Washington State will kick off its 2022 season against Idaho this Saturday, and with a new season comes a lot of new questions. You have come to the right place to get those answered!
The Cougs will have a new quarterback under center, some new coaches, and a new offense. In his first official year of being the Cougars head coach, will Jake Dickert answer these questions? Below are five of our biggest for the upcoming season.
Will Cam Ward live up to the hype?
Cam Ward was by far the biggest signing this past offseason for WSU, and he will look to lead the Cougs back to the postseason in his first year on the Palouse. He will replace Jayden de Laura, who produced 2,798 yards last year through the air, going 227 for 359 while throwing 27 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
Ward will reunite with Eric Morris, the Cougars’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Morris and Ward have spent the past two seasons at FCS level Incarnate Word, where they combined for a 13-6 record while Ward threw for 6,908 yards and 71 touchdowns with a 63.5 completion percentage.
The Cougs did lose their top two receivers from last year in Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris, but Renard Bell, De’Zhaun Stribling, Lincoln Victor, and Donovan Ollie all return, and the Cougs have added transfers Zeriah Beason and Robert Ferrel to the mix. Ward will have plenty of talented receivers to throw to, as well as something we have not seen in a very long time: A tight end.
I do believe Ward can live up to the hype. We have seen flashes of his talent from camp, as well as his performances last season at UIW. I don’t see him slowing down at the FBS level — he knows this offense very well and has now had plenty of time working with his receivers. He has every opportunity to lead this program for the next few years.
How will the offensive line fare?
The offensive line is my biggest worry heading into this season. Abe Lucas, Liam Ryan, Brian Greene, and Cade Beresford are all gone, and a new offensive line could be trouble. Late into last season, we got the opportunity to see some of the new guys take snaps. The game experience could come up big this season as they are very young on the line.
Converted defensive lineman Fa’alili Fa’amoe was looked at as a possibility for left guard but will now backup Jarrett Kingston at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Christian Hilborn gets the nod at left guard with fellow redshirt freshman Brock Dieu as his backup. Redshirt sophomore Konner Gomness will be snapping the ball again this year. Northern Colorado transfer Grant Stephens will be taking over at right guard, and Ma’ake Fifita will hold down the right side.
The line was hit with injuries early in camp this year and caused a lot of shifting throughout the past month. We did see a lot of the current offensive lineman play last season sporadically but none with the consistency that we saw with Lucas and Ryan.
Here is to hoping the big guys up front can stay healthy and protect Ward in the pocket. Ward has the ability to make plays with his feet, but we would rather not see the quarterback running around constantly trying to make plays on his own.
What is the biggest game on the schedule?
Week 2 against Wisconsin is by far the biggest game on the schedule for me. There should be 70,000-plus packed into Camp Randall Stadium for this game. Wisconsin finished 9-4 last season with victories over #25 Purdue and #9 Iowa and will come into this season ranked 18th.
A win over the Badgers will really set the tone for the season and set the Cougs up for success as the season progresses. This game will test every aspect of the team as Wisconsin will be returning most of their line, running backs, and quarterback, but they will be replacing a majority of their receivers — they have just one receiver who caught more than 10 passes last season. The downside to that is that they did not air the ball out a ton last year and rely heavily on their run game.
Both of their top running backs will be returning and they are very good. Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi combined for 17 touchdowns and 2,083 yards last season.
Outside of Wisconsin, the stretch of Oregon, California, and USC in weeks 4-6 will be a really tough few weeks. The Cougs get lucky and host the Ducks and Bears but then hit the road to face a new-look Trojans at the Coliseum.
Which new addition will stand out?
Outside of Ward, linebacker Daiyan Henley is probably the name that stands out to me the most. The Nevada transfer led the Wolf Pack with 103 tackles and added 4 interceptions and three fumble recoveries last season. The redshirt senior will be joining a linebacker room that is replacing two vets in Jahad Woods and Justus Rodgers and will have every opportunity to stand out.
Henley will have Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. on the edge and some combination of Christian Mejia, Amir Mujahid, Antonio Pule III, Nusi Malani, and Ahmir Crowder in the middle. With the talent surrounding him, he should be able to succeed and step into the role very quickly and easy.
Last year, the defense kept the Cougs in a lot of games, and I don’t see that slowing down. There is a majority of the defense returning and with Brian Ward bringing in his defensive coaching; Henley and the rest of the Cougs should be able to repeat and improve on that success.
Can the Cougs make it seven straight trips to a bowl game?
Last season, the Cougs overcame a lot of ... issues ... to get to the postseason. After losing three of their first four games, they went on a run and would flip the script and went 4-1 over the next five that set them up for a run at their sixth consecutive bowl trip, which ended with a shorthanded loss in the Sun Bowl against surprise opponent Central Michigan.
Wins over Arizona, Arizona State, California, and Washington proved what this team was capable of. The defense led the way in a majority of these games causing timely turnovers and allowing the offense to get back onto the field. With the schedule this year I see another 7-5 season with a bowl game in their future. The conference is really split between who is at the top and who is going to struggle.
There are currently four ranked teams on the schedule; #7 Utah, #11 Oregon, #14 USC, and #18 Wisconsin. The schedule starts out tough and unfortunately does not get any easier until the back end. If the currently ranked teams stay ranked, they will alternate between ranked and unranked for the first eight weeks.