The WSU football team has five games remaining in the 2014 season after this week's bye. With the team sitting on a 2-5 record, the likelihood returning to a bowl game is not very high. In a reader's poll Saturday, the overwhelming majority of fans predicted the Cougs to win three games or fewer to close out the season. That sentiment is understandable since WSU is likely to enter each of its remaining games as an underdog.
The thought of laying down the hopes of a season to a permanent rest and playing out the string is demoralizing. College football offseasons are long, especially when there is no postseason play. The feeling a lot of WSU fans have that the football program "is almost ready to win" will be sitting on ice for about nine months as fans wait for the 2015 season. Still, there is a lot left for the program to accomplish in the coming months to put itself in good position heading into 2015 and beyond. Here are three priorities for WSU football as it looks to finish out the season:
1. Proving the record wrong: No matter how many games WSU wins or loses to close out the season, there is going to be a feeling of underachievement because of missed opportunities. As Mike Leach pointed out earlier in the week, WSU was no more than three plays away from winning each of the games it lost. The 2014 season has shown us that the Cougars are now at a level where they can contend with any team on any given week for the win. That puts a lot of intrigue into the remainder of the season. While WSU is not predicted to win any more games on paper, they are still a threat to win any of their five remaining games.
The performance the team is able to put out in its remaining games will be the momentum this program has going forward. Finishing the season with only three or four wins is a very real possibility at this point. A lot preseason polls will continue to put WSU towards the bottom of the Pac-12 for 2015. However, I think Coug fans should be able to read between the lines after enduring the first part of this season and know how much better this team is than its record shows. I don't feel that five or six conference wins next season is out of reach for next season.
2. Personnel stability: A mark of good team is usually not having to make too many personnel switches during the course of the season. Conventional wisdom tells us that things that aren't broken shouldn't be fixed. So far during the 2014 season, there hasn't been a week that has gone by without notable personnel changes on the depth chart. This is something that needs to change as the team goes forward. Finding players that can stick at their positions and hold on to those positions through the spring camp and heading into next season is a critical step for the program to make.
Part of the personnel instability has to do with WSU bringing in better athletes in each recruiting class that are able to supplant veterans once they get some experience under their belt. That certainly isn't an all-around negative since better athletes will translate to more competitive teams in the future. Still, there needs to come a point where the Cougs can have the best of both worlds with experience and athleticism on the field. Putting true and redshirt freshman on the field needs to become more of a rarity. Personnel stability is the key to preventing incoming players from having their development rushed and redshirts burned out of immediate necessity.
3. Close out the 2015 recruiting class: The most important thing that WSU football fans should be keeping an eye on over the next few months is the recruiting of the 2015 class. Right now, the Cougs have 13 verbal commitments and will be looking to add more talent before the National Signing Day on February 4th. The verbals WSU has on the current list are a notch above the recruits Mike Leach has landed in his first three recruiting classes. A lot of things can happen when you are resting the hopes of the future on the decisions of 17 and 18 year old kids. Sure, there will likely be a decommit or two, but there will also be new names added before the signing date. The Cougs have momentum towards a solid recruiting class. Finishing the season in a respectable fashion will serve as assurance to recruits that are committed or thinking about committing that the program is in a good place.
Many things in life are lost to youth. Sadly, it looks like the 2014 WSU football season will also fall into that category. That doesn't mean that fans should tune out or lose interest. There is still a lot that needs to happen on and off the field to improve the state of the program in the coming months.
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