This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2017 Washington State Cougars football season. For previous installments, click here.
Right now, the one-time future of Washington State Cougars football is in College Station, Texas, preparing to suit up for Texas A&M in his final college football season. Back in 2013, that would have been a nightmare scenario for WSU fans.
Back then, we assumed Tyler Bruggman would be preparing for a prolific senior season at WSU. After all, he was Mike Leach’s first hand-picked quarterback recruit in Pullman. The four-star prospect — for whom we all held our breath on signing day, as he entertained last-minute overtures from hometown Arizona State — was supposed to be the man.
When WSU’s freshman football class of 2013 arrived on campus, the man and the future of WSU football did arrive. It just wasn’t who we all thought.
By now, all WSU football fans know the story of Luke Falk. From a prolific high school sophomore with high-profile college offers ... to walking on at WSU with no fanfare. He’s developed into one of the great quarterbacks in WSU history. Falk will likely depart WSU as the Pac-12’s all-time leader in passing yards, and could finish in the top five in NCAA history.
Think about that for a second: A guy who is partially only at WSU because then-Cornell coach Kent Austin was hired by the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL will soon be the Cougar record-holder for passing yards and touchdowns, soaring past names such as Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, Jason Gesser, Jack Thompson and Alex Brink.
Sometimes, in recruiting, it’s better to be lucky than good.
I don’t think you can overstate how important Falk has been for WSU, not only in the last two years when he led WSU to 17 wins, but for the future of the program. Leach and WSU were in a bit of a precarious situation in 2014. The season had spiraled downhill — en route to a 3-9 season — and while the talent level had improved, Leach was about to lose the only quarterback he had with significant playing experience. The rest of the roster seemed primed to take a step forward, but without Connor Halliday, who was going to play quarterback?
Falk was the No. 2 quarterback, but he was still a walk-on. Just a year prior, he was struggling to even get listed on the depth chart. Even with a recent exodus of quarterback transfers, Falk started his career squarely behind a 4-star recruit in his same recruiting class, and another 3-star recruit a year ahead of him.
A year later, both had transferred.
"To be perfectly honest, I think he kind of assumed he was going to be the starter a little before I did," Mike Leach said, via USA Today. "I'd figured it was a battle, and we had a kid that we recruited ahead of him. But I was definitely going to allow it to be and make it a battle. Then he ends up beating the guy out, and off we go, you know?"
If Luke Falk doesn’t become Luke Falk and WSU struggles to replace Halliday, who knows what this 2017 season preview looks like. I’m not saying Falk saved Mike Leach’s job, but I’m not, not saying that.
Instead, WSU opens 2017 ranked in the preseason top 25 — for the first time since 2002 — because the one-time walk-on spurned the NFL Draft for a final shot at glory in crimson and gray.
Now that I’ve anointed him as the savior, what’s in store for Falk this year?
Statistically, Falk is primed to break the WSU and Pac-12 records for career passing yards and passing touchdowns. If he equals his totals from last season, he’ll break into the top five in NCAA history for both yards and touchdowns. Falk has already had a prolific career, but by returning for his senior season, he has a chance to place himself in some rarified air.
In doing so, he can lead WSU to its first 10-win season in 15 years. He can bring a national spotlight to Pullman, attracting feature stories in USA Today and from the Associate Press. Maybe he can even make a run at the Heisman Trophy while leading his team back to heights we haven’t seen around here in 15 years.
A 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown season may seem like an ambitious and unrealistic bar to set. Then again, three years ago it seemed ambitious and unrealistic to think WSU’s walk-on No. 2 QB who had never thrown a college pass could one day be poised to set all-time Pac-12 records.
I stopped doubting Luke Falk after he started his first game for WSU, and I sure as hell am not going to start now. I’m just glad he wears Crimson and Gray.
All thanks to the Hamilton Tiger Cats.