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Introducing: The 2018 CougCenter WSU Football Preview

The season is right around the corner, and we’ve got you covered.

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

Man, it’s just about that time: The Washington State Cougars begin their 2018 football season in less than two weeks. Twelve days!

That means the 2018 CougCenter WSU Football Preview has arrived.

For a couple of years, we put all our content into one, massive, gorgeous piece, which you could digest at your leisure. Last year, we decided to do it a little bit differently, posting one story a day, each day, leading up to the season opener. We then tied them together in what we call a “hub” and “StoryStream.”

That’s what you’re going to get again this year: A story a day, right up until kickoff in Laramie on Sept. 1.

We launched this site a decade ago — as Paul Wulff was getting ready to begin his first season at the helm of the program — and it’s pretty cool what we as fans have gotten to experience the last few years: 26 wins, three bowl games, consecutive legitimate opportunities to win the Pac-12 North Division.

Whether 2018 can live up to the new standard set by the program is very much a large question mark, as there’s a lot working against the Cougs.

WSU has lost a bevy of starters on both sides of the ball — most notably record-setting quarterback Luke Falk and All-American defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa, but also a host of other important players such as Jamal Morrow, Cole Madison, Tavares Martin Jr., Daniel Ekuale and Frankie Luvu.

Then there were the losses behind the scenes: Five of Mike Leach’s nine assistant coaches moved on to different jobs, plus head strength coach Jason Loscalzo — who was as integral to developing players in Pullman — left for the same job with the NFL’s Chicago Bears.

And, of course, the biggest loss of all: Presumed starting quarterback Tyler Hilinski, whose death by suicide in January rocked the entire WSU community. It continues to reverberate, leaving the team searching for a new leader, both on and off the field.

The one thing that hasn’t changed? Mike Leach still leads the program ... but even he had a much-publicized dalliance with the Tennessee Volunteers in the offseason.

Over the years, WSU’s best teams have been ones that are loaded with experience. Conversely, teams in Pullman as inexperienced as this one have struggled to reach the break-even mark.

Sorry, that’s a lot of pessimism — and the preseason is a time for optimism. So how about this?

Washington State v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Would you bet against Mike Leach? He never missed a bowl game at Texas Tech, and now that he’s gotten his program up and running at WSU, his own history suggests six wins isn’t just attainable, but expected — no matter the losses in and around the program.

It also doesn’t hurt that Leach has brought in his best recruiting class yet, and a number of the players look like immediate impact guys. Grad transfer Gardner Minshew appears on track to win the QB job over a pair of players who have been in the program for years; Rodrick Fisher is a burner on the outside, the likes of which we’ve not yet had at WSU under Leach; Max Borghi is a speedy, physical runner out of the backfield who was coveted by the Stanford Cardinal; Tyrese Ross is pushing to replace Robert Taylor at the second safety spot next to Jalen Thompson.

A conference championship seems outside the realm of possibility. But a highly paid coach combined with facilities investments mean expectations have (rightly) been raised. Can the Cougs clear the bar and do something that’s never been done in program history: Reach a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season?

Tomorrow: A look at the Cougar offense.

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