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

Five (near) certainties for WSU football

Jacobt@Spokesman.Com

Only a fool would try to predict an unpredictable college football season.

Good thing I’m here.

As the offseason ends, here are five bold claims regarding Washington State’s 2015 football season:

1 The Cougars will upset a team ranked in the AP Top 25.

Washington State has upset just one ranked team since 2006 – USC in 2013 – but expect them to knock off at least one this year. While the Cougars defense is still a ways from being good, it should improve enough that opposing teams cannot simply match whatever the offense is able to produce.

The offense should produce plenty of points, enough to put pressure on better teams and win if the opposing quarterback has a bad day. Don’t be surprised if Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA are ranked by the Associated Press before their respective games against the Cougars. 

2 The WSU offensive line will give up fewer than 30 sacks.

In 2012, the quarterback guardians had a rough time adjusting to their first year of wide splits and prolific passing, giving up 57 sacks. They made a marked improvement the next year, allowing opposing defenders to take down the QB just 32 times in 2013 and were again solid last season, giving up 36 sacks.

Expect the offensive line, which returns everybody from last season to have a great year. Couple an improved offensive line with the pocket feel and mobility we’ve seen from Luke Falk. If Peyton Bender wins the starting quarterback job the point still holds, although he’s not quite as mobile as Falk. 

3 Carlos Freeman and Dylan Hanser will find playing time.

As a true junior with 10 starts under his belt, Riley Sorenson would appear to be someone who could feel pretty secure in his starting position. But WSU’s center is going to have to fight hard to fend off Freeman, one of the team’s nastiest trench fighters.

A former wrestler, Freeman leaped past Sam Flor – a two-game starter himself – in the spring and appears close on the heels of Sorenson.

The sophomore seems versatile enough to slide over to guard if Sorenson is able to hold onto the position. Whether he beats someone out, switches spots on the line or plays due to injury, expect to see Freeman on the field.

Hanser has established players Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan ahead of him at the Rush linebacker position. Those seniors are bigger, stronger and a lot more experienced than the 6-foot-4, 214-pound sophomore. But while Hanser still looks like a stick, he’s got maybe the quickest first step on the team and he covers ground quicker than any of WSU’s other pass rushers. 

4 The WSU offense will rush for 1,000 yards, but no player will have more than 500 yards rushing.

The running back trio of Gerard Wicks, Keith Harrington and Jamal Morrow should provide the most productive rushing attack the Cougars have seen since Mike Leach arrived in Pullman. In addition, Falk should be enough of a running threat to finish with a positive rushing total or come close to it.

5 The Cougars are one year away from becoming a bowl team.

I keep scouring the WSU schedule in search of six wins. There are many potentially pivotal games (Rutgers, California, Washington) on the road and the Cougars don’t have enough easy ones.

They should beat Portland State, Wyoming, Oregon State and Colorado, but winning two more after that is going to be challenging.

Expect the Cougars to upset at least one good team, but it’s just as likely that a team such as Colorado, which will have a very dangerous QB-WR combo in Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce, is able to steal one from the Cougars.

The good news is that the team appears poised for a real breakthrough season in 2016, the type of year where you don’t have to sweat until the final game to become bowl-eligible.

The Cougars should return almost every skill player on offense and the linemen that graduate will be replaced by upperclassmen with experience in WSU’s system. The defense should be rounding into form as well and it would be no surprise to see the Cougars win seven, eight, or even more games with the structure in place to do it again in 2017.