This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2017 Washington State Cougars football season. For previous installments, click here.
There's lots of excitement heading into the 2017 football season. Based on what we've seen in practice video recaps and what we've read, the WSU offense could pick up right where it left off.
Wait ... let's hope that's not true, because the last time we saw the Cougar offense in an actual game, our dearly departed Gabe Marks said this:
"We sucked, our offense was horrible."
We've had eight months to forget that Holiday Bowl performance, and the excitement about the 2017 version of the Washington State offense is here, and for good reason. Veterans are back at key positions, new and athletic receivers have arrived, and a Mike Leach offense is still a Mike Leach offense.
But the gap between the experienced and the inexperienced is wide. We know what Luke Falk, Tavares Martin Jr., the running backs, and Cody O'Connell can do, for example. But what about these new receivers? The new linemen?
For this offense to succeed like it has in past years, the veterans need to carry the load.
2017 Running Backs
|Gerard Wicks||RS Senior||6'0", 221 lbs|
|Jamal Morrow||RS Senior||5'9", 203 lbs|
|Keith Harrington||RS Junior||5'8", 190 lbs|
|James Williams||RS Sophomore||5'11", 195 lbs|
|Solomon Cooper||RS Sophomore||5'9", 185 lbs|
|Caleb Perry||Freshman||5'9", 162 lbs|
The three-headed monster of Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks all return. The three combined last year for 2,829 total yards (that includes 181 kick or punt return yards). Wicks led the team with 11 touchdowns.
And don’t forget Keith Harrington. Harrington was a stud in 2015 as a freshman but injuries and the emergence of Williams pushed him to fourth on the depth chart.
Is this the year of the Boobie Breakout (TM)? He's a year older and he might be the player I'm most excited to watch.
|Luke Falk||RS Senior||6'4", 223 lbs|
|Tyler Hilinski||RS Sophomore||6'3", 213 lbs|
|Trey Tinsley||RS Sophomore||6'3", 211 lbs|
|Anthony Gordon||RS Sophomore||6'3", 192 lbs|
|Casey Brink||RS Freshman||6'2", 201 lbs|
|Connor Neville||Freshman||6'2", 198 lbs|
|John Bledsoe||Freshman||6'3", 209 lbs|
Luke Falk is back. This is good.
Now, I don’t want to jinx anything, but here are some of the notable team records Falk will break this season:
- Career 400+ yard passing games: Falk has 10, and the leader is Connor Halliday with 12.
- Career pass attempts: Falk has 1,521, and the leader is Connor Halliday with 1,633.
- Career total offense (net yards): Falk has 10,640, and there are two ahead of him — Connor Halliday with 10,812 and Alex Brink with 11,011 (this one could be broken on Sept. 2). This stat is misleading because sacks count as negative rushing yards. So let's move on to a more accurate stat.
- Career passing yards: Falk has 10,893, and the two ahead of him are Alex Brink with 10,913 and Connor Halliday with 11,304 (this one could also be broken Sept. 2).
- Career passing touchdowns: Falk has 89 and Connor Halliday is the leader with 90 (if Falk doesn’t at least tie Halliday in the first half on Sept. 2, something has gone horribly wrong).
The Cougars made it through 2016 without losing its starting quarterback to injury. Should Falk go down, behind him is redshirt sophomore Tyler Hilinski, who appeared in four games last year and was 24 of 30 for 245 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
He’s sat behind Falk long enough to at least make us all assume he’s ready as ever to go into a game. His performances against Idaho and Arizona last year were solid. He also played well in the Spring Game and could the most mobile quarterback on the roster — next guy possibly excepted.
Four-star signee Connor Neville is a true freshman and will be able to study under Falk and the rest of the returning QBs. John Bledsoe — son of Drew — is a preferred walk-on and chose to compete at WSU over accepting a scholarship from Northern Arizona.
If at least one of them doesn’t redshirt, something else has gone horribly wrong.
2017 Wide Receivers
|Robert Lewis||RS Senior||5'9", 167 lbs|
|C.J. Dimry||RS Senior||6'5", 211 lbs|
|Tavares Martin Jr.||Junior||6'1", 183 lbs|
|Kyle Sweet||Junior||6'0", 193 lbs|
|Easop Winston||Junior||5'11", 189 lbs|
|Brandon Arconado||RS Sophomore||5'11", 182 lbs|
|Kainoa Wilson||RS Sophomore||5'11", 169 lbs|
|Isaiah Johnson-Mack||Sophomore||6'3", 216 lbs|
|Dezmon Patmon||Sophomore||6'4", 212 lbs|
|Renard Bell||RS Freshman||5'8", 162 lbs|
|Riley Krenz||RS Freshman||5'10", 183 lbs|
|Davontavean 'Tay' Martin||Freshman||6'3", 182 lbs|
|Travell Harris||Freshman||5'9", 177 lbs|
|Jamire Calvin||Freshman||5'10", 152 lbs|
|Hayden Harvey||Freshman||6'2", 160 lbs|
|Jonny Neville||Freshman||6'3", 191 lbs|
|Anthony White Jr.||Freshman||6'1" 170 lbs|
OK, let's get one thing out of the way first. After the last scrimmage, Kyle Sweet tweeted this:
On Sunday, Robert Lewis tweeted this:
There's no public knowledge of what's going on with Robert Lewis, but it doesn't take a detective to come up with some sort of educated guess. Whatever it is, we hope Lewis will be good and healthy in the long run, both for his personal and football futures.
