This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2019 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.
The start of the 2019 Washington State football season is just 9 days away, and the Cougars are looking to repeat the success of last season’s school-record 11 wins. While there are many questions heading into next weekend’s season opener against the New Mexico State Aggies, I have 5 of the biggest questions that you probably have been wanting to know the answer to. Lucky for you, I also have those answers.
Who is the most important player on offense?
One of the biggest questions this year not only on offense but the team as a whole is who will be taking the snaps at quarterback. We still don’t know (for sure) if it will be Anthony Gordon or Gage Gubrud, so picking one of them to be the most important player on offense is pointless. Obviously quarterback play is going to have the biggest impact on the season, but that is a question that nobody has an answer to. Which brings me to the most important player on the offense... Max Borghi.
After a season splitting the reps with James Williams, Borghi will be the main guy this year. The Cougars in recent years have been adding in more of a running game, and it might be needed more this season than it has in the past. Borghi finished last season with 366 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns on his 72 carries and added another 374 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns on 53 receptions. Borghi and the rest of the running backs will need to make up the 122 carries for 560 yards and 12 touchdowns as well as the 613 yards and 4 touchdowns on 83 receptions that Williams tallied last season.
Regardless if he is carrying the ball or catching it out of the backfield, Borghi’s success this year will play a major role in how the Cougars season goes.
Who is the most important player on defense?
The Cougars will have to deal with massive hits to their defense this season as they lost Hunter Dale and Peyton Pelluer to graduation as well as Jalen Thompson to the NFL. Tracy Claeys will need to find a few more guys to make up for the loss of three of the best players from last year’s defense.
One guy that is going to have to take on a much bigger role this season is Jahad Woods. The linebacker comes into 2019 as the guy with the most experience and will need to take charge and lead the defense into unknown territories.
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound linebacker was second on the team with 82 tackles last season and led the team with four forced fumbles and found himself an honorable mention for the all-Pac-12 team. He comes into this season on the all-Pac-12 preseason second team.
What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
The biggest difference between this year and last year is the lack of experience throughout the team. For the second straight year, the Cougars will head into the season opener with a new quarterback, but the main difference is that they knew what to expect in other positions last season. While the Cougars may have the depth in some positions this season, they don’t have the experience like last year.
While there may not have been standout players at every position last season, there was at least one guy per position group that had the experience and had taken over leadership role. The Cougars are looking to replace four guys who are currently in the NFL from last years team.
What is the most important game on the schedule and why?
Like every year, the answer to this question is Washington. The Cougars have lost to the Huskies for six consecutive years and after last season’s disappointing snow game the Cougars and Mike Leach have to get the Apple Cup trophy back onto the Palouse if they want a shot at the Pac-12 Championship. Scratch that ... the Cougars have to get the trophy back — period. The Huskies start the season ranked 13th in the first AP poll of the season and are looking to make it to their third conference championship game in four years, and a win by the Cougars in the Apple Cup could derail their plans.
Outside of Washington, I am going to have to go with Utah. The Cougars have a really good chance at starting out the season 4-0 and beating a Utah team in game 5 — as they start a stretch that takes the Cougars on the road for 4 of 5 games in the middle of the schedule — will be a massive boost. The Utes finished last season as the Pac-12 runner up and begin this season ranked 14th.
How will the season go, and in which bowl game will the Cougs land?
I see the Cougars finishing the regular season 9-3. The quarterback situation, like last year, is going to play a massive factor in how well they do this season. The Cougars will either be going with a guy that has 5 attempts in his college career or a graduate transfer that has been dealing with injuries during his career. With a tough stretch right in the middle of the schedule heading on the road to Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, and California with Colorado sandwiched between the four games. Coming out of that five game stretch with a winning record will be a massive win for the Cougs.
vs. New Mexico State - W
vs. Northern Colorado - W
at Houston - W
vs. UCLA - W
at Utah - L
at Arizona State - W
vs. Colorado - W
at Oregon - L
at California - W
vs. Stanford - W
vs. Oregon State - W
at Washington - L
I see the Cougs heading to the Redbox Bowl taking on someone from the Big-10 (Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Purdue are all out as possible opponents due to the agreement.) I find it hard to believe that the Holiday Bowl would take them for the third time in four years - especially after the disappointing showings in consecutive years. They could jump up to the Alamo Bowl but would need the Pac-12 champion to make the playoffs meaning the conference runner up would be heading to the Rose Bowl. While the goal for the Cougars to land in Pasadena for the post-season is always top of mind, the Cougars will need some more of last year’s magic to make that happen.
What are your projections for the season and where do you see the Cougars playing come December/January?