Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Washington State.
Spring Practice Starts: March 22.
Spring Game: April 21
Returning starters: 5 offensive, 9 defensive, 1 specialist
Three Things To Look For:
1. Have the Cougars bought in to the Mike Leach regime? We can't imagine there'd be much griping from the Wazzu quarterbacks or wide receivers in the wake of Laach's ascendancy in Pullman -- not with his system promising to do for them what it did for the likes of Kliff Kingsbury, Wes Welker, Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, etc. in Lubbock -- but that doesn't mean the sentiment has to be roster-wide. Leach has never been afraid to rub people the wrong way, his own players sometimes included (support among his former Texas Tech players following his firing was not quite universal, remember). Given that Leach represents by far the program's greatest hope of returning to national prominence since Mike Price's ill-fated decision to leave for Alabama, you'd expect to have the attention and respect of the roster from Day 1 ... but it's still possible that some corners of it may need a bit of time to come around. And if that's the case, it could result in the Cougars merely running out of the 2012 gate this spring rather than flying.
2. Can Jeff Tuel cement himself as the starting quarterback? It speaks to the kind of potential Leach can tap at Wazzu that even during their recent downturn, the Cougars still managed to unearth no less than three quarterbacks for the 2011 roster capable of big numbers in the now-departed Marshall Lobbestael, 2010 starter Tuel, and rising redshirt sophomore Connor Halliday (who merely threw for 494 yards vs. Arizona St. in the first meaningful action of his career). Of course, it also speaks to the odd bad vibe in Pullman of late that all three quarterbacks had suffered key injuries by season's end, leaving Tuel as the clear favorite headed into 2012. If healthy and focused, the senior should be able to turn Leach's tutelage and maybe the nation's most underrated receiving corps (we see you, Marquess Wilson) into a 2012 season of video game numbers. And if not? Halliday, already healthy enough to take practice reps, will be ready and waiting to prove he can do it if Tuel can't.
3. So ... is there a defense? For all of Leach's offensive sorcery, he might have put together more than one 11-1 season at Texas Tech if his defenses hadn't routinely ranked among the worst in the Big 12. And he's not exactly entering a position of defensive strength at Wazzu, which ranked 82nd, 118th and 120th (or dead last) in total defense the past three seasons. While longtime coaching veteran and former Montana assistant Mike Breske no doubt knows a thing or two, few might expect the new Cougar defensive coordinator to be a miracle worker, either. (He's also guiding the Cougars through a switch to a base 3-4 defense.) Here's the good news for Wazzu, though: with those nine starters returning -- including second-team All-Pac-12 lineman Travis Long and the entire secondary -- and the hope instilled by last season's improvement (such as it was), the building blocks are there for another step forward in 2012. If the defense (and especially the defensive backs) can hold its own against Tuel, Wilson, and Co. this spring, good things could be on the horizon for the fall.
To check in on the rest of the Pac-12 and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule.Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.
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