By now, we should all have accepted the fact that Gabe Marks and River Cracraft have moved on. So let's talk about who is here.
There’s a gap between the receivers with plenty of experience (Martin Jr., Lewis, Kyle Sweet) and the ones with little experience (Isaiah Johnson-Mack, Dezmon Patmon, C.J. Dimry).
Martin Jr. is unquestionably the leader of this unit. He averaged 11.4 yards per catch last year and is fast and athletic. Lewis is a guy who seems to have been here forever. He’s been serviceable on the inside and is a solid veteran. Sweet, a junior, will also line up on the inside and has shown to be serviceable and versatile (he even punts!).
Beyond those three, the experience level drops dramatically.
Dimry got an extra year of eligibility. I've always been curious to see how he could use his tall frame (Mike Bush-style?) but he hasn’t seen the field enough to prove anything.
Two sophomores are really intriguing: Johnson-Mack and Patmon. Both are tall, athletic and fast. Patmon had a strong spring after being challenged by his head coach, and Johnson-Mack has impressed this fall, according to reports.
Another intriguing player is Renard Bell, a redshirt freshman. The three-star 2016 signee got to watch two of the greatest receivers in school history last year while learning the playbook. Bell will play on the inside and did this in the most recent scrimmage:
I can’t remember a time when WSU had a group of highly touted freshman receivers like this one. There’s a lot of athleticism in the freshman group, and a few may see some playing time this year.
There’s the four-star signee Jamire Calvin, who’s impressed during preseason practices and will almost certainly see the field this year. There’s Davontavean ‘Tay’ Martin, who’s tall and athletic and a pretty good basketball player, too. I’m guessing he’ll get some playing time.
There’s also Travell Harris, who like likely line up on the inside. Anthony White Jr. is another guy who seems to have plenty of potential.
And let’s not forget Easop Winston, the junior college transfer that shined during spring practices.
These are all guys that have plenty of potential but haven’t played in a college football game yet. There’s excitement, but there’s also trepidation because they are so green.
2017 Offensive Line
|Cody O'Connell||RS Senior||6'9", 368 lbs|
|Cole Madison||RS Senior||6'5", 314 lbs|
|B.J. Salmonson||RS Senior||6'4", 310 lbs|
|Andrew Dillard||RS Junior||6'5", 306 lbs|
|Robert Valencia||RS Junior||6'6", 291 lbs|
|Noah Osur-Myers||RS Sophomore||6'4", 295 lbs|
|Cedric Bigge-Duren||RS Sophomore||6'6", 320 lbs|
|Frederick Mauigoa||Sophomore||6'3", 315 lbs|
|Liam Ryan||RS Freshman||6'5", 281 lbs|
|Josh Watson||RS Freshman||6'4", 292 lbs|
|Keenen King||RS Freshman||6'4", 303 lbs|
|Nilsson Gaisoa||RS Freshman||6'5", 318 lbs|
|Christian Haangana||RS Freshman||6'4", 362 lbs|
|Vaughnden Handel||RS Freshman||6'7", 301 lbs|
|Abraham Lucus||Freshman||6'6", 281 lbs|
|Alec Kuzmack||Freshman||6'5", 284 lbs|
|Jonathan Nathaniel||Freshman||6'5", 259 lbs|
|Brian Greene||Freshman||6'3", 290 lbs|
|Seth Yost||Freshman||6'7", 350 lbs|
|Pake Taylor||Freshman||6'5", 300 lbs|
This is a gigantic group of lineman.
The WSU offensive line has three guys at 350 pounds or more, and 12 guys weighing 300 pounds or more.
In 2012, only six offensive lineman weighed north of 300 pounds.
This year, there’s All-American senior Cody O’Connell at left guard, junior Andre Dillard at left tackle, senior Cole Madison at right tackle, and senior B.J. Salmonson is the likely starter at right guard.
Salmonson was the sixth man last year and filled in at multiple spots.
Sophomore Frederick Mauigoa will be the starting center after cementing his spot in the spring.
The backups are huge but have almost no experience. The lack of experience is probably why the second unit struggled so badly in practice in Lewiston this month.
The young linemen include Noah Osur-Myers (probably the most experienced guy with the least experience, if that makes sense), Liam Ryan, Josh Watson, Keenan King, Nilsson Gaisoa, Christian Haangana and Cedric Bigge-Duren.
The backups are large and have great potential. They just need to prove it.
It is perfectly fine to be excited about the Cougars' new weapons on offense (I sure am!). But WSU cannot rely on them. In past years, WSU had to rely on its young guys. Those young guys are now old guys, and this offense will only go as far as its veterans take it.
Next up on Wednesday: The CougCenter Hour podcast preview!