Looking Forward

So, it’s March, and it’s early for all things college football.  SUPER early.  But is it too early to look at some upcoming opponents?  Maybe not, per Cougfan’s latest, which examines the Okie State Cowboys and who they are bringing back next season. 

Or, maybe it’s better said that the article highlights who Okie State ISN’T bringing back?  From the article:

–Oklahoma State will be replacing their star quarterback, Zac Robinson.
–They’ll also be replacing four of five senior starters on the offensive line.
–Their starting running back, who gained nearly 1,200 yards last year, was a senior.
–Two of the four starting defensive linemen need to be replaced, three if you count a senior defensive end who started six games according to the official OSU site.
–In the defensive backfield, three of the four starters were seniors in 2009.
–All three OSU starting linebackers last year? They were seniors.
— On special teams, Oklahoma State will return their punter, placekicker and long snapper. Both the return men, however, were seniors.

All told in 2010, of the starting eleven on both sides of the ball, Okie State according to various media reports will be returning just four starters on offense, three starters on defense.

Wow.  I know, I know.  It’s early.  And we’ll probably see Okie State as a 21-point favorite when the first betting lines hit for next year.  We’ll take a harder look at Okie State later this spring, after they conclude their spring practice sessions.  And by the looks of it, it’s going to be an awfully important spring in Stillwater, for there should be a lot of jockeying for all the open positions! 

Meanwhile, Nick Daschel of Buster Sports has been ranking some positions around the Pac-10 as we head towards spring ball.  Running backs here, QB’s here, linebackers here.  Daschel breaks things down from “Wealthy”, “Healthy”, and “Needs a Six Month Spring”.  And from a WSU perspective, no, he’s not real high on any of these positions:

QBs:  Washington State sophomore Jeff Tuel took some licks as a true freshman in 2009. There’s talent there, but whether it emerges has a lot to do with the questionable cast surrounding Tuel on offense.
RBs: What does it say about the state of Washington State football that it loses the first running back in school history to lead the team in rushing four consecutive years (Dwight Tardy), and no one is complaining? James Montgomery could be the answer if he’s able to bounce back from a scary injury of a year ago. It’s not a pretty sight in the backfield in Pullman, however.

LBs:  Washington State is always going to be in this category until the Cougars start to show they can stop a decent offense. Alex Hoffman-Ellis looks like a player.

So there you go.  Now I’m not going to say Daschel is misguided here, I’m really not.  But this is probably just the first real string of media previews that you are going to see that will certainly have WSU at the bottom of the conference, in pretty much everything.  It is just the way it is, and until they can actually turn things around on the field, it won’t change. 

And he’s pretty much right, isn’t he?  On Tuel, so much is going to depend on what goes on around him for him to take a step forward.  And James Montgomery is pretty good, but again, he’s coming off the tough leg injury and we have no idea if he’ll be the same player next fall, and like Tuel, again, so much depends on what is happening in front of him to have a chance.  And the linebackers should be much improved, and we’ll get to them later, but when you were one of the worst defenses in the country in ’09, there isn’t much room for optimism.

But this isn’t to say that 2010 is a disaster before it even starts!  There is so much talk of improvement behind the scenes, and who knows, maybe we see the big step Paul Wulff has been talking about, and we see it sooner rather than later.  There are some good young players in the program, players who took their lumps the last year or two, but they are going to get better.  It’s just easy right now to get negative simply based on what has happened, instead of thinking of the promise of tomorrow.

All for now.  Go COUGS!

Looking Forward

So here we are, the end of the year. As the Onion reported, Baby New Year 2008 has been abandoned in the street. It’s over. And, as is customary, this is the time where you see all sorts of year-end wrap-ups in every corner of the country, for pretty much everything. But we thought why look back right now? We’ve already wrapped up the 2008 season, which was as tough a year to watch as many of us can ever remember. So why dwell on the past? Don’t ignore history, as if you do you are doomed to repeat it….but certainly don’t dwell on it. It distracts from the present, or more importantly, keeps your focus away from what is coming.

So instead of putting a bow on ’08, today we’ll look forward to ’09 in the WSU football universe. We’ll give you a few things to look forward to, at least in our eyes, and we will also weigh in on a few predictions on what we think will happen. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what YOU are looking forward to/predictions for the new year. Sound good?

Here’s my three things I’m looking forward to, as well as some predictions:

1) The Quarterback Situation.

Hang on……the quarterback?!? After 2008, a season so bad they dumbed down the playbook? So bad that the QB who started the vast majority of the season didn’t have a SINGLE TD PASS? Well, yes, the QB situation. Specifically the young QB’s who have a real shot to make waves. Right now, you have to believe there is a strong opportunity for either JT Levy or Marshall Lobbestael to reach out and grab that job.

