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Washington State mailbag: Analyzing your predictions for the 2020 football season

What’s in store for Washington State’s football team these next two months?

We posed that question earlier in the week to gauge how fans are feeling about Year 1 of the Nick Rolovich era in Pullman. Some think the season will be a booming success – Apple Cup streaks broken and all – while others hesitate to believe the Pac-12 season will have the stamina to make it to Nov. 27 without a major COVID-19 hiccup or two.

I picked apart your predictions this week. A few months from now, we’ll revisit them to see where you were right and where I was wrong.

Taking out sacks, WSU quarterbacks rush for 225-plus yards in the first six games as a result of the new offense and defensive attention to Max Borghi.

- Ryan W.

Yep, I’m with you.

Last season, Hawaii quarterbacks Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro totaled 779 gross rushing yards in 15 games. That equates to an average of 51.9 per game.

For the Cougars’ QB/QBs to hit 225 yards in six games, he/they would need to average 37.5 yards per game. Revisiting Hawaii’s 2019 season, McDonald and Cordeiro averaged 39.6 net rushing yards per game. If the run-and-shoot is even somewhat functional at WSU, the QBs should definitely reach 225 gross rushing yards. I’ll shoot even higher and say the QBs rush for 280-plus. Let’s see where our respective predictions fall in two months’ time.

My prediction: My extended family of Washington fans will get to rub another Apple Cup win in my face while eating Thanksgiving leftovers for the eighth straight year. Sincerely, A downbeat Wazzu fan.

- Torin C.

Ah, a tradition like no other. Sorry, but I think the Thanksgiving leftovers will be the best part of your Black Friday again. Let’s hope there’s enough turkey, stuffing (my personal favorite) and pumpkin pie (my other personal favorite) to tide you over. If not, there’s always whiskey.

Rolovich is taking the rivalry seriously – we know that much – and I expect he’ll eventually get one if he’s around long enough. Unfortunately, the Huskies still have better athletes and talent just about everywhere on the field, even with a few key members of the front seven opting out of the season to prepare for the NFL draft.

I will spend all season telling myself not to be optimistic about the Apple Cup. By Black Friday, I will have fully convinced myself this is the year we win. I’ll cry myself to sleep that night when we inevitably get crushed.

- Chris M.

Apple Cup optimism is a trap, Chris. You should know this by now.

If the Cougars can win the opener at Oregon State and, say, surprise either Oregon or Stanford, they’ll head into the Apple Cup at 2-1. If the Huskies get past Cal in their opener, I expect they’ll be at a fairly comfortable 3-0 entering the game after routing Oregon State and Arizona.

This could be a silver lining for you. Unlike 2017 or ’18, when the Cougars went into the rivalry with nine wins and 10 wins, respectively, there aren’t too many opportunities to build optimism – make that false optimism – this year. Another silver lining: Even after a “crushing” Apple Cup loss, there are still at least three more weekends of Cougar football. I’m thinking there are a few WSU fans who wouldn’t mind seeing this midseason Apple Cup format on a more permanent basis.

I don’t think we’ll actually play the game this year, but I am confident in predicting that the Rolovich-led Cougs will be more competitive in the Cup.

- Lucas M.

Well, sir, you win the prize for “darkest Apple Cup prediction,” and there was some decent competition this time, too.

Boy, do I hope you’re wrong. Could I see a scenario in which the Pac-12 isn’t playing football games in December because the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened? I didn’t think there would be a season in the first place, so yes, of course. But it would really be a bummer if things got so bad so quickly the Cougars weren’t playing football by the fourth week of the season.

Considering the SEC, ACC and Big-12 are still playing college football games more than a month into this – most of them in COVID-19 hot spots worse than anywhere on the West Coast, and with more relaxed protocols – I’m cautiously optimistic the Pac-12 will make it to Thanksgiving, at the very least.

As for your assertion about the game itself, I do think the Cougars will walk away feeling better about things – OK, slightly better – than they did in 2019, 2017, 2016 or 2015. Will they come as close as they did in 2018? I’ll feel more comfortable answering that after the season opener. As I alluded to earlier, Rolovich is making this game a priority and the Cougars have already spent portions of fall camp scouting and preparing the Huskies. I’m not sure if UW will have the offensive firepower to turn this into a 30-point blowout, but I’m not sure WSU will have the defensive resolve to keep this a one-possession late in the fourth quarter.

