSU's closer, Ian Hamilton.

— ESPN's Kyle Bonagura looks back at the draft's early entrants from the Pac-12 and says Xavier Cooper's decision to leave WSU early was a good one.

— CougCenter asks where WSU should rank in the post-spring Pac-12 Power Rankings.

— Utah's Dres Anderson will try to make the 49ers roster after not getting drafted.

— California's exceptional basketball recruiting class is changing expectations for the team next season.

Connor Halliday signs with Washington

Connor Halliday wasn't selected in the NFL draft but will get his shot in the pros with Washington.

The news of his signing comes courtesy of the Baltimore Sun's Ravens reporter:

Because Halliday wasn't drafted, he was free to sign with any team that offered him a spot, allowing him to search for the team where he was most comfortable with the coaches, personnel, scheme and depth chart.

Washington makes sense for a few reasons. The organization took a long look at Halliday during the buildup to the draft and he's likely pretty comfortable with general manager Scot McCloughan and coach Jay Gruden at this point.

However, the team also has three quarterbacks under contract already: Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and the recently re-signed Colt McCoy. So, Halliday will need to beat somebody out.

His college coach at Washington State, Mike Leach, certainly thinks he has the tools to succeed in the NFL. In a recent teleconference with reporters, Leach said: "I think he's got a better arm than anybody in the draft. The ball comes off his hand quicker than anybody in the draft. He's got quick feet, makes better decisions and he showed he can move the ball downfield."

Leach added: "I think he's a very good pro prospect. I hope he's not under-drafted."

Just because Halliday went undrafted doesn't mean he can't be an NFL success. NFL stars like Arian Foster, Wes Welker and quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Warren Moon all went undrafted out of college.

With pick No. 123, Mayle joins Cooper in Cleveland

So, which Browns jersey are you going to buy? The Xavier Cooper model, or the Vince Mayle edition?

Cleveland tapped the Pacific Northwest pipeline for the third time this draft Saturday morning, selecting Washington State wide receiver Vince Mayle with the 123rd pick (4th round). Yesterday evening, the Browns made WSU's Xavier Cooper their third-round choice.

The NFL has suspended Cleveland's star receiver, Josh Gordon, for at least one season and Browns management has been pretty candid about its frustration with the wideout.

Mayle, a 6-2, 224-pound bully that was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist last season, should be able to contribute immediately to a Browns receiving corps that didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver last season and Travis Benjamin led the team with three receiving touchdowns.

Morning links: And the draft goes on

Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle will find out their professional destinations today. But Xavier Cooper already knows where he's going.

Cleveland selected Cooper with the 96th pick in the draft, which was fitting because he wore No. 96 at Washington State. We have a story and blog post on Cooper's selection. Here is some reaction to Cooper's selection and some analysis from ESPN.

When the pick was made I was covering WSU's baseball game against Arizona. It didn't go so well for the home team.

Cleveland takes Xavier Cooper with the 96th pick

PULLMAN—Xavier Cooper sat at a draft party he hosted with Tacoma football royalty and angrily texted his agent.

Told by his representatives and others that he would be a mid-to-late second round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, the third round's end was fast approaching and defensive linemen were flying off the board, none of them him.

"I was getting ready to shut the party down to be honest," Cooper said.

Fellow Wilson High graduates and current NFL players Desmond and Isaiah Trufant and their parents, waited anxiously beside him, wondering when their fellow Ram would discover his professional destination.

To work through his stress, Cooper called a nephew, currently incarcerated. So he was busy when the Cleveland Browns made a trade with the New England Patriots to acquire the 96th pick in the draft, the one that would end his long wait.

With the 96th pick, Cleveland selected the Washington State defensive lineman, adding him to a draft class that already included Washington's Danny Shelton and Utah's Nate Orchard.

Last year the Cleveland defensive line room was full of injuries. This year it will be full of Pac-12 alumni.

