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Washington State mailbag: Why you shouldn’t lose your Thanksgiving appetite over the Cougars’ three decommits

Unfortunately, we don’t have all the normal Apple Cup content to feed you in 2020, but there are still plenty of Washington State football developments to feast on as the Cougars wait for the next game on the schedule, Dec. 4 at USC.

In this week’s mailbag, we take a deeper dive into the recent wave of Washington State decommitments, and whether that trend should be concerning. We also dissect the Cougars’ bowl prospects, Tay Martin’s value at Oklahoma State and the team’s scholarship dilemma with a handful of players in the transfer portal.

What’s your take? Is this a normal amount of decommits? Why are they decommitting?

- Brandon

The Cougars have had three players decommit in less than a month’s time. On Oct. 27, it was Southern California speedster Elisha Lloyd, who’s since flipped to Utah. Within the last week, City College of San Francisco linebacker Fred Thompkins and Memorial High (Texas) receiver Joseph Manjack have also made calls to the Washington State staff to inform them they’d be reopening their recruitment.

Losing three commits in a month may feel like a deluge, but what if these three recruits decommitted a month apart from each other? Maybe not quite as much. Granted, we’re closing in on signing day and judging by my Twitter notifications over the last week, Brandon isn’t the only one growing uneasy about WSU’s recruiting situation.

My thought? If this number doubles in the next two or three weeks, it’s a reason for concern. It’s important to consider most of the players who’ve committed in the 2021 class have never seen Pullman, and for as long as I can remember, WSU coaches have clung to the belief that once a player visits the Palouse, they feel good about locking him in. That hurts the Cougars more than most of their Pac-12 peers.

For example, Jayden de Laura had recruiting trips lined up to Ohio State and USC but canceled both after his visit to WSU. Here’s an anecdote from a conversation I had with de Laura’s father, Jacob, about the quarterback’s first experience in Pullman.

“We were freezing when we were up there, but the hospitality by everyone, that’s the biggest thing that stood out,” he said. “Everybody, no matter where we went, whether it be on campus or restaurants. Everybody always extended the best to him.”

Campus visits are an integral part of the recruiting process. Others in the Pac-12 – I’m talking USC, Oregon, Stanford – have the ability to sell their product in a way WSU doesn’t. USC with its pageantry, Oregon with its flashy jerseys and gear, Stanford with its academics.

It would be hard to quantify the impact of this, but that the Cougars will have gone consecutive weeks without playing a game on national television, three weeks before the early signing period begins, obviously hurts more than it helps.

But, to your second question: is this a normal amount of decommits? Yes. Going through the database, WSU has had at least three every year since 2017. In 2017, you may remember, Cougar recruits decommitted by the masses. That included a few high-profile decommits, in Isaiah Hodgins and Joe Tryon, along with someone who found his way back to WSU: Lamonte McDougle

Below, I’ve listed every known WSU decommit since 2017. I’m including only players who decommitted from the Cougars and flipped to another FBS school within the same recruiting cycle.

2021: Elisha Lloyd (Utah), Fred Thompkins (TBD), Joseph Manjack (TBD)

2020: Alaka’i Gilman (Stanford), Keyshawn Smith (Miami), Christian Fitzpatrick (Louisville)

2019: Nassir Sims (San Diego State), Dejon Benton (USC), Don Chapman (North Carolina)

2018: Erick Hallett (Pittsburgh), Nick Lewis (Kentucky), Alec Anderson (UCLA).

2017: Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State), Joe Tryon (Washington), Lamonte McDougle (West Virginia), Moku Watson (Oregon State), Quazzel White (TCU), Tyquez Hampton (Utah), George Moore (Oregon), B.J. Thompson (Baylor), Aisa Kelemete (Boise State), Ty Thomas (Arizona State), Tayari Venable (San Diego State).

So, long story short, it’s probably premature to worry about this.

