Nobody expects Mike Leach to turn Washington State into a national title contender this year, but Cougars fans are probably hoping for more than the four wins former coach Paul Wulff gave them in 2011. How well will WSU do under Leach? Here are the Cougars' best-case, worst-case and most likely scenarios for 2012.
Best-case scenario: For new coach Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars, the best-case scenario starts with 55-21 win over BYU in the team's Aug. 30 season opener that will be nationally televised by ESPN. WSU then averages 61 points per game in its next three wins and the Cougars take a 4-0 record into their Week 5 game against Oregon. The Ducks win a 49-45 three-overtime thriller, but despite the loss, the game does gain some national respect for Washington State. The Cougars go 5-2 over their final seven games, with the only losses coming in consecutive road games to Stanford and Utah. The Apple Cup makes its way back to Pullman after the Cougars thrash Washington 47-14, denying the 5-7 Huskies a bowl berth. At 9-3, Washington State is invited to the Holiday Bowl. Leach has the team spend their non-practice days in San Diego looking at pirate ships.
Worst-case scenario: Leach's offense doesn't faze Pac-12 defensive coordinators who are used to high-flying aerial attacks. The Cougars are only able to muster 16 points per game in Pac-12 play with the lowlight being a 17-0 shutout loss to Cal on Mike Leach Bobblehead Day in Pullman –- and before you ask, yes, there's a Mike Leach Bobblehead Day in Pullman this year. The Cougars only manage three wins on the season, which has Washington State fans longing for the four-win days of Paul Wulff.
Most likely scenario: The season opener at BYU will be a telling game for Washington State. If the Cougars can win a nationally televised game on the road, there's a good chance they'll be 4-0 when they play host to Oregon in Seattle on Sept. 29. After a likely loss to the Ducks, WSU's schedule gets slightly easier over the final seven weeks with winnable games at Oregon State, against UCLA and against Arizona State. A final record of 7-5 isn't out of the question for the Cougars, which would earn the team their first bowl berth since 2003. Also, it would keep Leach's personal bowl streak alive, as the 10-year coaching veteran has reached a bowl game in each of his prior seasons.