While Cooper played primarily at defensive end for WSU, the Browns are expected to use him as an interior player and the team website lists him as a defensive tackle. It's likely Cleveland plans to pair him with the much larger Shelton to provide a pass rush in the middle of their defense.

"They plan on using me right next to him," Cooper said. "Danny's more of a nose tackle, I'm more of a three technique. We're both different players but us together, you're talking about what could be one of the best defensive lines in the national football league for years to come."

In fact, the Browns liked that idea so much they traded up in the draft to select Cooper, taking the 96th pick from the Patriots along with a seventh-round selection in exchange for Cleveland's fourth, fifth and sixth rounders.

While Cooper and Shelton both grew up on the west side of the state – Shelton attended Auburn High – the Cougar said that he never knew the Washington nose tackle growing up.

But Cooper trained with former Huskies Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson, and Desmond Trufant played with Shelton in college as well, and he said all gave glowing references.

His selection makes Cooper the highest-drafted WSU defensive lineman since Dorian Boose and Leon Bender were drafted in the second round of the 1998 draft. He is the first Cougars defensive lineman drafted since the Tennessee Titans selected Rien Long in the fourth round of the 2003 draft.

He started the final 34 of the 36 games he played for the Cougars, leading the team with 9.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt junior this past season, also collecting 37 tackles and five sacks.

"I really felt like he was a difference maker," said Browns general manager Ray Farmer. "The guy played with an unbelievable motor. Ran and hustled to the ball. Showed that quick first-step explosion to beat and block and get upfield. I think the guy has a chance to be a really good NFL player."

Still waiting to be selected are former Cougars Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle, who each will hope to be selected on Saturday as the draft concludes with rounds 4-7. Perhaps boding well for Halliday is that Washington acquired picks No. 112, No. 167 and No. 181 from the Seattle Seahawks as part of a trade on Friday.

The Redskins have been linked to Halliday throughout the draft evaluation process, perhaps more than any other team.

Morning links: Pac-12 sends nine to the NFL

It was a banner night for the Pac-12, which had a record nine players selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the first west coast player selected; the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was taken second overall by the Tennessee Titans. Then, the Jets selected USC's Leonard Williams with the sixth pick in the draft.

The Huskies had three players selected: Danny Shelton (12th pick, Browns), Shaq Thompson (25th, Panthers) and dismissed cornerback Marcus Peters (18th, Chiefs).

Arik Armstead was the third defensive lineman selected from the Pac-12, going to San Francisco as the 17th selection, while Stanford's Andrus Peat, taken by New Orleans with pick No. 13, was the only offensive lineman.

USC's Nelson Agholor will team up with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia and Arizona State's Damarious Randall rounded out the conference's big day, going to Green Bay with the 30th pick.

Washington State might get in on the action today. The NFL draft will continue with the second and third rounds, and some mock drafts have Xavier Cooper getting selected in that range.

Ted Miller wrote about WSU quarterback Luke Falk on the Pac-12 Blog.

Morning links: Peterson named to Hampshire Honor Society

Soon to be graduated Washington State linebacker Mitch Peterson was named to the National Football Foundation's Hampshire Honor Society.

The society is made up of college football players from all divisions that are significant contributors to their teams and maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or better throughout their time in school. Peterson was a two-year letter-winner at WSU and appeared in 19 games, making one start.

A native of Spokane, Peterson was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team this past season and his father tells me he is about to graduate magna cum laude with a Masters in Business Administration. Here is the full release from the school.

At noon today we'll be holding a live chat to answer any remaining questions from spring football.

Now for some links …

— In today's paper we wrapped up our coverage of WSU's spring football with a look ahead to the team's offseason plans.

— We also have our coverage of the last day of the Pac-12 golf championships.

— Connor Halliday's mom wrote a first-person account of her experience watching Halliday play for Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback.

— The Pac-12 has revamping the way it trains officials and holds them accountable.  

— Washington signed a highly-regarded basketball recruit out of New Zealand.

— Down the road, way down the road, Utah is going to play Baylor, probably.

