11 for ’11 – a Look Ahead for WSU

So we looked back at 2010 a couple of days ago (check that out here).  But now that we have looked back, it’s time to look forward to a brand new year!  And with that, we’ll pose 11 questions for ’11, from a WSU point of view. 

But first, I guess I should get this out of the way now…..but congrats to UW (sigh).  Our in-state brethren went out last night and, well, they just beat up Nebraska, didn’t they?  Even we can admit that around here.  To think those were the same two teams who got it on in September, to what we saw last night, it’s still hard to digest.  Sure, the pundits are going to say that Nebraska was flat and simply looked like they didn’t want to be there.  And in stretches, their offense was downright “CAL/UCLA like” in their ineffectiveness to do anything of significance!  In a way they looked like that self-righteous actor sitting in his trailer, screaming at the director “Where’s my motivation!?!?”  Meanwhile UW was like the supporting actor who came into the movie with tons of energy and enthusiasm, and simply stole the show, as UW turned Qualcomm into their “Rose Bowl’  last night.

And of course, people are going to say things – UW was a 6-6 team playing in the Holiday Bowl, something at one time sounded completely unimaginable.  Seriously, 6-6 in the Holiday Bowl!?!?  And Nebraska was a shell of itself from earlier in the year, and clearly they were not over their heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, a game that would have had them playing in a BCS bowl.  But all that aside, once the dust settles and everyone looks back at this game, you know what?  All the talk of who wanted to be there and who didn’t, or who was motivated and who didn’t care, it won’t matter.  NOT. ONE. BIT.  As time goes on, history will treat this as a Holiday Bowl victory for the Huskies.  It’s a pelt on their wall, a page in their media guide, a talking point for recruiting and evidence of turning around a program, and great memories for players, coaches and fans.  That’s the bottom line. 

Much like WSU’s 2003 Holiday Bowl victory, when Texas wasn’t real thrilled with having to play there while the Cougs brought it big-time that night, that’s similar to what we saw in this year’s game.  But ask yourself this, from a Coug point of view –  you look back at that 2003 game now, in your own mind, and what do you see?  You see WSU beating Texas and winning the Holiday Bowl! 

All the stuff surrounding the game just doesn’t matter.  The end result is what you take with you. 

Anyway, congrats to UW.  They deserve a pat on the back for that one.

That out of the way, let’s look at 11 questions for 2011, shall we?

1)  Over-under on wins for the football team.  Given the number of starters set to return in 2011 (at least 16, eight on both sides of the ball?), let’s set it at 5.  Do you take the over or the under on that?

I’ve thought about this one quite a bit, and here goes – I’m ALL IN on Paul Wulff’s proclamation of sun tan lotion and warm weather next year!  That’s right, I’m going OVER, and I’ll say the Cougs win the required six games in 2011!  I believe with the schedule in place, that a 2-1 nonconference record or maybe even 3-0, and three or four conference wins is quite possible.  But beyond how it all breaks down on a game-by-game basis, I am just hitching the wagon to Paul Wulff’s declaration that we will be somewhere “warm” next year for the holidays.  Whether that’s San Diego, San Antonio or points in between, I’m IN!

2)  Jeff Tuel’s glory stats – Over/under on 3,000 yards passing and 20 tds?  
I will go OVER here as well.  It isn’t just because Tuel should take a step forward next year, bigger, stronger, and probably more accurate than ever before with full year of experience and confidence built from playing at a high level in this offense.  But when you look at ’09, and realize he threw for over 2700 yards and 18 tds as a true sophomore, all without any semblance of a running game and he got sacked nearly 50 times??  There is every reason to believe he will be better next year!

3)  Marquess Wilson’s glory stats – Over/under on catches (60), yards (1,100), and TD’s (8)?

Believe it or not, as much as I love the kid, I am going to actually take the under.  Not because he is going to sophomore slump on us.  But for a few reasons actually:  

A)  There is now a season of film on Wilson, and you better believe defenses are going to adjust.  He may get a steady diet of safety help over the top, so, it could be frustrating for him if he isnt able to get to his PAC-10 best over 18 ypc.  

