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WSU remains in good hands in 2016 with QB Luke Falk returning

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In part one of an eight-part look at the past, present and future of each of the Cougars' units, we assess the quarterback situation and conclude: WSU is just fine with Luke Falk.

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

With signing day in the rearview mirror and spring football still a month away, now's a great time to take stock of each of the eight position groups on WSU's roster. This is our first in the series, and of course we'll start with the most important position in Mike Leach's program: Quarterback.

Looking Back at 2015

End of Season Depth Chart
Starter Backup 3rd
Luke Falk, RS-So Peyton Bender, RS-Fr Tyler Hilinski, Fr
Stats
Rk Player Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
1 Luke Falk 447 644 69.4 4561 7.1 7.7 38 8 145.9
2 Peyton Bender 53 91 58.2 498 5.5 4.2 3 4 106.3

In Brief: The 2015 season was another banner one for Leach's quarterback in the Air Raid at WSU. Following up on Connor Halliday's enormous 2014, sophomore Luke Falk also put up massive numbers, but, surrounded by a better supporting cast (particularly on defense), Falk was able to one-up his predecessor by leading the Cougars to nine wins and a Sun Bowl victory over Miami. Close wins against Rutgers, Oregon and UCLA were directly attributable to Cool Hand Luke's play in crunch time.

It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows; Falk didn't play real well in the season-opening loss to Portland State, and he was knocked out of three different games, the final time leading to a scary ambulance ride that prevented him from playing in the Apple Cup. Backup Peyton Bender looked pretty iffy in his action, turning in a dreadful performance against Washington. He did toss a crucial TD against UCLA while Falk was being examined after taking a blow to the head, and it must be noted that in every appearance, Bender was facing incredibly difficult circumstances.

Touted freshman Tyler Hilinski redshirted.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Projected Depth Chart
Starter Backup 3rd
Luke Falk, RS-Jr Peyton Bender, RS-So Tyler Hilinski, RS-Fr

Who Departs: Nobody.

In Brief: This is really the only unit on the entire team where zero change would be unsurprising. Barring injury, Falk will remain the starter. However, there could certainly be some maneuvering behind Falk; Bender's aforementioned issues combined with Hilinski having a year under his belt could make for an interesting battle.

Interestingly, there are only those three scholarship QBs on the roster after WSU failed to sign a QB in this recruiting class. (While 2016 recruit Justus Rogers will get a look at QB this spring according to Leach, you don't have to read too far between the lines of what Leach said on signing day to come to the conclusion that Rogers -- a Wing T quarterback at Bellevue High School -- is likely destined for another role.)

That's not a particular problem ... unless something happens to cause one of those three guys to miss the entire season. Say Hilinski beats out Bender; would Bender, who has already used his redshirt, consider transferring before the season starts so that he can have two full years of eligibility wherever he lands? I have no particular insight, other than the precedent of other seemingly talented quarterbacks doing the same thing.

If that happens, needless to say the Cougars would be perilously thin at the position at that point. In the event that they'd need a third QB, say hello to ... true freshman preferred walk-on Bryce Missey?

Let's hope we never find out.

2017 Recruiting Outlook

This will be a really important point of emphasis for Leach this year after whiffing in 2016 -- if quarterback is the life blood of the Air Raid, WSU simply can't sustain underrecruiting this position two consecutive years.

Obviously, Leach knows this, and the Cougars are hot on the trail of a number of 2017 quarterbacks. From Britton Ransford:

Chase Garbers, a junior quarterback out of Newport Beach, Calif., throws footballs and runs an offense better than most high schoolers his age, so naturally that caught the eye of Mike Leach, who offered the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder a scholarship this week.

There's a number of targets the Cougars are after in the 2017 cycle, in addition to Garbers. First up: Tristan Gebbia. The No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the country, according to Rivals.com, recently announced a top five of Ole Miss, Nebraska, West Virginia, Washington and Washington State, and he's probably at the top of this cycle's wish list.

Two more names to watch for are Connor Neville and Tyler Lytle, both of whom have held WSU offers for quite some time. Neville, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder out of Wilsonville, Ore., is ranked the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals.com and also holds offers from Boise State and Hawaii. Lytle, listed at a towering 6-foot-5, 205-pounds from Anaheim, Calif., earned a No. 19 pro-style quarterback ranking from Rivals.com and has picked up offers from Boston College, Cal, Miami, Oregon State and others.