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WSU checks in at No. 22 in the 2019 ‘Way Too Early’ top 25 composite

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We combined 11 different rankings so you didn’t have to, as Clemson edges out Alabama for No. 1.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The end of the college football season means one thing, and one thing only: A barrage of “Way Too Early” top 25 rankings from various college football writers. Unsurprisingly, the 2019 editions things are loaded with the usual suspects at the top: Clemson Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Georgia Bulldogs, etc.

Typically, the releases of these go more or less ignored by Washington State Cougars fans each year, but on the heels of an 11-win season that ended with a No. 10 ranking and with the vast majority of starters returning, the Cougs are popping up in these not-totally-pointless exercises. (More on why it’s not actually pointless in a second.)

I went through and compiled all the various rankings to come up with a “Way Too Early” composite top 25 from 11 different sites that regularly cover college football on a national scale. The Cougars check in at No. 22, while Clemson just barely edged out Alabama for the top spot — which seems weird to me after the Tigers obliterated the Crimson Tide in the championship, but here we are. Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma round out the top five.

(If you’re on mobile, you might find this link more useful for viewing the table.)

2019 Way Too Early Top 25 Composite

Rank Team Total Athletic (Mandel) ESPN (Schlabaugh) CBS Sports (Dodd) SI (Axson) Athlon Yahoo! B/R Sporting News Orlando Sentinel San Jose Merc (Wilner) CFN (Fiutak)
Rank Team Total Athletic (Mandel) ESPN (Schlabaugh) CBS Sports (Dodd) SI (Axson) Athlon Yahoo! B/R Sporting News Orlando Sentinel San Jose Merc (Wilner) CFN (Fiutak)
1 Clemson 270 01 01 01 01 02 02 02 02 02 01 01
2 Alabama 269 02 02 02 02 01 01 01 01 01 02 02
3 Georgia 249 03 03 03 03 03 03 03 03 03 06 04
4 Ohio State 234 04 04 06 04 05 04 05 05 05 07 03
5 Oklahoma 228 06 06 05 06 04 05 06 04 04 05 07
6 LSU 205 05 10 04 13 09 07 08 07 10 03 05
7 Texas 197 08 08 11 08 06 08 04 06 13 11 06
8 Notre Dame 195 11 05 09 05 11 06 07 08 09 08 12
9 Florida 190 07 07 08 09 07 11 12 09 08 10 08
10 Michigan 185 12 11 10 07 08 09 10 10 11 04 09
11 Oregon 168 09 12 07 10 12 10 14 13 12 09 10
12 Texas A&M 161 10 09 13 11 10 15 11 11 06 15 14
13 Washington 131 22 16 14 12 14 12 09 14 07 17 18
14 Penn State 110 21 17 12 14 13 14 18 12 16 NR 13
15 UCF 109 15 14 16 16 15 13 13 18 17 18 22
16 Utah 83 20 18 15 15 16 17 15 NR 21 14 NR
17 Iowa State 75 14 20 19 21 22 22 17 23 20 12 21
18 Wisconsin 73 23 21 17 17 18 16 19 22 22 23 15
19 Auburn 63 13 23 NR 19 23 NR 21 16 19 21 16
20 Syracuse 50 18 15 NR NR NR 21 NR 20 NR 13 19
21 Iowa 49 16 NR 20 18 17 20 16 NR NR NR NR
22 Washington State 40 NR 13 21 NR 25 NR 20 19 24 20 NR
23 Northwestern 33 19 19 25 20 24 23 23 24 25 25 NR
24 Missouri 31 NR 22 NR 24 20 18 NR NR 23 19 25
25 Nebraska 26 NR 24 18 NR 19 NR 25 NR 18 NR NR
Also receiving votes: Army (22), Mississippi State (22), Virginia Tech (20), Michigan State (18), USC (15), Florida State (12), Miami (9), Kentucky (9), Stanford (5), Minnesota (4), Utah State (4), South Carolina (3), Cincinnati (3), Boise State (2), Houston (2), Virginia (1).

The Oregon Ducks, with the return of Justin Herbert, are the trendy pick to be the class of the Pac-12 next season. They were a fairly young team last season, and they added an excellent recruiting class for Mario Cristobal’s second season, leading to No. 11 here.