B)  Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone, and Isiah Barton will all be a year older/stronger/wiser in ’11.  And Kristoff Williams will be healthy, and the buzz around him is instant impact.  In other words, the WR crop is deep, maybe as deep as 2006 when Michael Bumpus, Jason Hill and Brandon Gibson were all roaming the Palouse?!  But with all the capable hands in the passing game and an experienced, smart QB at the helm, you can imagine Tuel is going to do his best to spread the wealth. 

C)  I think the offense will still see some spread elements to it, with a lot of four wides and one running back out of the shotgun.  But I also believe we will see more read option out of the offense, and just more running in general.

So, more success on the ground and a deep core of wideouts will likely means fewer touches for #86.  He’ll still have a strong season, but I am not convinced that he will explode in terms of pure stats. 

4)  On that same tone, who will lead the team in TD receptions in 2011, Marquess Wilson, Jared Karstetter or a wildcard? 

Senior-to-be Jared Karstetter will lead the team in TD catches.  After hauling in seven in 2010, I believe he’ll continue to be Tuel’s go-to-guy with that whole endzone fade thing in the redzone, and he could eclipse 10 TD’s in ’11.

5)  Will we have our first 1,000-yard rusher since Jerome Harrison in 2005?  If so, which guy will do it?

No.  No 1,000 yard rusher for the sixth straight season. First there is no “GUY” who has emerged.  There will be good quantity if James Montgomery gets to return, to join Logwone Mitz and presumably, Rickey Galvin.  But while they are nice players in limited opportunities, I just don’t see one guy emerging as a 5 yards-per-carry, 200-carry type running back on the roster.  Maybe Galvin is the real deal, but it is impossible to know right now.  And maybe Bishop Sankey surprises us all by not only sticking to his commitment but also making an impact as a true frosh. But. uh, yeah, I am not exactly counting on it…..

6)  Speaking of the running game, over/under on yards per carry attempt for the team next year, at 3.00 ypc.

First, why set the number at 3.00?  Well, WSU has averaged less than 3 yards per carry under 3 years of Paul Wulff.  Whether it is an Oline issue, a running back problem or simply too pass happy with the play-calling that has not only led to fewer rushing attempts but also more sacks allowed with inexperienced QB’s, all that should be out of the way this year.  The majority of the line is back, and they now enter the second year under Steve Morton, and that should matter in the grand scheme of things.  What the hell, I’ll take the over.

7)  Sacks allowed, over/under at 45. 

I know, that’s a lot of sacks isn’t it?  But please note that under Wulff, the team has surrendered nearly 150 sacks in three seasons (43 in ’08, 53 in ’09, 51 in ’10).  However, I think the o-line is going to be better, but an even bigger reason is the guy at the controls, Jeff Tuel.  With that full year now under his belt, we should expect things to be a little quicker next year with his decision making.  And we’ve already seen him show some true ability to escape the pass rush, and especially so late in the 2010 season against Oregon State and UW where he got out of some tough situations with his feet.  So for sacks at 45, I’ll take the under.

8)  Who will lead the team in tackles next year? 

It’s tempting to just say Deone Bucannon.  After all, the frosh safety led the team in tackles in 2010, why wouldn’t he in ’11?  But I’m going another direction here, and out on a limb a little bit,  I’ll pick CJ Mizell. 

Why?  Well, a few reasons actually.  First, when your safety leads the team in tackles, it really isn’t a good thing.  Why is that?  Because that usually means the front seven was getting beat on a regular basis by the opposition, that’s why.  You like a strong, physical presence out of your safety, but you would prefer that they don’t lead the team in tackles.  Your safety should be an enforcer in the passing game, able to cover a lot of ground but also deliver a wallop when the ball arrives.  We definitely are on our way with Bucannon.  But I think the biggest reason he won’t lead the team in tackles?  The front seven will be a lot better in 2011, that’s why.  We won’t actually NEED him to save the D’s behind, time and again.  Yeah, they’ll play him in the box and have him help against the run.  But with so much of the d-line and linebackers coming back next year, including a hopeful return to health by Louis Bland, the outlook is bright for those guys playing in front of him.  So, I’ll take the middle linebacker who showed he can hang in there and slug it out in traffic, and that’s CJ Mizell! 

9) Total first or second team All-Pac-12 selections next season from WSU.  Over-under at 2. 

