Good morning. With the latest college football season in the rearview mirror, National Signing Day around the corner and spring football a couple months away, what better time to look ahead to the 2017 season than now? On this first weekend without football since August, we could all use a primer, no matter how far off next season may be. Ace Pac-12 reporter Jon Wilner put one together this week.
The first in a multi-part series was Wilner's projected 2017 standings. As you might expect, he sees Washington and USC facing off in the Pac-12 championship. There isn't much room to argue with that, given how the season ended for both teams, along with the talent both teams return (especially at quarterback). Also, have you seen Washington's schedule? They miss USC and play a non-conference schedule full of teams from the Island of Misfit Toys.
Wilner pegs WSU third, with the following blurb:
The depth chart, with so many returnees — not only Luke Falk but along the line of scrimmage and every level of defense — would seem to indicate another second-place finish. (Gabe Marks’ departure is a blow, but not an insurmountable one.) The way the Cougars finished ’16, however … the way they buckled when the competition improved … gives me significant pause.
That sums it up pretty well. WSU doesn't lose a lot of pieces, but the pieces they lose are significant. The Pac-12 North seems to be divided into three tiers. Washington is clearly at the top, WSU and Stanford are a step or two below (Stanford mostly because of their tenuous quarterback situation), and OSU/Oregon/Cal are in different stages of a rebuild.
The South is almost identical. USC is head-and-shoulders above everyone with Sam Darnold coming back. UCLA with a healthy Josh Rosen, Colorado, and Utah are a clear step down. On the bottom tier are ASU and Arizona, who both had significant problems in 2016.
Barring a rash of injuries, I expect Washington and USC to face off in Levi's Stadium in early December.
Wilner also tabbed his First-and-Second Team All Pac-12 squads. Unlike last season, when nearly every Pac-12 team had questions at quarterback, 2017 is somewhat different. WSU, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah (even though he's not that good), USC and UCLA either return experienced starters or guys like Steven Montez who saw significant playing time last season.
Wilner selected Cole Madison as WSU's lone offensive First Team player, with Luke Falk, Tavares Martin and Cody O'Connell on the Second Team. It makes sense that a consensus All-American wouldn't be pegged as one of the conference's best linemen for the next season. Wilner also has USC's Deontay Burnett on the First Team. Sad face. I want to think there's room for one of WSU's stud running backs in there, but it's hard to argue with any of the four selections.
As for defense, the Cougs earned two spots. Hercules Mata'afa is listed as a First Team defensive lineman, and linebacker Peyton Pelluer earns a Second Team nod. That feels about right to me. The one guy who could possibly sneak on to one of those teams is Isaac Dotson. The key, as always for Dotson, is staying healthy.
As you can see, and as Wilner seems to recognize, WSU returns a decent amount of experienced talent. How they fill the gaps left behind by guys like Gabe Marks and Shalom Luani will tell the tale for their 2017 season.
College Hotline podcast with Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman
Good combo here. Wilner is great on all things Pac-12, and Feldman is great in general.
2017 Washington State Cougars Recruiting & National Signing Day Class Breakdown | College Football News
Not sure how one can evaluate this before Signing Day, but these guys did anyway.
Three questions for Washington State in 2017
The first question is a gut punch, but a fair one.
Cougars look for road split at ASU | The Spokesman-Review
Washington State will try to come away from its longest Pac-12 road trip of the season with a split at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Arizona State.
Best beer I had this week: So apparently Bell's Hopslam is highly sought-after, seeing as how it's only released once per year. Well, that "once" was this past week. I bought a few, since I'd never had it before. It is very very good. I encourage you to try it if you can.
Bucket List Breweries: 20 U.S. Breweries You Should At Least Visit Once | Cool Material
I've been to...one of these places! My guess is CougCenter craft beer guru Craig Powers has been to at least half of them.
You won't believe this, but the biggest losers in this instance are the fans.