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Returning Starters in the Pac-12, and where WSU ranks

The Cougar football team has several returning starters this year. Does that portend good things?

William Mancebo

Our friends over at the ESPN Pac-12 Blog published a story this week listing the number of returning starters per team. As we know, having a large amount of returning starters can often bode well for the coming season. There's one caveat, however. If those returning starters aren't any good, chances are you won't be that much better (cough, Colorado, cough). There's also the matter of the schedule. A team could be significantly improved, yet the results may not show up in the final tally if the schedule was overly challenging.

The story lists the Cougs as having 16 returning starters, eight on both sides of the ball, good for a tie for fourth in the conference. On the surface, that seems pretty good.  However, as we know, WSU's three new starters will all be on the offensive line. It would probably be a better situation if there were a lineman here, a receiver there, and a running back thrown in. This year we'll get a true feel for the perceived uptick in talent level that Leach and Co. have brought in, as well as Clay McGuire's ability to coach them into a cohesive unit.

Kevin Gemmell, who used the Pac-12 Media Day Prospectus as his source, also lists WSU as returning eight starters on defense. That seemed curious, as Junior Gauta and Justin Sagote depart, along with three defensive backs. Since Sagote and Tana Pritchard were interchangeable, Pritchard could be considered a returning starter. Apparently they consider Taylor Taliulu a returning starter even though, for the second consecutive season, he was benched in favor of Casey Locker. Like the offensive line, the defensive backs are easily the group that figures to struggle the most early on.

As far as position groups, I believe the two where experience is most important are offensive line and defensive back. The ability to recognize and process what the opponent is showing, communicate calls and changes to your teammates, make the proper read at the snap, and get in the correct position is critical for those two position groups. This season, the Cougs will almost be starting over, and it will likely result in some serious growing pains. Luckily we're opening with Rutgers and Nevada, and not Auburn and USC.

It will also likely be an exercise in patience with special teams, as WSU will be breaking in both a new punter and kicker. Leach finally ran out of patience with Mike Bowlin last year and benched him. As far as a kicker, hopefully we find an answer. If not, we all know the lengths to which Mike Leach will go to find a new one.


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