All I know is we will win the Apple Cup! I also think we will have one other major upset this year. Good thing it’s duck hunting season.

- Rick F.

In the name of optimism, thank you, Rick. The mailbag was getting a little too gloomy for a second there.

I’ve already voiced my thoughts on the Apple Cup, but I agree with the second prediction you make here. Can the Cougars knock off Oregon for the fourth time in five years? The Ducks have a lot of new blood on both sides of the ball, too, so I’m not ruling that out.

Here’s my guess: The Cougars will win one game against Oregon, UW or USC this season. Under Mike Leach, they were typically good for a few every year, and WSU’s offense was generally productive enough to keep the Cougars in games against the top teams in the conference, especially USC, Oregon and Stanford. Now, beating Stanford wouldn’t be billed a major upset this year, but I think WSU gets lucky against one of the other two to secure the first big win of the Rolovich era.

By the end of the season there will be three freshmen starting on defense.

- Robert K.

Three freshmen starting? That could be a viable scenario, especially if one of them is the quarterback and another is receiver Joey Hobert. Three on defense? It’s probably more of a long shot. It sounds like Chau Smith-Wade has a legitimate chance to see early snaps at cornerback, and even if he doesn’t get the nod in the opener, perhaps he’ll climb a few rungs up the depth chart by mid-December and emerge as a No. 1 option.

Coaches have praised freshmen at other spots on the field, especially on the defensive line where “edge” Gabriel Lopez and tackle Nathaniel James have had solid camps, but it seems the Cougars have enough upperclassman depth at most of those spots to avoid playing freshmen.

Jessamyn McIntyre will put less miles on her tennis shoes this year.

- Jennifer D.

For anybody unfamiliar with the premise of this – and I’m sure there are only a few – Jennifer’s referring to a halftime tradition unlike any other: WSU’s sideline reporter chasing down the Cougars’ former coach for a short interview before the team got to the locker room.

Long before there was DK Metcalf chasing down Budda Baker, there was Jessamyn McIntyre running down Mike Leach. Frankly, it’s an outrage the latter didn’t get more publicity.

I’m not quite sure how we’ll track this, unless Jess has been wearing a Fitbit all this time. Leach was slippery for a man of his age and build, but Rolovich, mind you, was a run-and-shoot quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors in 2000-01. Although, from what I’ve heard, the “run” in “run-and-shoot” wasn’t necessarily Rolo’s gift. I won’t reveal my source on that one, but keep your eyes on our coverage the next week or so.

O/U is set for 5.5 games played this year. Which side are you taking?

- Justin K.

I’ll take the under, at five games. Just to be clear, I hope I’m dead wrong on that.

7:30 kickoffs and whining about deadlines.

- @proud112000

Hey, you try it sometime.

Not really expecting much since they have brand new staff trying to implement new systems in this crazy year. Thinking like 2-5.

- Scott P.

As one of three teams in the conference without any spring camp, and the only one learning new schemes on both sides of the ball, WSU certainly doesn’t benefit from the short window they’ve had to install and master Rolovich’s offense and Jake Dickert’s defense.

In response to my mailbag calls this week, I saw all types of record guesses: 5-2, 4-3 and even a bold 7-0. I lean more toward the 2-5 mark Scott offered up here.

The Cougars don’t have a gimme game on the schedule this year. Barring a few upsets, they could be an underdog in every game they play, with the exception of next week’s opener. Nov. 7 marks the most winnable game on WSU’s initial six-game schedule, but Oregon State is probably looking at it the same way. I’m still not sure which I’m leaning in that game – an experience I’ve honestly never had picking WSU-OSU games since I started this beat in 2017 – and if the Cougars can’t pick up a win there, even 2-5 could be a challenge.

It should also be noted WSU’s schedule may be the toughest in the conference. The Cougars play, in my eyes, four of the top five teams in the conference – Utah being the exception – and they’re the only team in the North that has to play No. 21 USC in a crossover. Games against Oregon, UW and Cal are all at home, but we’ll see what type of advantage that is this year.

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