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WSU preview: If offense plays to its potential, Cougars could throw a scare into Pac-12’s elite

2022 record: 7-6

Coach/coordinators: HC Jake Dickert, OC Ben Arbuckle, DC Jeff Schmedding.


Cameron Ward’s development: For the Cougars’ offense to reach its full potential, Ward will have to be the best version of himself, and that involves cleaning up his fundamentals and establishing more consistency. If he can pair solid fundamentals with the talent that makes him a pro prospect, watch out for WSU’s offense this fall.

Incorporating a new crop of wide receivers: Ward will need to maximize his abilities, but he needs solid receivers . That’s where the Cougars’ new wideouts come in: DT Sheffield, Josh Kelly, Kyle Williams and Isaiah Hamilton all transferred in over the offseason, and they’ll have a big hand in opening up the offense. How will they mesh with Ward and offensive coordinator Ben Arbuckle?

Will this season’s Apple Cup be the last one? As this version of the Pac-12 falls apart, the Apple Cup’s future has never been murkier. If the teams play the game in 2024 and beyond, it will have to be as a nonconference affair, which sows doubt in the game’s location: Seattle? Pullman? In August, WSU AD Pat Chun said he doesn’t see how playing the game in Seattle “would ever be a good idea for Washington State.”


The secondary: WSU’s secondary is lined with playmakers, between cornerbacks Chau Smith-Wade, Cam Lampkin and safety Jaden Hicks. Teams will likely be hesitant to throw in these guys’ direction.

Pass offense: It wouldn’t be a Washington State offense without the Air Raid, and it’s set up for a return in 2023. With Ward at the controls, Ben Arbuckle calling plays and a new batch of receivers, the Cougars’ offense will likely rev to life again this fall.

Washington State cornerback Chau Smith-Wade reacts after a play against Utah on Oct. 27 in Pullman.  (WSU Athletics)
Washington State cornerback Chau Smith-Wade reacts after a play against Utah on Oct. 27 in Pullman. (WSU Athletics)


Run offense: A season ago, WSU finished second to last in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, churning out just 107 yards per game on the ground. The Cougars throw it enough to make this less of an issue, but it profiles as a serious weakness.

Second level of the defense: WSU’s linebacker corps is largely unproven. It will likely involve some combination of Devin Richardson, Ahmad McCullough, Kyle Thornton and Taariq Al-Uqdah – all talented in their own ways, but with only one combined start at WSU among them.

Players to watch

RB Nakia Watson, R-Sr.: When Washington State goes to the ground, can the Cougars’ starter take advantage? A strong run game could really unlock WSU’s offense this season.

WR Carlos Hernandez, Fr.: He can get lost in all the Cougars’ new receivers, but this true freshman will get meaningful playing time this fall. Can he make plays and add depth to his team’s receiver corps?

Edge Ron Stone Jr., R-Sr.: In his final season in Pullman, WSU’s edge rusher figures to cause real trouble in opponents’ backfields. How much pressure he gets on quarterbacks could make or break the Cougars’ defense.

DB Jaden Hicks, R-So.: The Las Vegas native snared one interception, and he’ll be back for more in his redshirt sophomore campaign. Look for Hicks to patrol WSU’s secondary and shut down deep balls.

Pac-12 Conference tiers

Championship contenders: USC, Utah, Washington, Oregon

Bowl teams: Washington State, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona

The rest: Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, Colorado