2006 Record: (6-6, 4-5)
Coach: Bill Doba (25-22 at Washington State, 25-22 overall)
Starters Returning: 14 (7 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists)
Starting Specialists Lost: None
For starters: Washington State was ready for a bowl berth last year after starting out the campaign 6-3. After three straight losses, the Cougars found themselves on the outside looking in. Washington State hopes to be in the mix for a bowl bid again this year, but if the injury bug strikes again, all of 2007 could look like the last three games of 2006.
Offense: What WSU does not lack is a potent offense. Three-year starter Alex Brink is an underappreciated quarterback on the national scene. He completed 61 percent of his passes a year ago for 2,899 yards and 19 touchdowns. With wide receivers Michael Bumpus and Brandon Gibson returning, those numbers should stay about the same. Tight end Jed Collins has developed into a big time receiving threat and will be a quality target for Brink in the red zone.
The line will do a little reshuffling in order to get players back to their more natural positions, but it is still a quality unit. Bobby Byrd is the premier linemen and should be even more productive at the guard spot and make plenty of holes for the running game. Dwight Tardy rushed for 667 yards as a freshman and it is hoped he can continue to develop and become more effective as a sophomore. However, Tardy’s spring was not all great and the depth behind him is inexperienced or dealing with academic issues.
Defense: Eric Frampton was the only good part of an atrocious secondary and now he, along with both starting corners, is gone. Markus Dawes and B.T. Walker saw little playing time last year after transferring in from junior colleges, but are the likely starters at the corners heading into the fall. Youngsters Devin Giles and Chima Nwachukwu lack experience but will at least be asked to play in nickel and dime formations and compete with Dawes and Walker for starting gigs.
Greg Trent is suddenly the leader of the linebacker corps. The junior has the experience, but needs to turn that into more productivity without Scott Davis and Steve Dildine on his sides. Cory Evans and Andy Mattingly did not earn any starts last year, but are the only other returning active linebackers and will battle for starting positions. Redshirt sophomore Jason Stripling and junior college transfer Wyman Alexander will be in the mix as well.
It gets better for the front four, as long as they can stay healthy. Ropati Pitoitua, Fevaea’i Ahmu, Aaron Johnson and Matt Eichelberger all have starting experience at tackle. End Lance Broadus, who is recovering from an injury and may miss part of the season, recorded 7.5 sacks last season. If Broadus is not ready to go, Mike Graise and Kevin Kooyman better be.
The Bottom Line: The medical staff might be the most important people in Pullman. If the injuries to the defensive line remain a problem, and all signs point to yes, the inexperienced secondary will be continually torched. Yet, the offense is strong enough to win their fair of shootouts with Brink, Bumpus and Gibson racking up a ton of yardage. If the defense can manage to somehow get, and remain, healthy, WSU will be bowling.
WR Michael Bumpus will be one of Brink's main targets.