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What constitutes improvement for Cougar Football in 2015?

There's no question that the Cougars regressed in 2014. Hopefully that trend will reverse in the upcoming season.

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James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Cougar fans. We only have six more Saturdays without college football. When Mike Leach assumed the reins at WSU in 2012, many of us expected big things. The 2012 season brought us crashing back to reality. After that disastrous season, both on the field and off, not much was expected out of the 2013 team. Then they surprised us all and made a bowl game. Very few people thought 2014 would be even better, but Leach's second 3-9 record in three seasons definitely wasn't in the plans for most of us.

Now, we can all sit here and recite the played-out lines like, "If only Cracraft had fair-caught that punt, and if we could just make a 19-yard field goal. I can't believe the refs blew that PI call against Oregon." That cuts both ways, though, as we could have easily lost the Utah game. In the end, due mostly to the ghastly turnover ratio and abysmal pass defense, the Cougs were what the record said they were, a 3-9 team. That leads us to this season.

The website Betfirm previewed the Cougars earlier this week, and I thought the analysis, both good and bad, was pretty accurate. I enjoy reading previews from the gambling perspective because they tend to cut out much of the fluff you see in the mainstream previews. Betfirm's analysis boils down to these two paragraphs:

The final record is what it is, but there’s no question the Cougars were much better than that 3-9 record would indicate. They outgained all opponents by an average of 76 yards per game, but finished -17 in turnover differential, which was the third-worse mark in the country. They also outgained conference opponents by 46.0 yards per game in spite of their 2-7 record, which was the fifth-best yardage differential in the entire Pac-12.

With all of those numbers not going their way, it’s safe to say that you can pencil in Washington State as a team primed to make big improvements in 2015 in the win/loss column. Leach welcomes back 14 starters and loses only 18 lettermen. Don’t be surprised if the Cougars return to a bowl game in 2015 if they can just get a few breaks to go their way.

The preview includes point spreads for all 12 games (I nailed Portland State, let's not talk about the others), and gives a win percentage for each game as well. The bottom line shows that the Cougs will end the season at 5-7, which is right on their over/under number.

The Cougars could very well be an improved team but finish 4-8 due to some bad breaks. They could also perform close to last year's squad, but get much luckier in the turnover category and gain bowl eligibility. Or, they could do what many expect and finish 5-7.

That brings us to the central question(s) for today. What constitutes improvement for WSU this year? Does a two-win improvement tell you that things are headed in the right direction, even though it means yet another bowl season at home? For me, a 5-7 record (though expected) will be a bit of a disappointment. Although it will mean two more happy Saturday nights, it will also mean that we will almost certainly be able to point to one game or one play that, had it gone differently, would have put the Cougs a bowl game.


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