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Is this the year of the running back at WSU?

The trio of James Williams, Max Borghi, and Keith Harrington could become the focal point of the offense.

This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2018 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.


The highs and lows of the last 15 years of Cougar football have been extreme. We’ve seen just about as low as you can go in college football (hate you, 2009). And recently we’ve experienced some of the other end of the spectrum. Whether the Cougars won one game, or nine, there has been one near constant for Cougar Football: Opening the season with a Pac-12 experienced quarterback.

Now, an experienced quarterback didn’t always equal a good quarterback during that stretch, but the Cougars opened each season with a quarterback who at least flashed something under center for the Cougs prior to starting Week 1. You have to go back to the 1994 season when Chad Davis started against Illinois to find the last time WSU’s season-opening starting signal caller had yet to attempt a pass as a Coug.

What does that mean for the 2018 season? First, pray that someone in the group of Gardner Minshew, Trey Tinsley, Anthony Gordon, etc. can play.

Second, it might mean WSU running backs become the primary producers on offense for the first time since Jerome Harrison had Pac-10 defenders spinning in circles.

Before you think I have lost my damn mind and need to have my CougCenter author credentials revoked, let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting a WSU running back is going to approach 2,000 rushing yards this season; I’m not even suggesting the WSU running backs will approach Jerome Harrison numbers on the ground, combined. Mike Leach’s Air Raid is still Mike Leach’s Air Raid. However, as we’ve seen in recent seasons, WSU running backs can play an important role, both running the ball and as a receiving threat.

The Cougars will open the season with more Pac-12 inexperience at QB and WR than they have in a very long time. Sure some players have flashed potential. Still, Luke Falk and Gabe Marks are not walking through that door.

But, Keith Harrington is. Remember the 2016 season when then-sophomore Keith Harrington did things like this?

After spending most of last year on special teams, he’s back in the fold. Harrington has always been a bit of a position nomad. Is he a running back? Is he an inside receiver? He was somewhat of a surprise scratch last season, but with James Williams, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks carrying the load, Harrington was a luxury. Now, he might be the Cougars’ most-dynamic playmaker on offense. He’s unlikely to replace Wicks as the goal-line back anytime soon. And he’s probably not going to be as good of a runner as Morrow (miss you already, Jamal), but Harrington can be a matchup nightmare in space. And he should be a friendly outlet as WSU quarterbacks get acquainted with running the Air Raid against Pac-12 defenses.

I for one, am here for Keith Harrington comeback season.

While Harrington is back this season, he ran with the third team at times during fall camp. We know he can make dynamic plays at this level, so if he’s the third best back the Cougars have, that can only bode well. Harrington is running with the threes largely due to the arrival and immediate acclimation of Max Borghi. By now you probably know the Borghi backstory. He set records in Colorado and chose the Cougars over Stanford and others. Borghi was an all-around back in high school and could be the next Morrow. If he even gets in the same stratosphere as a freshman, the Cougs are going to have some weapons in the backfield.

And then there is Boobie.

Ah, James Williams. Maybe the most enticing running back the Cougars have had since the Ghost. It feels like it was a decade ago we were all drooling over Boobie highlights from Thursday Night Football. In the two years since, he’s certainly had his moments.

While Williams saw a lot of playing time last year and played well with 877 yards from scrimmage and four TDs, he was still somewhat second fiddle to Morrow. Now, it’s his show and time to shine. Williams has had moments of brilliance. This season is an opportunity to prove he can perform in the lead role and not just as a supporting flash player. If he can be consistent, and stay healthy, Williams could have one of the better all-around seasons we’ve seen from a WSU back in a long time.

We all know WSU is going to air it out and throw the ball all over the field. This season, with a lack of established stars at quarterback and receiver and a dynamic trio of playmakers in the backfield, it could just be the year the backs lead the attack.

No pressure for your first season as RBs coach, Eric Mele.

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