In the previous post on EA Sports' NCAA 14, I talked a little bit about how the game is aiming to keep things "real" - something they appeared to take seriously with regards to WSU's low team rating. To follow up, I had a conversation with reader Keith Lokkins -- known around these parts and on Twitter as klokkins.
Jeff: So, someone at UW Dawg Pound with far more time on his hands than me went the trouble to simulate the 2013 football season five times on NCAA 14. In those five simulations, WSU's record ranged from 3-9 (twice) to 7-6 (once). The Cougars made a bowl game in two of the five seasons. You buying the idea that this team has a 40 percent chance of getting six wins and making a bowl game this season?
Keith: Based on how I feel about Connor Halliday and what our O-line has been for almost a decade I don't think we have a 40 percent chance of winning 6 games this year. Starting with Auburn and USC on the road just screams 0-2 to me and will be a huge test for the team and coaching staff early on. I've never personally seen WSU beat Cal, and ASU always gives us trouble (2011 notwithstanding). Those two have to be some of "easier" conference games for us. We'd have to have one of those games and then some other upsets, Oregon St? Arizona? Yikes.
Unless that Leach magic we're all expecting comes to fruition and Halliday is a new man, I'd put our chances more in the 15-20 percent range of reaching a bowl.
Jeff: Scheduling is just so important in college football when talking about the viability of what a team can accomplish. It's one of the reasons why a big jump under Leach last year didn't feel completely impossible, but it just doesn't look good this year. Ideally what you want is the seemingly beatable teams at home, and WSU has to go play Cal, Arizona and Washington all on the road. And Colorado isn't on the schedule.
The other part of the equation is this: The Pac-12 in general just seems to be on an upswing. In order to pass teams, you usually need them to be coming back down while you're on the way up. Well, it seems like everyone's on the way up, so there's a chance WSU could be much better and still only come away with three or four wins. It's awfully hard to talk ourselves into yet another "we're better, even if the record doesn't show it!" kind of season.
If, somehow, this team does get up to six wins, I tend to think it will be the defense that leads us. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske did an amazing job last year, and that unit is deeper and more mature this year. You agree?
Keith: Couldn't agree with both points more. I've thought for a few years now that the Pac-12 is very underrated on the whole. There's been some high profile wins (UCLA vs Nebraska, Oregon/Cal vs Tennessee, Or St vs Wisconsin, Arizona vs Ok St, Cal was so close vs Ohio St) but overall it just can't crack the USC, Oregon, and everyone else stereotype. USC being down the past few years doesn't help either.
WSU is definitely improving but by how much? How much further do we need to go before cracking the top half? The simulation has Cal pegged at 3 wins next year and I think they have much more talent than us. Also, EA shows UW with 10 wins (10.4 avg), and Colorado at 4 (4.4 avg). Every fan tends to overhype their own team and EA has us at 5 (4.8 avg). Is our talent level still closer to Colorado than UW? The Apple Cup certainly says otherwise but I also don't see anyone on our team who compares to Sean Parker, ASJ, or Kasen Williams.
As far as I could tell Breske worked miracles on the defense last year. I loved the new, aggressive style of play he brought. My untrained eye would say that he gave the players more freedom to make plays (and mistakes) rather than playing very conservatively and hoping for the best. Add in the best group of D-lineman since at least 2006 with Mkistro Bruce, much improved tackling, and we saw a defense who made a lot of plays despite constantly being backed into corners by turnovers and some not so special teams. I re-watched the Apple Cup last week and was blown away by how much the defense dominated UW. UW only had a single strong drive against us, their other 3 TDs came from turnovers inside our own ~25 yd line.
Assuming the defense at least maintains the improvements shown last year, how much more can they improve with experience and newcomers? Do you think the defense can win a game or two for us?
Jeff: Well, I'm not sure if they'll be able to win a game or two on their own. I mean, they were impressive to us because of the depths of horribleness from which they emerged, but the reality is that we still ranked 76th in defensive F/+ last season. There's lots of room to grow, and I'm cautiously optimistic that the defense can become an average to above average unit.
Let's finish this thing off with a little Husky bashing. How overrated is Washington in the game - very overrated, extremely overrated, or insanely overrated? Feel free to insert your own adjective if you've got one you like better.
Keith: Given that I don't see Keith Price turning into Cam Newton overnight I'm not sure even the most obnoxious UW fan possibly believes they have a 40 percent chance of going 13-1. I personally love this prediction because of how many Huskies I envision buying into it and having pitchforks at Sark's door when they fall closer to the 7-8 win range again. Therefore, I think this prediction is so incredible I've had to steal a made up word for it. UW's rating in NCAA 14 is scrumtrulescent, it is so scrumtrulescent I can hardly move.