Can the Cougs go to a bowl game with just a five-game season if 3-2 or better, yet not playing a full schedule?

- Doug D.

It’s anyone’s guess how the bowl landscape will change in the next month or so, but in theory, yes they could.

More than a month ago, it was revealed the NCAA Division I Council had waived the normal bowl eligibility requirements. Most years, a .500 record is a prerequisite for qualifying for the postseason. This season with no such requirement, technically every FBS team is eligible.

But that doesn’t mean every Pac-12 team is bowl eligible. The conference has maintained the requirement of a .500 win percentage. Obviously with the record you proposed in your question, the Cougars would be above .500 and bowl-eligible, despite playing a shortened version of an already shortened football season. There have been conversations around WSU and UW playing a late-December Apple Cup in lieu of a bowl game, but I’m thinking the Huskies, if bowl-eligible, would prefer to see the Cougars on Dec. 19 – as opposed to playing the previously scheduled crossover game on that date – then play in a high-profile bowl game a few weeks later.

One reason for the Pac-12’s requirement of a .500 record could have to do with the number of conference bowl affiliations this year. In a normal year, the Pac-12 has eight bowl partners, but with the Redbox Bowl, Holiday Bowl and possibly also the LA Bowl bowing out in 2020, that leaves just the Rose Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Sun Bowl and Independence Bowl. With the Rose Bowl being a College Football Playoff site this year, the Pac-12 champion would secure a bid to another New Year’s Six bowl if it doesn’t qualify for the four-team playoff.

Was disappointed when Tay Martin transferred. I haven’t seen his name in the Oklahoma State box score for several weeks. Do you know if he’s injured, benched or left that program, too?

- Rich

Martin is still with the Cowboys, but you’re correct in that his name hasn’t shown up on a box score – not since a Sept. 26 win over West Virginia. Martin had three receptions for 19 yards against the Mountaineers but hasn’t caught a pass in the five games since.

He’s listed on Oklahoma State’s depth chart as one of two potential backups for Braydon Johnson at X receiver, the same position he played in his three years at WSU. Johnson is the team’s third-leading receiver, with 13 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown. Martin, meanwhile, is 10th on the catch chart with his three receptions.

It does seem that Martin was at a disadvantage when he arrived in Stillwater, competing with a redshirt junior who’s ingrained in the program. The other disadvantage is the Cowboys’ offense. It’s telling that the team’s third-leading receiver only has 13 receptions – a total Martin would’ve had in about two or three games playing in Mike Leach’s Air Raid. OSU has thrown the ball 204 times this year, compared to 321 rushing attempts.

Martin made the decision he felt was right at the time, at a point when it seemed the Pac-12 wasn’t moving forward with a football season. He also moved 1,800 miles closer to his baby daughter, who lives in the New Orleans area. In hindsight, yes, Martin likely would’ve had a few more opportunities at WSU, especially with the attrition at Z receiver right now.

It seems Martin was using this season as a springboard to the NFL, though it’s quickly gone the other direction for him. Theoretically, he could still transfer one more time and play immediately in the FCS or use a redshirt year in 2021 and play in the FBS as a sixth-year senior in 2022.

With the seven or eight guys departing via the transfer portal, due the Cougs get those scholarships back?

- Doug D., Part II

Seven players who would’ve counted toward this year’s scholarship allotment have either transferred to another school or entered the portal since the summer: WR Tay Martin, WR Kassidy Woods, WR Mike Pettway, DL Cosmas Kwete, DL Lamonte McDougle, DB Skyler Thomas and DL Will Rodgers III.

It’s my understanding the players that haven’t signed with another school are still on full scholarship at WSU. Only two of them, Martin at OSU and Kwete at Northern Arizona, have done so, meaning the other five would still be on scholarship with the Cougars.

My assumption is that at least a few more of the transfer portal entries will have a new school by the early signing period, so the Cougars should have the majority of the scholarships vacated sometime in the near future.