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Interactive Graphic: Which WSU opponents are most talented in 2019?

This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2019 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.

Mike Leach has been able to significantly raise the floor of Washington State Cougars football. Even with improved recruiting, the Cougs are still punching way above their weight on the field versus what the recruiting services would says they should be (#1 in Power 5 in wins per talent score in 2018). Recruiting rankings aren’t everything, but they are often a good indicator of future success, and while WSU collectively has improved, the schedule has some highly ranked, very talented opponents the Cougs will need to prepare for.

I don’t know if I’ve been more excited for a WSU offense than this one. The wide receivers are insanely deep, Max Borghi looks primed to take off to even higher heights, the offensive line is coming off a season where they led the nation in sack rate. Leach has a history of fifth year starters having success if Anthony Gordon gets the nod at starting QB and we all saw first hand how dynamic Gage Gubrud can be back when he was playing for Eastern. While our players aren’t highly ranked on the recruiting front, they’re a formidable bunch.

We’ll get to the chart where you can explore this for yourself, but below is a list of the top defensive players by 247Sports recruiting ranking on the Cougs schedule that they’ll be having to prepare for. For context, any player rated .98 higher by 24/7 is classified as a 5 star, .97-.90 4 stars, .89-.80 3 star and below .80 is a 2 star. Since 2004, 53% of 5 star recruits end up getting drafted — those guys are usually pretty good.

  • Oregon’s true freshman defensive end, Kayvon Thibodeaux, is the highest ranked player WSU will face this year at .9997;
  • If former UCLA and current Utah linebacker, Mique Juarez, is eligible, he’ll check in as the second highest rated player (.9919) the Cougar offense will face;
  • Current UCLA linebacker Keisean Lucier-South and corner back Darnay Holmes are both former 5 stars;
  • Houston boasts former 4-star and Mississippi transfer Deontay Anderson in their secondary;
  • Freshman Faatui Tuitele is UW’s highest rated defensive recruit at .9609.

On the other side of the ball, Kevin pointed out some concern (or intrigue) around the secondary; these are recruiting rankings, but it’s still a good barometer of where explosive athleticism lies on WSU’s schedule and players they’ll have to be game planning for. Back filling with JC transfers with the loss of Jalen Thompson looming, I’m concerned by the the youth and transfers against Oregon (four receivers over .94), former 5-star Stanford TE Colby Parkinson, Nebraska transfer Tyjon Lindsay at Oregon State, and the highest-rated UW wide receiver, redshirt freshman Marquis Spiker.

The below chart is initially focused on the receiving group of each team in the Pac-12, but it allows you to add all position groups for offense or defense, and highlight players to find specific ones you’re looking for to see where the recruiting talent lies with WSU’s opponents.

If you’re on Google AMP or Apple News click here to open the chart in a new tab and return to it. Turn your phone horizontal if you’re on mobile for best viewing experience.

Crafty coaches can scheme talented players out of games or one team’s top player maybe get canceled out by their opponent defending them. But deep units are much harder to deal with. The headline for WSU heading into this year is our depth at wide receiver; but what about everyone else? What position groups on the schedule carry the most talent?

QB is probably not the best grouping, because you’re likely going up against just one player, but WSU faces three former 5-star QB’s in 2019. UW starter Jacob Eason was the highest rated at .9973, UCLA sophomore Dorian Thompson-Robinson comes in at .9813, while WSU will visit true freshman Jayden Daniels (.9832) in Tempe when they play Arizona State. The talent doesn’t stop there, as former 4-star K.J. Costello comes to Pullman looking for his first win vs the Cougs.

The rest of the top position groups by 24/7 recruiting talent the Coug face this year are:

  • Running Back: Washington (Avg .8955)
  • Receivers: Stanford (Avg .8981)
  • Offensive Line: Oregon (Avg. .8898)
  • Defensive Line: Washington (Avg. .8991)
  • Linebacker: Oregon (Avg. .8997)
  • Secondary: Oregon (Avg. .9006)

The Cougs having beaten Oregon 4 times in a row gives me hope that they can continue to overcome the recruiting talent gap, but that game in Eugene will likely be a close one. The below chart looks at each position group’s average 247Sports’ recruiting ranking for WSU’s schedule plus the teams we miss this year in the Pac-12. The idea is to get a read on which teams have the most depth at each position. If you hover over a logo it will show you a list of players (walk ons will show up when you hover, but are not factored in to the averages).

If you’re on Google AMP or Apple News click here to open the chart in a new tab and return to it. Turn your phone horizontal if you’re on mobile for best viewing experience.

Now that we’ve got an idea of who the top players are and what position groups have the most talent depth, how do they stack up against the Cougs? We’ve all experienced first hand that recruiting rankings are not everything, but I wanted to see if there were any glaring mismatches recruiting wise or interesting ones where opposing position groups are ranked closely.

The below chart is comparing WSU vs. their first Pac-12 opponent of 2019, UCLA. It compares the average 247 rating of the offense and defense and then each position group. You can toggle the position group chart to look at the individual players. UCLA’s lowest rated running back, Joshua Kelley, will be their go to this season, but I was surprised to see that Chip Kelly wasn’t able to recruit any 4-star or higher running backs to the Bruins in his first full cycle. They’ve got a very experienced group of talented linebackers, but some youth in their highly ranked secondary. You can swap out the Bruins (or WSU for that matter) with any team on WSU’s schedule and any team in the Power 5.

If you’re on Google AMP or Apple News click here to open the chart in a new tab and return to it. Turn your phone horizontal if you’re on mobile for best viewing experience.

WSU would need to go on probably a half decade run of amazing recruiting to rise above most of their Pac-12 counterparts in recruiting rankings. That the Cougs consistently rank toward the bottom of the conference in recruiting, but have won 37 games over the last four seasons, is a testament to the hard work of the players and coaches. Even with the recruiting being what it is, I’m having to talk myself down from predicting another double digit win season. In 2019 it’s Cougs vs Everybody, and I believe there is a sign in the locker room that says, “Respect Everyone, Fear No One” — I can’t wait to see what our Cougs bring to the field every Saturday this fall.

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