Friday, August 26, 2011

Can the 2011 WSU Cougars be something special?

By Outsider Steve

For most Cougar fans, this time of year it has been anything but fun. Moreover, why would it be? For the last three years, the Cougs have been everything but competitive; a blip on the college football radar. But 2010 will be known as the season the Cougars turned the corner as a program. Not only did the Cougars show that they have a pulse, but they showed that they are ready to compete in the Pac-12 as well. The pinnacle of the 2010 Cougars was not only securing their first conference road victory in Corvallis, but also showing that they were able to stay competitive with conference foes during losses. For Paul Wulff, 2010 had to be a success. For the fist time the Cougars were able to show progress under his watch during a losing season. This was something coach Wulff could not say about his previous two seasons in Pullman. As a matter of fact, it had gotten so bad at times under Wulff most fans were left wondering if he would be able to survive as head coach. Not only did Wulff survive, the Cougs may have emerged as a dark horse to potentially snag a bowl bid.

What makes this year’s version different from years past? For starters, it marks the first time in the coach Wulff's tenure that upper classman rule the depth chart. Thirteen starters (8 on offense, 5 on defense) are either juniors or seniors. Most of these upper classman are expected to provide a leadership role, but moreover, they all play key positions (QB, RB, WR, TE, LT, C, RG, DE, DT, MLB, and OLB) that require a veteran presence. How important is leadership to this Cougar team? When the season starts rolling into the conference portion of the schedule, you are going to have to rely heavily on your upper classmen to hold their respective units together. Leadership will play a huge role in whether this team can snag a bowl bid. Especially on the defensive side of the ball where the Cougars are cutting in as many as three freshmen into their defensive unit. It makes players like Travis Long, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, and Deane Bucannon even more important because it allows the kids to be able play freely without having the pressure of being the main playmakers before their ready to take on that role.

The Cougars can score points in a hurry. Not a big surprise. Nevertheless, with QB Jeff Tuel entering his junior year, the expectations/success of the entire offense will land squarely on his shoulders. I do not think there is a question of whether or not he can handle the responsibility because I think he has proven that. The bigger question is can Tuel consistently put together scoring drives? We have seen to many times where drives have fizzled out due to poor execution, lack of protection, etc. One area of glowing improvement has been the Cougar offensive line. The Cougars are returning an offensive line with four seniors and one sophmore in David Gonzales, Andrew Roxas, B.J. Guerra, Wade Jacobsen, and John Fullington. That is the type cohesion is what coaches dream about having up-front. Not only does it open up running lanes for guys like senior Logwane Mitz (I can‘t believe he‘s still around), but it finally allows Wulff the freedom to open up the passing game. No longer do you have to stay conservative because of a lack of protection. You can now feature Tuel as a true weapon instead of a game manager.

These aren’t the same old Cougars that have been a college football embarrassment. They no longer feel the need to hang their heads for going 5-32 over the last three seasons. If anything its made the Cougars a stronger team. For the first in coach Wulff’s tenure, these Cougars will enter a season with winning expectations. They believe a bowl birth is more then just attainable, it’s something they expect to happen. That type of confidence and swagger is only attained by going through the fire as a team. They have done exactly that, and now its time to see how these Cougars get after it this season. Go Cougs!

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