— Mike Leach says the Cougars will hold some satellite camps for recruiting in California this summer. This explains what those are.

— UCLA's star freshman quarterback is rising up the depth chart.

WSU wraps up spring football

Washington State practiced for the 15th and final time this spring on Tuesday.

I confess, I didn't watch all of practice because I'm also covering the Pac-12 golf championships at Palouse Ridge. But here are some things I saw, and some other things we learned while watching the Cougars this spring:

— Some backups that have come on strong in recent practices appear to have grasped positions with the second unit, for now at least. Chandler Leniu looks like a strong backup for Peyton Pelluer at Mike linebacker, although don't discount Aaron Porter once he arrives this summer. Linebacker actually looks like one of WSU's strongest positions heading into next season. Pelluer and Jeremiah Allison both played well in their more traditional roles, and the Rush linebackers will be one of the most talented, deepest units next year.

I also think Carlos Freeman is likely to stick at backup center. He's got some nasty to him that the coaches like and, a former wrestler, he's got some athleticism, too. I'm not sure I see him beating out Riley Sorenson, who has uncommon size and athleticism for the position, to say nothing of a year of starting experience. But the sophomore will be a player to watch along the line.

Colton Teglovic has held off all challenges at the No. 2 nickelback spot backing up Darius Lemora, and today I saw Deion Singleton running with the twos at cornerback. BUT…

— Singleton will not be eligible to play next season and will sit out as an academic redshirt. The defensive back had some grade issues coming out of high school and that's believed to be why he wasn't on the team this past season despite signing as a member of the 2014 recruiting class.  Starting in 2016, the NCAA will institute something called an "academic redshirt," that will allow some students to receive financial aid and be held to lower academic stands for their first year as long as they redshirt.

Mike Leach told me after practice that Singleton redshirting was a condition for getting him into school. So it's likely that Singleton is a nonqualifier who was granted a partial approval of a waiver. That means that he cannot compete next season but can receive financial aid and practice. If this is the case with Singleton, it means the NCAA believes there were mitigating circumstances in his failure to qualify and his academic record makes it seem likely that he will be academically successful.

— The Cougars bounced around and all that during team period. Peyton Bender completed an early pass to D.J. Thompson, who made a bunch of guys miss as he reversed course and cut upfield. However, he fumbled at the end of the run, although I think the ground caused the fumble. Bender completed eight of his first nine passes, the 10th was a drop, and then two more after that. Pat Porter showed up with a nice pass breakup in tight coverage of Gabe Marks in the end zone, and Dylan Hanser followed with a sack. Bender had the final say, though, hitting Thompson in the end zone for a touchdown.

I had Falk going 7-of-10 with a 10-yard scramble and a sack by Kache Palacio. He hit Gerard Wicks on a wheel route out of the backfield for about a 12-yard touchdown. Wicks was wide open due to some defensive miscommunication. Charleston White had a nice pass breakup.

— More than anything, even the quarterbacks, this spring was about the defense. Alex Grinch got his first 15 practices as defensive coordinator, and he's been pretty blunt about the fact that the defense isn't quite what he's used to working with in the SEC. But, to my eye the defense is getting better, especially at closing to the ball, and I think he's seeing the same thing.

I asked him after practice today if he was feeling good about the defense and he said, "No, quite honestly. But by the same token, they're getting better. The work that we'll do both on their own and this summer will be crucial." He emphasized that the defense needs to be better on the first day of fall camp than they are today and it's obvious that he thinks that a lot of what will determine whether or not the defense will be improved next year will be what happens this summer.

Grinch's energy has been good for the defense, it seems and the players seem to respond to him. They certainly say they do (what else are they gonna say, right?). But where Grinch has really stood out so far this spring is his emphasis on individual technique, mostly with the secondary, and we've seen that show up recently in the improved play of guys like Charleston White, Deion Singleton and Marcellus Pippins.

