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2006 Preview: Washington State Cougars

Pete Fiutak / CollegeFootballNews.com

Posted: 1 day ago   

If you had told Cougar fans before the 2005 season that 1) Jerome Harrison would be a 1,900-yard rusher, 2) the offense would finish eight in the nation, and 3) it would get off to a 3-0 start highlighted by a win over eventual WAC co-champion Nevada, they would've assumed it would be a great year with a bowl bid.

Instead, Washington State had one of the goofiest seasons in recent college football history losing a ridiculous five games by four points or fewer. Obviously the team is going to believe that just a few breaks here and there and things could change this season, but it's going to have to make more of its own good fortune.

The Cougars weren't merely unlucky, there were also unclutch. With a good amount of returning experience and several All-Pac 10 candidates to lead the way when things get tight. While it's not a good strategy to get into too many firefights in the Pac 10, that's exactly what this Cougar team is going to have to do. Fortunately, it's equipped to keep up the pace.

Washington State Cougars

Team Information

Head coach: Bill Doba

4th year: 19-16

Returning Lettermen:

Off. 27, Def. 21, ST 1

Lettermen Lost: 20

Ten Best Players

1. WR Jason Hill, Sr.

2. DE Mkristo Bruce, Sr.

3. QB Alex Brink, Jr.

4. SS Eric Frampton, Sr.

5. LB Steve Dildine, Sr.

6. LB Scott Davis, Sr.

7. WR/PR Michael Bumpus, Jr.

8. TE Cody Boyd, Sr.

9. DT Ropati Pitoitua, Jr.

10. LB Greg Trent, Soph.

2006 Schedule

9/2 at Auburn

9/9 Idaho

9/16 Baylor

9/23 at Stanford

9/30 USC

10/7 at Oregon State

10/14 California

10/21 Oregon

10/28 at UCLA

11/4 Arizona

11/11 at Arizona State

11/18 Washington


While it didn't make a lot of national headlines, the decision of receiver Jason Hill to come back for his senior year might have changed the Pac 10 season. He's a top gamebreaker with All-America ability, and combined with Michael Bumpus and Chris Jordan, should make quarterback Alex Brink look very, very good.

Replacing an All-America running back like Harrison isn't going to be easy, but there's help from the JUCO ranks with Derrell Hutsona and J.T. Diedrichs to keep the nation's 15th best running game from slipping off the map.

The defense should be better with a good set of linebackers and end Mkristo Bruce to be one of the nation's best pass rushers. Unfortunately, the new corners probably aren't going to help a horrible pass defense from stopping any of the high-octane Pac 10 attacks cold, but if they can just make a few more plays on third down, there might be a slight improvement.

The Pac 10 has improved too much from top to bottom for a team with as many holes as Washington State has to win the title, but that doesn't mean it can't be a major factor in the race. With an offense as explosive as this one will be, there will be a few upsets and more than a few heart-stoppers. This could be the comeback team of the 2006 season.

The Schedule: Playing Idaho and Baylor in the non-conference schedule should mean a 2-1 start after a likely opening day loss at Auburn. Most of the Pac 10 big boys have to come to Pullman with USC, Cal, and Oregon have making the trip. If Wazzu can win two out of those three, it'll be in the hunt for the title. Road games at Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State should be shootouts of the highest order.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Jason Hill. He likely would've been a late second, early third round draft pick had he left at the end of last year. Now the senior returns with a great résumé to scare the rest of the Pac 10. 107 career catches, 2,104 yards, 25 touchdowns, and a 19.7 yard-per-catch average should put him on a few preseason All-America teams.

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Mkristo Bruce. Bruce is known for making the big sack, but he's also an active tackler finishing among the team leaders in each of the last two seasons. He's a blur off the edge and great at chasing down ball-carriers.

Key player to a successful season: Senior CBs Tyron Brackenridge and Don Turner. The Cougar secondary allowed 289 passing yards per game last season and seemingly never, ever, made a key third down stop. Brackenridge and Turner take over the starting roles and while they have size and speed, they have to prove they can produce.

The season will be a success if ... The Cougars win eight games and come up with a few big home upsets. The team is now two seasons removed from a run of three straight ten-win seasons and needs to get back on the winning track or there might be coaching changes next year at this time. There's too much talent to have another non-bowl campaign.

Key game: Oct. 7 at Oregon State. The trip to play the Beavers comes after the home game against USC and before battles against Cal, Oregon, and at UCLA. A third straight loss to Oregon State could mean an ugly, season-sapping five game losing streak before things start to ease up.

2005 Fun Stats:

- Washington State third quarter scoring: 111 - Washington State fourth quarter scoring: 68

- Punt return average: Washington State 11.6 yards per return - Opponents 5.3 yards per return

- Passing yards per game: Opponents 289.1 - Washington State 277.3

The Last Time Washington State…

…played in a bowl game…2003 (Holiday Bowl vs. Texas)

…missed a bowl game…2005

…pitched a shutout…2003 (Idaho)

…was shutout…1984 (Ohio State)

…scored 50 points…2005 (Nevada)

…went undefeated…1917

…won a conference title…2002 (share, Pac-10)

…had a 3,000-yard passer…2002 (Jason Gesser)

…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2005 (Jerome Harrison)

…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2005 (Jason Hill)

…had a first-round draft choice…2003 (DB Marcus Trufant)

Pretty good analysis. They have some good quality players in DE Bruce & WR Hill -- the trouble is, they just don't have enough of them. If AU comes out flat in their opener (again,) WSU could put some quick points up on the board and make it difficult for the home team. I consider this team dangerous because they've got absolutely nothing to lose but plenty to prove. Clearly, the AU offense needs to neutralize Bruce and then contain Hill when on defense. :au: WDE

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