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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cougars story lines

Big difference in one year

When he is asked about last season and why Washington State wasn’t able to win more than three games, one of coach Mike Leach’s most common refrains is that the Cougars lacked the experience necessary to capitalize on fortuitous situations.

He is quick to remind that WSU used 17 players who were either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. The downside to that, of course, is that those players were trying to learn on the fly. The upside is that they’re now a year ahead of most players their age.

And the Cougars aren’t likely to rely on quite as many first-year players this season. It’s likely that no more than 10 first or second-year freshmen will be among WSU’s two-deeps, and as of right now, it appears no more than a handful of true freshmen will play on either side of the ball.

Those who almost certainly will: receivers River Cracraft and Robert Lewis (and possibly freshman walk-on John Thompson), cornerbacks Daquawn Brown and Charleston White, and linebacker Peyton Pelluer. It’s possible that others will make appearances if the need arises.

Leach has harped on the need for the Cougars to develop depth. Redshirting more freshmen this season would be a step in the right direction.

Tough road schedule

Expectations were high when the Leach era began last season. They were quickly tempered after a 30-6 loss at Brigham Young in the season opener.

A year later, WSU’s preseason outlook is a tad more modest. The schedule dictates such caution. The Cougars begin the season with back-to-back road games against teams with big stadiums and strong reputations for winning at home – Auburn on Saturday, and Southern California on Sept. 7.

In fact, most of the Cougars’ toughest games will be played away from Pullman. They play a “home” game against No. 4 Stanford at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Sept. 28 and visit No. 3 Oregon on Oct. 19. And the Apple Cup is again a Friday contest, again the day after Thanksgiving, this time at the newly renovated Husky Stadium.

WSU’s most entertaining home games figure to be an Oct. 12 matchup against Oregon State, and a Thursday night, Halloween game against Arizona State on Oct. 31.

For the third consecutive season, the Cougars will play only five games in Pullman, the result of again moving a Pac-12 home game (this time Stanford) across the state to CenturyLink.

Halliday in command

Connor Halliday has looked the part of a quarterback assured of his starting position since WSU ended spring practices, and all eyes will be on the fourth-year junior when the Cougars begin the 2013 season in Auburn.

Halliday and Jeff Tuel took turns struggling to learn Leach’s offense last season. The results were ugly at times. Halliday completed just 52.1 percent of his passes a year ago, throwing 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, numbers that must improve this season if the Cougars’ offense is to look anything like what most expect of a Leach operation.

A completion percentage near or above 65 is desired from Leach, and Halliday showed improvement in that area during camp this year. Leach also likes the progress of second-year freshman quarterback Austin Apodaca, who begins the season as the clear-cut backup. True freshman Tyler Bruggman will likely be third-string, and will almost certainly redshirt unless he’s forced into action by injuries.

Aug. 31at Auburn4 p.m.
Sep. 7at USC7:30
Sep. 14So. Utah3:30
Sep. 21IdahoTBA
Sep. 28 vs. StanfordTBA
Oct. 5at CaliforniaTBA
Oct. 12Oregon StateTBA
Oct. 19at OregonTBA
Oct. 31Arizona State7:30
Nov. 16at ArizonaTBA
Nov. 23UtahTBA
Nov. 29at UW12:30