Safety could still be a little better and it's not going to help Sulaiman Hameed's development that he spent most of spring football limited. Isaac Dotson is a big-hitter and his coverage has improved, but I'm not sure he's a great open-field tackler yet. You could see a little tentativeness when he closed on Kyrin Priester during the spring game, and Priester was able to make a move and get by him. Sure, Priester's a good receiver. There are a lot of good receivers in the Pac-12.

But I do think Dotson will be an improvement at safety and Hameed  has some good tools if he's healthy. Shalom Luani's arrival should help the Cougars on the back end, too.

— The bulk of WSU's special teams struggles last season were related to coverage issues and I do think that will be a lot better. Once Eric Mele became the special teams coach midseason a lot of those issues cleared up, and the Cougars drilled kickoff and punt coverage a fair amount this spring. But the kicking/punting game will be a worry until it isn't.

The Cougars effectively went through spring without a punter. Erik Powell did a yeoman's job filling in considering he hasn't done it since high school, but didn't do enough where I would be comfortable sending him out in a tight game if I was a coach. After him, the punters were Frankie Luvu and a Jugs machine, and Luvu was limited for most of the spring.

Maybe the Jugs machine still has some eligibility?

The Cougars will doubtlessly bring in punters but if it was that easy to find someone off the street than everyone would do it. The hope is that incoming kicker Matt Abramo can suffice as a freshman and maybe he can. Again, we'll see. Abramo will get every chance to contribute early at kicker as well, since Quentin Breshears didn't have an incredible spring and badly missed a short putt in the spring game. Powell looked a little better, but lost his starting job early last season. So either one of those two needs to improve significantly or the Cougars could be relying on a freshman at both positions.

— The guy with the safest spot on the team is left tackle Joe Dahl. Dahl hasn't gotten enough ink this spring, but he's been crushing people in every practice and has been a rock for the Cougars. Very few sacks come from the quarterback's blind side when the first string offensive line is in the game and having a cornerstone left tackle will make whoever plays quarterback next season's job a lot easier.

Morning links: A good day for WSU

Yesterday was a pretty good day for the Washington State athletic programs.

The good news started in the morning, when highly-regarded junior college center Conor Clifford sent in his Letter of Intent, giving Ernie Kent a 7-foot center for next season and his biggest recruiting win since arriving in Pullman. We have a story on the signing and a blog post with Kent's comments.

Things continued into the afternoon with freshman Derek Bayley leading the Cougars to a great start in the Pac-12 golf championships, which are being hosted by WSU.

The WSU baseball team capped off the evening by beating Washington in a nonconference game in Seattle, their third win over the Huskies this year.

In other WSU news, Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times has this feature on Connor Halliday, and Bob Meseroll of the Missoulian caught up with Joe Pistorese. The Pac-12 Blog has a story about defensive coordinator Alex Grinch's desire for takeaways

Crimson edges Gray in WSU spring game

Dom Williams and Led Falk led the Crimson team to a 31-29 victory over Gray in the 2015 WSU Crimson and Gray game on Saturday.

In addition to my story from the game and initial observations, we also have final stats, John Blanchette's column and a photo gallery from Dan Pelle.

It was a good day for the basketball program, as well, as Ernie Kent and the Cougars added a post player that can contribute immediately.

Initial observations from WSU spring game

— With just one practice left in the spring, Luke Falk is still the apparent starter at quarterback. While Peyton Bender made some nice plays on Saturday, he still makes more mistakes as well. He missed on one throw that ended up in defensive back Willie Roach's hands and tested long-armed cornerback Charleston White downfield despite the fact that White had good position on Gabe Marks, leading to another interception.

Falk, conversely, made safe, simple plays to keep the offense moving while waiting for his receivers to make plays or the defense to make a mistake, which eventually happened more often than not. He found the open receiver – usually Dom Williams – and accurately placed the ball so the receiver could make a play after the catch. He did take a shot downfield, trying to hit Robert Lewis when he got behind David Bucannon, but hung the ball up so Bucannon had time to recover and breakup the pass.

