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Five big questions for Washington State’s 2020 season

With just under two weeks until kickoff of the first game, these are the pressing issues on our minds.

Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

This is the latest installment in our series of stories previewing the 2020 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.

While the rest of college football has been going on for the past few weeks, WSU will start its 2020 season in just under two weeks — only one more weekend without Cougar football! The Cougars are heading into the season with a lot of “new” surrounding them, which brings up a lot of questions.

These are the ones we’re thinking about.

How will Nick Rolovich and staff handle this season?

WSU safeties coach Mark Banker at a recent scrimmage.
WSU Athletic Communications

One question that I have seen floating around is this: Will the Cougs look at this season as a bit of a “preseason,” so-to-say? The NCAA has announced that athletes playing in fall sports this season will get an extra year of eligibility and with a new head coach, new quarterback, new offensive schemes, as well replacing a lot of top talent ... will Rolovich utilize the extra year and use this season as a trial run?

I have a hard time believing that will be the case. The Cougs are going to be looked at as a team that will be at the bottom of the conference and Rolovich, from what I have seen and read, seems like the kind of coach that wants to go out and shock the conference and let them know the Cougs are not taking a step back. Rolovich has a strong class of freshmen that have come in this year and getting the chance to put them in game situations while not burning a year of eligibility will be massive down the road.

Which newcomer will step up and make his name known?

SB Nation Recruiting

My newcomer to watch this year is Joey Hobert. The freshman wide receiver has been making plays all throughout practice this fall and led the team in receiving during their first scrimmage. He finished with six catches for 113 yards and also hauled in the only two touchdowns of the day.

The Cougs will be replacing tons of talent at the wide receiver position and I believe Hobert can be a big help this season when it comes to the shoot portion of the run and shoot offense.

The next newcomer to keep an eye on is Jayden de Laura — the highest rated recruit in the class. The Hawaii native ran the Run and Shoot offense at Saint Louis High School and finished his senior year with 3,452 yards and 29 touchdowns on 228 of 319 passing. He also rushed for an additional 345 yards and eight touchdowns and was named Hawaii Open Division Player of the Year.

While Rolovich has yet to announce a starting quarterback, de Laura put up some impressive numbers in both of the Cougs scrimmages this year. He finished a combined 20 of 27 for 179 yards and two touchdowns while also adding a 13-yard rushing touchdown.

Who is the most important player on offense and defense?

Washington State v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For both offense and defense, this is an easy answer for me. On offense, I am going to go with Max Borghi. The do-it-all running back finished last season with 817 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 127 attempts. He then added 597 yards on 86 receptions and another five touchdowns, adding up to a whopping 1,414 total yards and 16 touchdowns.

Borghi is going to be the most important player on an offense this season that will have a new scheme and a new quarterback. Having a new quarterback is something that he is used to as he has had two different quarterbacks in as many years.

On defense I am going to go with Jahad Woods. He led the 2019 defense in tackles by nearly double, and this year Woods will be the leader of a defense that is looking to rebound after a struggle last season — the Cougs gave up 31.4 points and 452 yards per game. I have him as the most important player on defense for obvious reasons: when plays need to be made on defense, he makes them. He was named to All-Pac-12 honorable mention and was fourth in the country in tackles last season.

Both Borghi and Woods were my most important players last season and I don’t see that changing this year. The two are arguably the best players on this Washington State team and they are going to need to keep it up if this season is going to be a success.

Most important game on the schedule?

Washington State v Oregon Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

I said this last year in my five big questions for the 2019 season - “Like every year, the answer to this question is Washington. The Cougars have lost to the Huskies for six consecutive years... (they) 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.” It’s the same old song and dance with Washington. The Apple Cup is a massive game, but until they can win, it is just another game for me.

I am going to say the second game of the season when the Cougs host Oregon is going to be the most important game on the schedule. This will be their first real big test of the season and is the start of a real tough four-game stretch. The Ducks are projected to win the Pac-12 and are also projected to finish among the top teams in college football. While there will not be any fans at these games, it will be their first game in Martin Stadium for the new coaching staff and a lot of the new players. Getting to play at home should be a big boost for the players.

How many wins can we expect to see?

Washington State v Oregon Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Cougs will play a six-game regular season with a 7th game coming in a crossover format to end the season. Assuming the Pac-12 season goes off without an issue, I see the Cougs going 3-3 heading into the final crossover game. The schedule does not favor the Cougs at all this season as they face a really tough four game stretch in the middle sandwiched by two teams that gave them trouble last year.

at Oregon State W

vs. Oregon L

at Stanford W

vs. Washington L

at USC L

vs. California W

The season starts off with an Oregon State team that finished 5-7 last season and will be replacing its quarterback and top receiver as well as a few offensive lineman.

Next up for the Cougs is the beginning of the tough stretch of their schedule. The Ducks are replacing their quarterback and entire offensive line as well as a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. I see this as a loss but if the Cougs defense can get after it, they might throw a wrench in the Ducks plans.

The trip to Palo Alto follows and the Cardinal have struggled quite a bit over the past few years. They also will be replacing one of their quarterbacks as KJ Costello transferred to Mississippi State to play under Mike Leach. They will be returning Davis Mills however as he played in 8 of the Cardinal’s games last season.

Washington comes to town for the Apple Cup, and until they can win this game, I will put it as a loss. Nothing more for this game.

USC comes up next. The Trojans are projected to win the Pac-12 South this season and came up just short of making the Pac-12 championship game last season. They return a lot of talent and will likely finish among the top teams in the nation.

In another fun change of 2020, the Cougs will not end the season with a game against Washington. While the California game has been a wild ride for the Cougs in recent years I see them wanting to finish out the scheduled portion of the year on a strong note and pulling off the win. The Bears are projected to finish second in the Pac-12 North and received 3 first place votes.

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