While I fully expect WSU to take a big step forward next year, it will still be tough to get the league wide recognition that maybe some players deserve.  We saw it this year when USC’s Robert Woods won Frosh of the year, when Marquess Wilson had more receiving yards (1006 to 786), yards per catch (18.3 to 12.3), and the same amount of TD’s (6), yet they still went with Woods over Wilson.  That said, I do believe this will be a push.  Marquess Wilson and one of either CJ Mizell or Deone Bucannon will be all-Pac-12 selections, but that’s probably it. 

10)  Who is your out-of-nowhere pick for biggest surprise of 2011?  Someone we haven’t seen yet, like Kristoff Williams or Rickey Galvin?  Perhaps a new recruit in this upcoming signing class will shock everyone, ala Marquess Wilson or Deone Bucannon?  Or will a player who hasn’t yet done a whole lot suddenly take off, like Brandon Rankin or Sekope Kaufusi?

When you look at the big picture, in terms of timing and opportunity and ability all wrapped into one,  I think there is no better choice for a young talent to take the ball and go from the start than Rickey Galvin.  Galvin wowed everyone with his speed and moves in fall camp last year, so much so that some argued he should have been the starter in the opening week of the 2010 season.  Of course it all went south in a hurry, as Galvin broke his arm on his first-ever carry (ouch!).  But the arm should be fine, the legs are going to be strong and fresh, and the opportunity to bolt out of the gate will be there.  Rickey Galvin will be the biggest surprise of 2011.

11)  The new Pac-12 overall – who wins the Pac-12 North and Pac-12 south?  And where to you put WSU in the pecking order of Pac-12 North?

It’s hard to pick against Oregon in the Pac-12 North, isn’t it?  LaMichael James has already announced that he will be back next year, and Darron Thomas is already an All-Pac-10 QB.  They have the coach, they have the system, they have the recruits, they have pretty much everything to say that they should be the P-12 North fave for ’11.  But don’t sleep on the Beavs!  The Rodgers brothers are coming back, Ryan Katz should be much improved, etc.  But I think they lose too much on defense, with Paea gone plus Roberson, Tuimaunei, and Pankey all among the team leaders in tackles who will be leaving.  Cal, wow, who knows??  They look like they are bringing back some talent on paper, but can you honestly get a read on them right now!??  And if Shane Vereen bolts, what of that dreadful offense??

Stanford is too hard to pick at the moment, with so much riding on the Harbaugh/Luck outcome.  IF they come back though, wow.  Who wants to pick against Andrew Luck as a redshirt junior next year!?!?  They may hold the keys to the whole damn thing.    Anyway, for today, 12/31/10, Oregon has to be the pick for the first ever P-12 North title.

P-12 South could be dicey.  USC will have a lot of talent back, with Barkley at QB, Woods at WR and all those running backs.  But they have taken a step back the last couple of years, even in Pete’s last year, and they will be down the instant impact scholies starting with this year’s class.  The second year of trying to stay focused with no bowl could be even tougher than year one?  UCLA still looks way too far away, with coaching uncertainty among the coordinators and the QB situation far from clear.  Arizona pulled a CAL and folded big-time, so who knows where they will be mentally next year, even though Nick Foles is coming back?  Maybe ASU is the darkhorse for ’11?  One of the youngest teams in the conference managed to win six games, and they look like they finally have their QB in Brock Osweiler??  They are certainly talented enough to make a run at it.  As for the newbie’s, I don’t see Colorado doing a whole lot in their first year.  Nor do I see Utah bringing enough back to challenge for the divisional title.  

I guess no matter who wins the P-12 South, they are probably playing for runner-up status to Oregon anyway?  I guess I’ll pick USC, but maybe ASU will be that ultimate snake-in-the-grass?? 

BONUS:  Finally, I guess it’s related to question #1…..but one year from today, based on 2011, IS PAUL WULFF STILL THE HEAD COACH!?!?

No fence-sitting here.  YES, Paul Wulff is still the coach, one year from now, as the team will be coming off it’s first bowl appearance since 2003.  So there.

That’s it for now.  Have a happy, warm, SAFE New Year’s eve, and as always, GO COUGS!