That's a play that the Cougars aren't going to have in their arsenal as much this year; last year Connor Halliday seemed to complete two of them a game to Vince Mayle, but neither of the quarterbacks this year have Halliday's cannon.

But Falk has his own strengths, such as a 12-yard run to pick up a first down when the defense was hanging back in coverage, which likely never would have even occurred to Halliday. Ultimately, while Bender pushed Falk this spring like a coach hopes a backup would, Falk played well enough to remain the favorite to start next fall.

— Offensive lineman Carlos Freeman has come on at center this spring and has been running with the twos lately, splitting time there with Sam Flor. Freeman appears to have moved into the backup role and was the starting center for Gray on Saturday. Riley Sorenson remains the starting center and I don't see that changing.

— Gerard Wicks seems to be the guy at running back right now, with Keith Harrington and Jamal Morrow providing depth and different looks. While Morrow was the starter last season, he got just four carries and one reception to Wicks' 10 carries and three catches.

The caveat is that Morrow missed some practice time and we don't know if he's 100 percent right now. But Wicks has run strong this spring. Keith Harrington was a good receiver out of the backfield, amassing 58 yards on 10 catches, but didn't do much in the running game. While Harrington's had a solid spring and doubtlessly earned a spot in the rotation, I expect the hard-running Wicks to get the plurality of the carries next season.

— We didn't see much of Clemson transfer Kyrin Priester and the read here is that the coaches have scaled back his use since he won't be able to play next year, anyway. Priester is a physical receiver that still has some shake to his game, and will likely be a key player in 2016. He got some work at the end of the spring game, and actually subbed in earlier for the Crimson team, despite his gray jersey. He caught one pass and made a nice move to avoid Isaac Dotson, who came in pretty tentatively, and get upfield for 19 yards. But, I think he might have benefited slightly from wearing the same jersey as the defense on the play.

— While the final score was Crimson 31, Gray 20, the score to remember is 31-17. That's what the difference was at the first drives of the fourth quarter when Mike Leach pulled the first units and took Bender and Falk out. Gray also took back-to-back fourth-quarter possessions, helping Tyler Hilinski to cut the score with touchdown passes to Erik Anderson and Zaire Andre.

— While Deion Singleton lined up at cornerback, I'm not sure that means he's made a complete switch to safety. With Charlesotn White and walk-on Brendan Hay the only corners on the Crimson roster, I expect the coaches were merely doing what they could to make the depth work. Jeff Farrar, a cornerback who appears to have fallen down the depth this spring, was listed as a DB.

Colton Teglovic started at nickelback for his squad and remains the primary backup to Darius Lemora at that position.

— Erik Powell made a 42-yard field goal and Quentin Breshears missed from 20-yards out. Based on that, I'll call Powell the front-runner for the kicking job heading into the summer.

Junior college center to play at WSU

While the football team was playing in Spokane, the Washington State basketball program picked up a potential difference-making big man.

Conor Clifford of Saddleback Junior College has chosen to accept a basketball scholarship from WSU over offers from South Carolina, West Virginia and Utah. Braulio Perez first reported the news of the decision by Clifford, who averaged 14.7 points and six rebounds a game.

Clifford fills an immediate need in WSU's frontcourt, which lost starting center Jordan Railey to graduation last season. He will join forward Josh Hawkinson, who averaged a double-double as a sophomore, and Houston transfer Valentine Izundu to give the Cougars as much skilled size as they've had in some time.

WSU is likely done recruiting for the class of 2015, which includes six players that will enroll in time for next season. A seventh, Jeff Pollard, will spend a year at the Impact Academy in Las Vegas before joining the Cougars.

Morning links: Crimson and Gray game tomorrow

Washington State's spring football season won't culminate with tomorrow's 2 p.m. game at Joe Albi Stadium.

The Cougars, after all, still have practice on Tuesday. But it will be the last chance to see the team really do much until the start of the 2015 season. Vince Grippi is a curmudgeon who would rather spend his time painting a fence or something, but I hear parking is free if you're inclined to watch some football on Saturday.