Of course, Ocho Rojo’s knee has to hold up, and he probably won’t get his chance until fall camp. But from what the coaches have said since the beginning, and even in his limited time in games, you can see there is a chance Lobbestael can be something special. And even though JT didn’t get many chances to show what he can do in game situations, the buzz is strong enough there as well. Whoever wins the job, we are certainly going to see more of the “real” Todd Sturdy offense.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out.

PREDICTION: Lobbestael’s knee holds up through fall camp, and he grabs the job over a hard-charging JT Levy. But both of those young QB’s will play a lot in the first month of the season. In the end, Lobbestael wins the job and is the starter for the vast majority of 2009. He will throw for 2500 yards, 17 TD’s and 10 INT’s, with about 100 net rushing yards mixed in.

2) The Offensive Line.

As we will clearly remember, most of 2008 was an avert-your-eyes situation on offense. But look at the walking wounded at the QB spot to realize how overwhelmed some of these guys were, at least early on. And the running game was a true adventure for much of the season. But you know, inexperience and injuries are an ugly combination, and we had both in bunches last year.

There were only two occasions where the same starting five actually were together in consecutive games (Lesuma, Roxas, Alfred, Danaher and Hannam started vs. Oregon and UCLA; Lesuma, Ayers, Alfred, Guerra and Hannam started against ASU and UW). But they did show some life late in the year, once things settled down a bit, and they responded with a couple of plus-100 yard rushing games vs. UW and Hawai’i.

The thing I’m looking forward to here, however, is what is to come in ’09. ’08 was learning on the job with not-ready-for-prime-time players. It’s been well-publicized, but 11 of the 12 linemen on the depth chart will return next season. Big Vaughn Lesuma moves on, but everyone else is back. And you can also add redshirt junior Zack Williams to the mix. Williams has been getting positive buzz, to the point that some claim he’s the most talented tackle on the roster. But there is a lot coming back here, young talent who all got a chance to play. With another off-season of hitting the weights and practice, this group could be a real strength next year.

PREDICTION: This group will elevate their game and be a force to be reckoned with. The rushing yards will improve tremendously, and the QB’s will do more than just survive next year. And with some very good PAC-10 centers graduating (Alex Mack of Cal, Max Unger of Oregon, Alex Fletcher of Stanford, Juan Garcia of UW), Kenny Alfred is the best center in the conference in 2009.

3) Andy Mattingly.

While many of us are eager to flip the calendar over to 2009, there might not be another player on the WSU roster who is ready to move on more than Andy Mattingly. Coming off an eye-opening 2007 season where he logged over 90 tackles and 8.5 sacks as a part-time starter at linebacker, everyone thought he would have a huge ’08 season. It wasn’t to be. Mattingly appeared lost as a defensive end, and the change just never clicked. But at the very end of the year, Mattingly was moved back to linebacker vs. UW and Hawai’i, and in turn, WSU played two of their best games on defense for the entire season. Part of it was the switch to the 3-4 (3-3-5?) defense, as well as the emergence of Toby Turpin up front. But having Mattingly go back to linebacker was like watching him go home again. It’s where he belongs on the football field.

Now which linebacker spot he plays next year is still open for debate. Will he start at outside linebacker? What about middle linebacker, where Greg Trent has moved on? If they go with a three-man defensive line, would Mattingly be one of the interior linebackers? Remains to be seen, but it’s clear that he will be behind the line next year, and not part of it.

PREDICTION: Mattingly has a huge senior year at inside linebacker, racking up over 100 tackles and wrecking havoc all over the field. The defense gets some of it’s swagger back, and Mattingly leads the charge. Mattingly grabs at least 2nd-team All-Conference honors.

Starting 2009 With A Thud: Brinkhater’s Predictions:

1) Goodbye Possession Passing, Hello Smashmouth.

First down, Montgomery to the left side. Second down, Montgomery to the right. Third down, Mitz up the middle. First down, Montgomery to the Left. Second down, Tardy to the right. Third down, Tardy to the right.

Get used to it. Run, run, run, then hit the play action down the middle of the field.

Prediction: Montomery 850 yards, Tardy 512 yards, Mitz 250 Yards. Nice rushing attack.

2) Hello 3-3-5.

Okay, maybe we don’t go that far, but I am looking forward to a full year of NO 4-3 until we can get more horses in the stable. As Sedi noted, the return of Mattingly to the LB corps coupled with more depth at D-Line and a returning secondary gives hope and prayer for a mid-tier defense.

Prediction: Passing D 4th, Rushing D 7th (6th Overall in Conference)

3) Relevance.

Making a return to a bowl for the first time in 1,000 years will be too much of a task for this group–especially given that our conference schedule is 4-5 (home-away) next year. But this group should win a few more games, be more competitive, and will get a signature upset victory along the way. These boys will hit next year, folks. It will be fun.