It's been almost three months since the Cougars took the field in Provo against BYU to open a season most of us thought would go quite differently than it did. Granted, the most glorious, most beautiful and greatest comeback in college football history (note: this may be hyperbole) against the most hated of rivals certainly helped soften the blow of another bad season.
I mean, we can all acknowledge it was pretty bad right? I don't want to rain on anyone's post-Apple Cup parade but 3-9 including a loss to Colorado isn't something to be terribly pleased with. There were some, how to put this delicately, personnel issues the team dealt with throughout the season. Some performances fell a little, again with saying things in a delicate manner, flat. Despite all the issues the team was dealing with in their final week of the season, they showed an incredible amount of resiliency when they bounced back to beat their first ranked opponent since 2006.
This season, we took a lot of the bad with just a little bit of the good. The offseason is no different. There are going to be some things we don't see coming that are both good and bad. But at this point, I know a few of the good and bad things we'll be dealing with before the team kicks off in Jordan Hare Stadium against the Auburn Tigers with their new head coach Bobby Petrino leading his team onto the field on a motorcycle (I'm assuming).
Bad news: No more Travis Long
If there has been a guy who deserved exponentially more than what he got out of his four years on the Cougar football team, I haven't met him. He could've gone to the other schools that offered him scholarships, Boise State and Oregon State, and played on much better teams but somehow, we were lucky enough to get him. He didn't take a single play off, even in the worst of times. When he was asked to move to BUCK linebacker by the new staff, he did it without hesitation. What's his reward for his hard work? The only game he misses in his entire career is the Apple Cup his senior year at home. In spite of the bad hand football had dealt him, Long crutched his way onto the field Saturday to be recognized as a senior and even got to hold the Apple Cup trophy afterwards. Every time I see the picture of him holding the trophy, it seems to get a little dusty in my living room.
Long embodied everything you want in a football player: tough, gritty, hard-working and, most importantly, willing to do whatever is asked of him. Brian summed Long's career up much better than I can but just know this Travis: you are going to be sorely missed.
Good news: Logan Mayes is still here and so are the rest of the linebackers
The linebackers may be losing Long but they still look like they'll be the best unit on the defense next year. Mayes had the heavy task of filling in for Long against Washington and he came through in spades. The guy who rushed Price into throwing an interception on the first play in overtime? Logan Mayes. But it's not just Mayes who has impressed at linebacker this year. Darryl Monroe, Cyrus Coen, Justin Sagote, Jared Byers, Eric Oertel and Chester Su'a all anchored a strong linebacking core. The best part? They're all back next year.
Bad news: Who will be the starting quarterback?
This wasn't a question that could be answered on a week-to-week basis this year and my fear is this problem will crop up again. We all know Mike Leach isn't a big fan of starting young quarterbacks in his system (Graham Harrell being the most notable exception) but he may not have a choice next year. Although he got clearance for another year from the Pac-12, Jeff Tuel probably won't get it from the NCAA which means he's thrown his last pass in a Cougar uniform. After his performances this season, 12 games of Connor Halliday is enough to make me start watching ACC football on Saturdays for something a bit less tortuous. Halliday would naturally be the next guy but raise your hand if your comfortable with that? But can redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca handle it? I have no idea what we have in Apodaca but could we handle a lot of growing pains if he plays? Could Tyler Bruggman be ready to take the reins right away?
Good news: Whoever the quarterback is will have a lot of good targets
Seven wide receivers caught more than 20 passes this year. Of the seven, six were underclassman and three were redshirt or true freshman. The other is uh, well, never mind. A few need to get a very severe case of Alligator Arms fixed up (I'm not sure what you treat that with but those commercials on TV make me think it's Lubriderm lotion) but that's nothing a good offseason can't help alleviate. Additions from the upcoming recruiting class, including River Cracraft, should help strengthen this unit. Don't forget: Ricky Galvin should be back working at inside receiver next year as well. What's easy to forget is how young this unit is and how long we'll have many of these guys. We'll have Dominique Williams, Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone for another three years. That's simply outstanding.
Bad news: Give us more practices
One of the inherently bad things about the bowl structure is teams that make it to the postseason are allowed extra practices. Regardless of whether they're just preparing for their extra game or not, it's still an extra couple of weeks to develop talent. You know who could use those practices too? Teams that aren't bowl eligible. This is bad news for all non-bowl eligible teams, not just Washington State for whom it's been a problem since their trip to the Holiday Bowl.
Good news: Mike Leach isn't going anywhere
Mike Leach's candidacy for vacant jobs around college football will be a thorn in our sides for the duration of his time at WSU. Although it may keep you worried, view it as a compliment more than anything else. After all it means someone else wants our coach! Right now, Leach has it pretty good in his current digs. The operations building that help draw him here was approved. He's making boatloads of money and he's working for an athletic director and university president that will always go to bat for him. Plus, if any other school wanted to sign him right now, they'd be responsible for a huge buyout in addition to the large salary Leach would command. It may be something we need to worry about in the future but for now, Mike Leach is staying put.
There you have it, the good news and the bad news. Things should be improving next year for Washington State and hopefully we won't have to spend a few months banging our heads against a wall like we did this year.