WSU will split into two teams, Crimson and Gray, and Crimson already has bragging rights. That's because they won yesterday's practice. Here is the usual  video of Mike Leach speaking after practice and a fun video of Dom Williams answering five questions.

In the paper today we have a story about Peyton Pelluer, who has played well at Mike linebacker this spring. … Jeff Nusser of CougCenter took a closer look at the Crimson and Gray rosters. … Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune profiled Xavier Cooper in today's paper. … Here is an update on Washington's quarterback competition. … Former Evergreen prep quarterback Max Browne is waiting his turn at USC.

Crimson wins initial skirmish with Gray

Washington State's Crimson and Gray teams will compete for real on Saturday in Spokane, but we got an early spring game preview at practice.

The Cougars were only in helmets and game jerseys on Thursday, with the Crimson and Gray teams each in their respective colors.  Overall, it was a pretty dreary practice with rain beating down throughout.

Things picked up during a modified team period, however. Rather than split into starters and backups, the teams were the same ones that will compete in Saturday's Crimson and Gray game with quarterback Luke Falk leading the Crimson and Peyton Bender behind center for the Gray.

They Gray was on offense first and Bender started off sharp, completing four of his first passes, three of them to D.J. Thompson. But the Gray stalled near the end zone and Bender was sacked by Hercules Mata'afa.

The freshman from Florida had more success on his next drive, finding Gabe Marks for a score, but also threw an interception to Brendan Hay, a walk-on that tried out for the team and has had a pretty good spring.

On Falk's first series he completed short passes to Dom Williams and Robert Lewis, then found John Thompson in the end zone. And on his final series we got some controversy.

Falk didn't get much going on his second drive, which featured a lot of runs. But on the final play he completed a pass to Robert Lewis just short of the goal on the sideline, and the receiver spun around and reached the ball across the end zone in a fashion very similar to this play.

The sides couldn't agree whether or not the ball actually crossed the end zone plane before Lewis was pushed out of bounds and the score was so tight that whether or not the touchdown stood would have decided the period. So the teams went to a sudden death overtime.

On Bender's first play he threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Baker and Falk followed by calling his own number and running in for a score. Then Hay, the walk-on cornerback, ended the day by intercepting Bender for the second time.

Crimson and Gray Game rosters announced

Washington State's annual spring game will take place at 2 p.m. at Joe Albi Stadium, and will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

The school released the rosters today and I'm told that there was no draft or anything, they simply tried to divvy up the teams evenly. The Crimson team will wear crimson, the Gray team will wear gray, and teams will use a regular scoring format. But we knew that.

The game's format will be just slightly different. The first two quarters will be normal, 15-minute quarters and the second two will use a running clock to speed things up a bit. As is Mike Leach's custom, there will be an additional practice on the Tuesday following the spring game at 2:30.

Here are the rosters:
  

Morning links: Meet the new WSU offensive line, it’s the same as the old one

Joe Dahl, Gunnar Eklund, Riley Sorenson, Eduardo Middleton and Cole Madison. Those names ring a bell? If not, you must not have watched any WSU football last season.

Washington State returns all five starters off last year's offensive line. OK, that's cheating because Jacob Seydel and Sam Flor each got a few starts as well. Oh, they're back too. So, offensive line coach Clay McGuire hasn't had to learn new names this spring and the Cougars are as experienced as anybody at the position where experience is most important.

I wrote about WSU's veteran offensive line in the story for today's paper. Before practice yesterday we held a live chat here on the blog. Don't worry if you missed it, we've got the whole thing transcribed here.  After practice I wrote up this report detailing what I saw.

A high school teammate of former WSU cornerback Daquawn Brown tweeted that he's headed to Fresno State. … Utah had a tumultuous offseason, but has enough going right to get past it. … The UW basketball team had three players transfer out. Now, guys are transferring in