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Way too early to tell if Cougs will be good in 2017

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The “way too early top 25” rankings have been kind to Washington State football, but there is a lot of uncertainty.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Minnesota vs Washington State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

College football could not have asked for a better ending, with more than 26 million viewers tuning in to watch Clemson’s comeback win over Alabama. With the season now officially in the rearview, many publications felt the need to release a “Way Too Early Top 25” — probably for clickbait purposes, but at least it gives us something to talk about.

Despite the rough end to the season, Washington State snuck its way onto a few of these rankings.

The Mercury News | No. 23

Placement assumes Luke Falk is coming back to join a handful of experienced playmakers and veteran defense.

Fox Sports | No. 23

... Prolific QB Luke Falk will be a senior. He loses top receiver Gabe Marks, but most of Wazzu’s other skill players return, and All-American G Cody O’Connell put off the NFL. Wazzu’s defense was not great in 2016 but should return nine starters, including DE Hercules Mata’afa.

ESPN | No. 23

The Cougars opened the 2016 season with two straight losses and finished with three consecutive defeats. In between, they won eight straight games and might be in position to start and finish better in 2017 if junior quarterback Luke Falk returns to school ...

Athlon | “15 others to watch”

... Quarterback Luke Falk is back after another prolific season, and the defense returns promising end Hercules Mata’afa and safety Jalen Thompson.

A few others that didn’t think WSU deserved any props:

While the Cougs were ignored by some of the publications out there, the team did find its way onto three top-25 rankings — coming in at No. 23 on all three of them. As you can see, all the explanations are predicated on Luke Falk returning for his senior season. Which is understandable, because Falk is a really good quarterback.

The praise is great; it’s flattering, really. But after following this team my whole life, I get a tad hesitant at setting expectations. Just look to last season. Washington State came in with expectations of competing to win the Pac-12 North, going to the Rose Bowl and achieving college football glory. Shoot, even I was guilty of looking at how much plane tickets were to Los Angeles in early January. Then the team lost its first two games, got called a JC Softball team, then rattled off eight straight wins before getting knocked back to reality by three really good teams.

On the surface, the 2017 team looks pretty dang good. With Falk and consensus All-American Cody O’Connell returning next season, to go along with a defense led by defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa, it’s easy to see why some of these publications think so highly of the Cougs.

But expectations are scary, and should we really expect this team to be as good or better than the latest Cougar team?

Replacing Gabe Marks, who literally rewrote record books for WSU and Pac-12 receivers, wont be easy (obviously). Not to mention replacing River Cracraft, who wasn’t too shabby himself. It’s also an offense that will need to find a replacement for the heart of its line (in more than one way), Riley Sorenson.

Lets not forget defense, which not only lost it’s defensive line coach, father figure and very lovable all-around guy in Joe Salave'a, but also needs to replace the always fun to watch and very good nickelback Shalom Luani.

Good college football teams don’t rebuild after losing key players, they reload. It’s time to see if the much-improved recruiting classes that Mike Leach and Co. have brought in over the past few years will payoff.

Will Isaiah Johnson-Mack live up to his high expectations at wide receiver? Will the offensive line continue to get better under Leach? Will the defense continue to get better under Alex Grinch?

There are so many questions!

So my question to you is: can this 2017 team be better/worse/same than the 2016 team?