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WSU football, picked fourth, has more to prove in 2016

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Washington State carries the burden of unprecedented expectations and the blessing of comfortable anonymity.

Both things are true, and it is equally certain the Cougars could not care less about either fact. And the release of the Pac-12 media’s preseason poll on Thursday failed to cause a stir even among the doldrums of the offseason.

“None of these people, I bet over three-quarters of the people that vote on this thing never even played football,” remarked Gabe Marks, WSU’s star receiver and offensive representative at Pac-12 Media Days.

“What’s the point in caring,” he continued. “It’s their opinion. I’ll respect it, but we’ve still got to play.”

But independent of the Cougars’ indifference, right now it is mid-July and the news of the day is that the Pac-12 media members placed WSU No. 4 in the Pac-12 North in the preseason media poll, behind projected champion Stanford, offseason darling Washington, and Oregon. It is WSU’s highest finish in the preseason poll since the Pac-12 was formed.

Those same media members insist the Cougars are one of four teams who can win the North, sure, they’re just the bottom run of the top tier in one of the best divisions in college football.

“Teams like WSU get kind of lost in the overall shuffle, because there’s so much to be expected from Stanford, Washington, Oregon in the North,” said Lincoln Kennedy, a former All-American at UW who is now an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks.

Perhaps voters think the Cougars maximized their abilities last year in a manner that will be hard to replicate, reasoning that it will be hard to use so many last-second wins as a platform for something greater.

The UW’s offseason rise has come partially at WSU’s expense, as organizations such as ESPN and Athlon, alongside prognosticators like Phil Steele, have all hinted that the Huskies could be contenders for a conference title despite finishing two games behind the Cougars in last year’s conference standings.

Perhaps voters are wary of WSU’s quarterback depth after the transfer of backup quarterback Peyton Bender, who was pressed into service last season due to injuries to starter Luke Falk. Maybe the voters think those injuries will compound.

Regardless of the reasons, the Pac-12 media members have showed that WSU’s ascent to perceived respectability will be gradual, even as it as steady. As for the Cougars, well, they’re sort of getting to like proving these charlatans wrong.

After all, how many of them even played football, anyway?

Here are a few notes worth passing on:

Gabe Marks held court at Pac-12 Media Days, and made sure to show a little love to his quarterback.

“I call him the ‘Messiah of the Palouse,’ and also the ‘CEO of Washington State football,’ because he runs the show,” Marks said. “Leach gets a lot of credit and he should, because he’s Mike Leach, but Luke is the reason this started working. You know what I mean? Without a quarterback that people follow, and that’s a leader, you can’t win.”

Leach agreed with Marks’ sentiments, so much so that he made an after-the-fact case for Falk’s 2015 Heisman candidacy.

“Well, I’ve kind of last track of what the Heisman is,” Leach said. “There was a time when the Heisman went to the guy who had the biggest impact and effect on their team, and if that was the case, he probably would have won it last year or should have.”

  • Neither side has budged in the impasse between the Pac-12 Networks and DirecTV. So that’s five years of no football for DirecTV subscribers.
  • Falk and Marks have caught the eye of some prominent postseason awards committees. Marks is on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation’s best receiver and Falk is on the watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award, given annually to the best quarterback in college football. Marks was a quarterfinalist for the Biletnikoff Award last season.
  • The Pac-12 is going to start live-streaming Olympic sports on Twitter. It’s also going to provide content through Facebook and YouTube.
  • The conference is going to start embracing e-sports, which is the currently preferred term for video games.
  • The Pac-12 Networks will reach an extra half million fans in Southern California by broadcasting through Frontier, which is formerly Verizon FIOS.
  • The Pac-12 set records last year in bowl teams (10) and NCAA men’s tournament teams (seven), and sent two teams to the women’s Final Four.
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