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WSU looking a consensus pre-season top 25 pick

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A lot of hype for the Cougars despite the finish to the season

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few days several college football media outlets have released early top 25 selections for 2017. WSU has made quite of few of these lists from respected publications such as Foxsports.com, ESPN, College Football Focus and Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. A lot of these predictions are predicated on Luke Falk returning, but now that we know that the star quarterback is returning for his senior year, fans should anticipate more high expectations in the coming year.

Wilner has the Cougars at No.23 and the fifth highest ranked team in the Pac-12. Here is what he has to say about their chances.

Placement assumes Luke Falk is coming back to join a handful of experienced playmakers and veteran defense.

Stewart Mandel of Foxsports.com agreed with Wilner and placed WSU at the 23rd spot. He did however have WSU as the fourth best team in the conference as he is not as high on UCLA’s bounce-back chances as Wilner is. Mandel also liked the combination of returning veterans with Luke Falk.

The Cougs won eight straight before ending 2016 on a three-game losing streak. They should still be better next season. Prolific QB Luke Falk will be a senior. He loses top receiver Gabe Marks, but most of Wazzu’s other skill players return, and All-American G Cody O’Connell put off the NFL. Wazzu’s defense was not great in 2016 but should return nine starters, including DE Hercules Mata’afa.

ESPN ranked the Cougars (yup you guessed it) 23rd and 4th in the Pac-12. Here is their take on 2017.

Outlook: The Cougars opened the 2016 season with two straight losses and finished with three consecutive defeats. In between, they won eight straight games and might be in position to start and finish better in 2017 if junior quarterback Luke Falk returns to school. The Cougars will miss Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, the top two receivers in school history, but their top three rushers and three starting offensive linemen are expected back. The Cougars will play Pac-12 road games at Oregon, Utah and Washington and play Stanford and USC at home.

Finally Pro Football Focus is the most bullish on the Cougs ranking them 20th and 4th in the Pac-12 and

suggest a defensive player may actually be the most important returnee.

Washington State might not be on everyone’s lips as a team to watch in 2017, but while Mike Leach’s team is frustratingly inconsistent, it is also talented. Prolific quarterback Luke Falk (79.3 overall) will lead the offense once again, but, unusually for the Cougars, perhaps their most important returning player is on the other side of the ball. Defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa. Mata’afa led the team with five sacks and 55 total pressures in 2016, earning an 86.5 overall grade. Based on recent history, the biggest games for the Cougars may be the first two, against Montana State and Boise State. If they can avoid shooting themselves (and the Pac-12) in the proverbial foot in non-conference play, it should set them up for a good season.

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