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Washington State mailbag: Analyzing Washington State’s situation at outside receiver in the wake of recent transfers

In a normal year, we might be passing this time discussing things like the depth at wide receiver. This isn’t a normal year, of course, but who says we can’t still talk about the depth at wide receiver?

Leading with our analysis of where the position stands in the wake of recent transfers, we present our second 2020 version of the Washington State mailbag.

Who are the candidates to fill the void at outside receiver?

- Craig

First, let’s review how we got here.

WSU lost two outside receivers – Dezmon Patmon and Easop Winston Jr. – to graduation. Despite losing the production of two players who combined for 143 receptions, 1,732 yards and 19 touchdowns, the position group, one of the deepest on the team in 2019, seemed to be in a fairly good place.

Both of the Cougars’ “Z” receivers were gone, but there was a surplus at “X,” with three players returning who had combined for another 72 catches, 946 yards and six touchdowns. Because new coach Nick Rolovich typically plays one receiver at each of the four positions – unlike Mike Leach, who divvied the reps between two players – the Cougars seemed to have sufficient depth with three players to fill two positions.

Then in January, it was learned that Rodrick Fisher had left the program. A hit for sure, but not as much in the short term as it was in the long term, considering the Cougars still had two senior outside receivers coming back. But two became one when Tay Martin jumped at a chance to transfer last month, leaving WSU for Oklahoma State and an opportunity to compete this fall.

Now, there’s not much experience at the position outside of Calvin Jackson Jr., who has 36 receptions for 403 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons with the Cougars and, as a result of redshirting in 2019, produced less than every other player mentioned above.

With reliable hands and an ability to create after the catch, Jackson has immense potential and could probably be a top-four receiving option for most teams in the conference.

If he’s your best outside threat, you’re in fine shape. But, what if he’s the only one?

Redshirt sophomore Kassidy Woods would’ve been a candidate to fill the other outside position, but he’s since entered the transfer portal. And, while it seems unlikely Mike Pettway would’ve grabbed a starting role as a true freshman, it’s also true the class of 2020 signee only has two fewer college catches than redshirt sophomore Brandon Gray, who suddenly becomes the team’s most experienced outside receiver next to Jackson .

I’ve seen Gray make impressive plays in practice befitting of someone who stands 6-foot-5, 202 pounds. If Jackson , at 5-foot-10, started on one side, I’d imagine the Cougars go with size on the other, and Gray has some Patmon to his game. Donovan Ollie, who’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, may not be the same mismatch Gray would, but he’ll be bigger than most every corner he faces and is more explosive with the ball than Gray .

Another thought: would the Cougars consider sets with three slot receivers?

While WSU returns fewer than 500 career yards at outside receiver, the Cougars bring back three inside receivers with 2,961 combined yards . Even though Rolovich doesn’t rotate his receivers the way Leach did, I’d say it’s imperative WSU finds ways to use each of its three slots: Renard Bell, Travell Harris and Jamire Calvin. Would Rolovich tailor his offense to use those three at the same time? Bell and Harris are too slight to play on the outside, but maybe Calvin, at 6-foot, could make the transition in certain scenarios.

So, Jackson seems like a no-brainer at one of the outside positions, but what the Cougars do with the other should be one of the more interesting storylines once we get back to the field.

How does the financial state of affairs at Wazzu compare with other P5s?

- Tom W.

I’m not sure I have the time, or the resources, to see how WSU stacks up against every other Power Five school in terms of accumulated deficit, projected losses without a football season, cost-saving measures, etc. I’m much better equipped to tell you how the Cougars compare with their peers in the Pac-12, however.

Pre-pandemic, WSU’s ever-growing athletics deficit was expected to reach $93.5 million by the end of the current fiscal year, $99.3 million by the end of the 2021 fiscal year and $102.7 million by 2022. So, don’t be too surprised if the Cougars are $100 million in the red in a few months, rather than a few years, considering their top moneymaker is (likely) sidelined until at least January.

In the spring, the Cougars announced voluntary pay cuts for President Kirk Schulz, Athletic Director Pat Chun, football coach Nick Rolovich and men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith. Additionally, all four decided to indefinitely forgo incentives and bonuses. I’d imagine the department will take much more aggressive cost-saving measures this fall, in addition to the furloughs and salary reductions announced last month. WSU’s next Board of Regents meeting is planned for Sept. 17-18.

Recently, Washington’s athletic department announced it would shrink salaries by 17%, or $8 million, in the 2021 fiscal year. The Huskies also eliminated 16 positions from the department and furloughed 35 additional staff members.

In early July, Stanford eliminated 11 varsity sports: men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling.

As far as athletic debt, though, WSU’s situation is certainly unique. The Cougars have much more of it than anyone else in the conference and generate less revenue than each of their 11 other Pac-12 peers. According to USA Today’s annual college finances report from 2018-19, WSU brought in $71,691,339 in revenue. In the Pac-12, every other school generated at least $82 million in revenue, and every Power Five school outside of the Pac-12 brought in $100 million or more.

Granted, other Pac-12 schools are facing deficits. According to The Mercury-News, UCLA was starting a two-year shortfall of approximately $40 million and Cal often battles a deficit of more than $15 million.

But, to reiterate, WSU’s situation is certainly unique. And if you couldn’t tell already, that isn’t a good thing.

As the Jaguars continue to dismantle their team, what are reasonable expectations for Gardner Minshew this year?

- Jennifer D.

I’d guess the expectations Minshew has for himself are much different from the ones others have for him and the Jaguars, who are widely expected to own the worst record in professional football this season.

And it’s worth pointing out many had those thoughts before the Jaguars parted ways with running back Leonard Fournette. FiveThirtyEight projects Jacksonville, Washington, and Cincinnati will all finish 5-11. But hey, of those three, the Jaguars have the best chance (13%) at making the playoffs!

I’m actually not sure there’s a starting quarterback in the league in a tougher spot than the one Minshew is in. Truthfully. The former WSU standout is expected to be a franchise QB for a team that appears to be one more bad season – as in, no playoffs – short of firing its head coach, and potentially also the general manager. As you alluded to, the Jags didn’t exactly beef up the skill positions or offensive line in the offseason, then proceeded to let a 1,100-yard rusher walk a week before the first game.

Jacksonville will certainly have to buck the odds to make the playoffs and if it looks like the club won’t, fans will urge the Jaguars to tank the back stretch of the season in an effort to draft Clemson standout Trevor Lawrence.

So, it should be an uphill battle for the second-year starter, but I suppose Minshew’s made pundits look bad before and he’s been able to collect lots of bulletin board material over the offseason. Let’s see how far it takes him.