Interestingly, these writers were split on what to do with the Washington Huskies, ranking them anywhere from seventh to 22nd for a composite ranking of 13. Those who ranked them high seemed to see former five-star QB transfer Jacob Eason and think that he’ll probably be an upgrade over Jake Browning; those who ranked them low seemed to notice that the Huskies will be among the league leaders in starters replaced, particularly on defense.

Here’s to betting this probably will reflect voter thinking when the Pac-12 media poll comes out and WSU will be slotted third in the Pac-12 North.

The Utah Utes, meanwhile checked in a little above the Cougs at 16; the Utes were pretty good in the middle of the year when Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss were both playing, and with both returning, some people are expecting the Utes to be the class of the Pac-12 South.

Now, some people are tempted to laugh off these things — they name itself, after all, is pretty comical — but here’s the thing: These rankings start to set the narrative for the next season. And as we found out late in 2018, as the Cougs kept winning games, how good people think you are at the start of the year has a lot of influence over how they view what takes place on the field.

Put simply: Because confirmation bias abounds, if you start the year ranked, you’re much more likely to get the benefit of the doubt in whatever you do. If you’re not ranked to start the year — and you don’t have a name brand backing you up — you’re simply not going to be taken seriously.

This is a good indicator that WSU could very well be ranked to start the year, which is pretty darned great.

For what it’s worth, some of the rankings also included comments about the Cougs; here are all the comments in one spot.

ESPN: No. 13

Outlook: Cougars coach Mike Leach transformed Minshew, a graduate transfer from East Carolina, into a folk hero. Minshew, with his big arm and unforgettable moustache, passed for 4,779 yards with 38 touchdowns, leading Washington State to its first 11-win season.

What will Leach do for an encore? Will he comb the graduate transfer market again for someone like Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush? Or will he turn to one of Minshew’s backups: Anthony Gordon, Trey Tinsley or Cammon Cooper? Only the Pirate knows.

Regardless of who is under center, the Cougars will bring back a wealth of playmakers on offense and four starting offensive linemen. They’ll have to replace Pelluer, their leading tackler, and two senior defensive backs.

Washington State’s nonconference slate in 2019 is again Charmin-soft with games against New Mexico State, FCS foe Northern Colorado and Houston. But Pac-12 road games at Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, Cal and Washington are potential obstacles.

CBS: No. 21

Gardner Minshew and his celebrated mustache are gone. But Mike Leach has it going in Pullman. The top four receivers return. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was honored as the Pac-12’s top assistant.

Athlon: No. 25

Replacing Gardner Minshew won’t be easy, but it’s safe to say Mike Leach knows a thing or two about quarterbacks, so Washington State’s high-powered offense won’t drop too far on the stat sheet next season. Regardless of whether or not Leach turns to Anthony Gordon, Trey Tinsley or Cammon Cooper next year, the supporting cast will certainly ease the transition to the new signal-caller. The Cougars return rising star Max Borghi and James Williams at running back, along with the team’s top four statistical receivers. Left tackle Andre Dillard is a big loss up front, but four other starters from the Alamo Bowl are slated to return. Tracy Claeys was one of the Pac-12’s top assistant hires prior to 2018, and the former Minnesota head coach kept Washington State’s defense near the top of the league after Alex Grinch left for Ohio State. This unit loses leading tackler Peyton Pelluer, but there’s enough returning to prevent a major drop in performance. Road trips to Oregon, Washington, California and Utah are tough, but the Cougars won’t have to play USC, while Stanford and UCLA visit Pullman in 2019.

Sporting News: No. 19

Mike Leach won’t have Gardner Minshew, but he continues to make it work with a pass-happy system where it’s next man up. The Cougars have been close to a Pac-12 championship, but that next step won’t happen until they unseat rival Washington in the Apple Cup. The Cougars travel to Utah, Oregon and Washington this season. That won’t be easy.

Orlando Sentinel: No. 24

Buzz: It was a record-setting season for the Cougars, with the team putting together its first 11-win season while finishing the year ranked in the top 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

The biggest concern heading into 2019 is replacing quarterback Gardner Minshew, who finished as the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. The new starting QB will have a full array of talent at the skill positions.

San Jose Mercury News: No. 20

The plug-and-play Air Raid should remain effective without Gardner Minshew, and most of the line returns to protect the new starter. The Cougars lose loads of leadership on defense, however.