This is the first installment in our series of stories previewing the 2021 Washington State Cougars football season. For future installments, click here.
In a little less than two weeks, 30,000 or so fans will pack into Martin Stadium for the first time in nearly two years. It largely will look like nothing has changed.
But, of course, everything has changed.
Even though there’s a lot going on that people have disagreed about, we all can agree on this: Actual games with actual fans in attendance will be a welcome sight. And while the specter of Covid will hang over WSU’s season — because, after all, we’re not out of this pandemic yet — it’s impossible to know the ways in which it will impact the Cougars’ prospects.
So, instead of worrying about all that, let’s just spend the next couple of weeks using our annual preview series to simply dig deep into the football.
We’re two years removed from the last time the Cougs took the field in a way that resembles the upcoming season, which makes it exceedingly difficult to put a finger on just how this season might play out.
The coaches have changed. The schemes have changed. The roster has changed.
Yeah, we got a little look at all of it last season, but let’s be real: There’s not a lot to be gleaned from four games played over two months with a rotating cast of characters due to Covid outbreaks, opt-outs, and transfers.
One thing we know is that when WSU is good, it’s generally as an offense-forward team. It’s part of what made Mike Leach such a great fit in 2012, and it’s what led Pat Chun to Nick Rolovich — who elevated Hawaii back to respectability — in 2020.
What we don’t yet know is if Rolovich and his Run and Shoot can produce on the level of the Air Raid under Leach. Rolo’s predecessor reliably churned out top 25 offenses no matter which players were on the field, something that raised the program’s floor considerably; the 2019 Cougs used Leach’s best offense at WSU to overcome one of the worst defenses in recent memory and squeeze out a fifth consecutive bowl appearance.
There are a lot of reasons to believe this offense will take at least a moderate step backward from 2019; those lofty heights would be difficult for any offense to attain, let alone one where nobody seems able to grab the quarterback job and the wide receiver depth has eroded considerably. However, there is loads of talent at running back and the offensive line still seems solid, so maybe Rolovich can get creative and keep racking up points the way we’ve come to expect.
Perhaps there’s a chance the offense won’t have to carry so heavy a burden. Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert and his staff have made big investments on the transfer market, particularly on the back end, and there is both a lot of experience and some young guys who seem poised to break through. A big jump on that side of the ball would go a long way toward getting this team where it wants to go.
Nobody wants to be the group to break the school’s record streak of bowl appearances. Let’s see if these guys have it in them to make it six in a row.
Later today: Breaking down WSU’s offensive personnel