Standing near the end zone in Martin Stadium on Monday, wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons shrugged, apologetically, and said "Thursday will tell me a lot more than what I know now. Practices ... you get a chance to evaluate some things, but nothing is like an actual game experience."
It's an overriding theme heading into the first game: Watch enough of a team in practice and you may think you know what you see, but nothing can simulate an actual game. And right now, nobody -- including the coaches -- knows exactly how well the Washington State Cougars will perform.
We think the offense is solid, especially at the skill positions. And we think that with Mike Leach calling the plays the offense has the potential to put up big numbers. Marquess Wilson is an All-American candidate; Jeff Tuel is an experienced, consistent starter when healthy; And Gabe Marks looks poised for a breakout season.
The opposite is true on the defensive side of the ball ... we think. There are some holes in the front-seven -- created by departures and dismissals -- and some players with potential. There's youth in Taylor Taliulu, Darryl Monroe and, in some ways, Chester Su'a. And there's experience, though the experience came from getting their brains beat in on a defense that has struggled over the past few years. We think it'll struggle to stop teams and think it'll be aggressive, though.
Having watched the Cougars practice a whole heck of a lot during the spring and fall, I still can't tell you what will happen. Practice is one thing. Playing actual games -- not beating up on teammates in the heat -- is a different ballgame. Factor in installing new systems on both sides of the ball, and it's especially difficult to project what will happen in Provo on Thursday.
So there was Simmons, always open and honest, giving his evaluation of the position he coaches -- the outside receivers. What he said, though, holds true for every position on both sides of the ball. Thursday night is a plunge into the unknown. By Friday, things should be a lot more clear.
"It's one thing to come out here and do it in an empty stadium or out there in practice," Simmons said, referencing what his wide receivers are capable of. "It's another to do it in a game-like atmosphere. Especially on the road."
Embrace the unknown and roll with it. WSU could win by 30. Or Mike Leach's squad could lose by 30. We have no idea what we're working with heading into the first week, and that's both exciting and scary.