Coach: Bill Doba (3rd season, 15-9) 2004 record: 5-6 Pac-10 finish: 3-5 (7th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 84th (128.0 ypg) Passing: 35th (240.6 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 40th (133.5 ypg) Passing: 82nd (233.2 ypg)
at Oregon State
Depth Chart: Offense
9 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
7 returning starters in red
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After posting three consecutive 10-win seasons, Washington State was expected to experience a drop-off last year, and did, falling to 5-6 and missing out on a bowl game for the first time since the 2000 season. The fact the Cougars ended a seven-game losing streak to Washington in the Apple Cup didn't salvage their season, but soothed their fans.
Washington State enters 2005 as a program with higher expectations and plenty of reasons to believe a return to a bowl game is on the horizon.
Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus are playmaking receivers who should get pass-catching help from a tandem of tight ends, Troy Bienemann and Cody Boyd. Linebacker Will Derting, who keyed a WSU upset of Texas in the '03 Holiday Bowl, should be completely recovered from a wrist injury that bothered him all of last season.
Entering his third year, coach Bill Doba likes the potential of this team, but there are always question marks in the Palouse, starting at quarterback.
Josh Swogger led the Cougars to a 3-3 record before breaking a bone in his foot last year. Behind his replacement, Alex Brink, WSU was 2-3. The 6-foot-5 Swogger has pocket presence and a big arm. The 6-2 Brink has smarts and savvy, drawing favorable comparisons to Cougars great Jason Gesser. Not an advocate of the two-quarterback system, Doba said during the spring that "Josh earned that position. It will be his position to lose. It's hard to demote a kid when he got hurt, and [Swogger] was No. 1 before he got injured."
Limited in the spring, Swogger was expected to be ready for full contact in the fall. As long as Swogger gets time from a rebuilt offensive line, he should find open receivers, with Hill the best of the lot. The junior was WSU's most valuable offensive player last year after piling up 1,007 yards and a school-record 12 touchdown receptions.
At running back, Jerome Harrison could have a terrific season based on the numbers he racked up last year -- 900 yards (5.2 per carry), including a 247-yard performance against UCLA in which he set a school record for most carries (42).
Washington State didn't have a consistent rush last year, but could this season with returning starters at defensive end in Mkristo Bruce and Adam Braidwood. Doba is high on his defensive tackles, Aaron Johnson and Ropati Pitoitua. A 6-8 sophomore from Spanaway, Wash., Pitoitua could be destined for greatness.
When healthy, Derting is one of the country's best linebackers, and he is at his best in big games. The senior hails from tiny Okanogan, Wash., where his family doesn't even have a home phone. WSU fans were worried that Derting would bolt for the NFL after last season, but he didn't, coming back to move from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, where the coaches want him to be even more of a threat. A dislocated wrist caused him to play with one healthy wing for most of the season, and he had problems wrapping up on tackles. He should be back in opponents' backfields, stuffing quarterbacks and running backs this year.
"With [Will] in the middle, that's going to have a great impact," Doba said. "He's going to be very good."
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the secondary, which is thin and inexperienced.
Punter Kyle Basler is an All-America candidate. The senior not only has thunder but also touch in his foot, showing a knack for dropping punts inside the 10. The placekicking situation is not as solid. Graham Siderius has the bigger leg but tends to not be as accurate as Loren Langley, who handled the field goals last year. That job appears up for grabs.
The Cougs will ride their offense, which returns nine starters, but Harrison must stay healthy. If he doesn't, the Cougs will have no one of note to carry the ball. WSU should be fine at quarterback, with either Swogger or Brink throwing to a stable of standout receivers.
Defensively, even though Derting is a terror, the Cougs are thin at linebacker. Injuries would be decimating at that position, as well as in the secondary.
Even if WSU remains injury-free, it could lose close games if the kicking game isn't straightened out.