According to a preview by SB Nation's Bill Connelly that includes enough stats and numbers to keep you entertained for a long time, WSU fans are setting their sights a bit too high for this upcoming season: Based on his proprietary S&P+ algorithm, he projects the Cougars to win just six games in 2016.
When it comes to their schedule, there are two games that the Cougars are supposed to lose by more than a touchdown: Stanford is projected to win by 13.9 points and Washington by 8.5. These are two teams that most humans are projecting the Cougars to be wrestling with for the Pac-12 North crown. Additionally, his system projects the Cougs to have just a 35 percent chance of beating Boise State.
The root? There's a pretty big disconnect between what we think we see with our eyes and what Connelly's system sees in the numbers. Stanford and UW are two teams that his system has tended to love, with UW finishing 12th in his ratings last season despite winning just seven games. WSU, meanwhile, finished 63rd in his ratings last season; one of only two Power 5 teams that won nine or more games and finished outside the top 33 of his ratings. (Iowa was the other, finishing 47th despite winning 12! games.)
He rates WSU as just the 48th-best team heading into the season.
Connelly has addressed the disconnect with Iowa and WSU here, although he really didn't do a whole lot to actually explain why WSU was valued so poorly by S&P+. As near as we can tell, it really comes down to the way the Cougars move the ball, which, under Luke Falk, is relentless and ruthless in eating up moderate chunks of yardage up and down the field. That's antithetical to Connelly's belief about what's most important to winning football games: Explosive plays.
WSU had relatively few of those last season; although the Cougars finished last season with more passing plays of 10+ yards (200) than anyone else in the FBS, their rate of those plays was fairly low. And when you increase the threshold to pass plays of 30+ yards, the Cougars drop down to 54th in the FBS with only 19 plays -- again, despite throwing it more than anyone.
Additionally, blowing out bad teams appears to be as important, if not outright more impactful on the S&P+ algorithm, than winning close games against good teams. And WSU arguably played its worst games of the season last year against the worst teams on its schedule.
When you combine those factors with the Cougs winning a few games they "shouldn't have" (by the numbers, where opponents outperformed them on a per-play basis but the Cougs won close anyway), I think you get a pretty good idea of what's going on: The Cougs are simply an outlier that the algorithm doesn't really know how to deal with.
You can take a deep dive into the numbers yourself by heading over to Connelly's article. It also includes an interesting viewpoint of Mike Leach's tenure as a head coach.
Mike Leach ended Washington State's decade lost at sea. Now what's next? - SBNation.com
The Cougars broke through for nine wins last year, but a turn of bad luck would make that hard to repeat.
Former WSU standout Klay Thompson named to US Olympic men’s basketball squad | The Seattle Times
Fresh off a record-setting season with the Golden State Warriors that ended with a Game 7 defeat in the NBA Finals, former Washington State guard Klay Thompson has accepted a bid to play for the United States on the 12-man team that will represent Team USA at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this August.
Klay Thompson Headed to Rio Olympics - Washington State University Official Athletic Site
The former Cougar standout has been selected to the U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball team.