College football never ends. And during the next few weeks, teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Washington State Cougars and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice began: March 21
Spring game: April 20
2012 record: 3-9
Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, eight defense)
It was a rough first year for head coach Mike Leach. The Cougars got off to a slow start and never really recovered, finishing just 3-9. There were few bright spots, save for a season-ending win over archrival Washington. The roster is in transition and Leach's offense still needs time to sink in. However, there aren't many coaches out there who are better than Leach at winning with less. This team should be considerably better in 2013.
The least you should know about Washington State this spring
-- All positions are up for grabs. Leach emphasized before spring began that he sees these practices primarily as a chance to further evaluate his roster. Whereas last spring was about teaching players the basics, such as where to line up within his system, this spring will be about finding players and polishing their skills. Coming off a 3-9 season, Leach can't afford to be complacent and that means going with talent over experience wherever possible.
-- There is finally some depth on the offensive line. The Cougars return five players who started or played a lot on the offensive line last season. They'll also get back senior tackle Rico Forbes, who missed last year with an injury, and add redshirt freshmen Denzell Dotson and Eduardo Middleton to the mix. Transfer Joe Dahl and incoming junior college transfer Jacob Seydel could also play. Finding the starting five and developing the depth behind them will be a big priority for Leach this spring.
-- The defense should be improved. Eight starters and 16 of the top 19 tacklers return from a unit that finished in the top 20 in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2012. However, it also allowed 425 yards per game, good for 83rd nationally. This group has gone through some battles, but the depth and experience in the back seven means it has the potential to be solid. Keep an eye out for incoming junior college linebackers Ivan McLennan and Lyman Faoliu, who could contribute immediately.
-- There will be a quarterback battle. At first glance, junior Connor Halliday would appear to have the inside track to win the starting quarterback job. And that may be accurate, given his experience (he threw 15 touchdown passes as a part-time starter last season). But Leach believes redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca could also be a factor, so Halliday will have to work hard, and stay healthy, if he wants to hold him off. Call Halliday the favorite at the moment, but this should be an interesting spring competition that gets even more interesting in the fall when a couple highly-touted recruits join the fray.