Stanford @ Washington State – September 5
Last Year: @ Stanford 58, Washington State 0
Stanford rushed for 344 yards – more than 100 yards better than WSU's entire offense – and benefitted from a +4 sack margin and a +5 turnover margin in their most lopsided win of the year.
Stat Battle: Washington State O vs. Stanford D
Stats listed opponent offense (Pac-10 Rank), Stanford defense (Pac-10 Rank). All stats Pac-10 only. The first six 2008 stats are good and last three stats bad for an offense, so the larger the first six stats are, the better the offensive rank and the worse the defense rank, and vice versa for the final three stats.
Points Per Game: 8.6 (10), 28.9 (8)
Yards Per Game: 196 (10), 392 (8)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 72 (10), 163 (7)
Yards Per Carry: 2.2 (10), 4.7 (8)
Passing Yards Per Game: 124 (10), 229 (9)
Completion Percentage: 52.5% (8), 60.4% (8)
Yards Per Point: 22.9 (10), 13.6 (6)
Turnovers: 26 (10), 19 (6)
Sacks: 28 (9), 24 (4)
Returning Starters: 8 (Avg: 7.4), 8 (Avg: 6.4)
Predicted Points Per Game: 16, TBA
Okay, Washington State officially had a FAR worse season than Stanford 2006. The cougars were outgained by 273 yards in each Pac-10 game, to 169 for the '06 Cardinal. WSU was -25 in turnovers, compared to -11 for Stanford.
Discounting equally awful Washington, WSU was at least 17-point underdogs to every Pac-10 team, at least 30-point dogs against their last five conference rivals and lost to every Pac-10 team by at least 25 points. Six Pac-10 teams scored at least 58 on the Cougs, and WSU managed no more than three points against five Pac-10 squads.
Off a once-in-a-decade season of putridity, the Cougars are so off-the-charts awful that no matter how much each unit improves, it'll still be one of the worst in the conference, and they figure to be double-digit underdogs against every Pac-10 opponent, especially given that Washington has improved. The Sept. 19 visit from SMU represents their best shot at a win, because any other WSU victories this season would be tremendous upsets.
Second Down: Backfield
Quarterback Kevin Lopina is a returning senior starter, yet his job is very much insecure. A 0-11 touchdown to interception ratio tends to do that to you. With four touchdown tosses and four picks, then-freshman Marshall Lobbestael looked positively Montana-like by comparison. WSU insiders sound excited about Lobbestael, and rightfully so – whoever marches out at quarterback can't help but do better than last year. But given the lack of talent surrounding him, his status as a sophomore and a new starter and his relatively pedestrian high-school recruiting profile, anything better than respectably poor play (as opposed to last year's horrifically poor play) would be a major surprise.
At tailback, it's Cal transfer James Montgomery who was WSU's Scout Team MVP last season, and might just be the team MVP this season. Dwight Tardy ran for 544 yards last year on a 3.6 average nearly a yard better than the team's 2.7 average, and is a strong option to have at backup. Injuries impacted both Chris Ivory and Tardy last year, so with them presumably closer to 100 percent and the talent infusion of Montgomery, this figures to be WSU's best, and most improved, unit.
Note: All unit ratings are on a five-point scale, with 1 the worst and 5 the best. Units are rated relative to an average BCS conference team, with a team full of one a last-place team, a team full of threes a .500 squad, and a team full of fives a conference favorite and national title contender.
Third Down: Line
The good news is four starters return. The bad news is four starters return.
The sack and rushing average numbers were among the conference's worst, and, counting non-conference games, the 43 total sacks allowed was fifth-worst nationally. Gone is one the best starters on the line, LT Vaughn Lesuma, and just one senior (center Kenny Alfred) might start on the line. Eight of the 10 in the two-deep return, but eight of the top 10 returned last year, only for yards per carry to drop by a whole yard and the sack total to jump by 21. Paul Wulff is in his second year, which might help the line and, hey – they can't be worse than last year, right?
Fourth Down: Receivers
Say what you will about junior receiver Jeshua Anderson, but you can't question the athleticism of the NCAA's 400-meter hurdle champion. Sophomore Kevin Norrell caught for 124 yards to Anderson's 305 last year, so while the cupboard's not entirely bare, the Cougars do lose their top threat in Brandon Bigson, whose 673 receiving yards are the equivalent of 1,500 on any other offense and were more than double any of his teammates'. Anderson's 9.2 yards per catch were more than two yards less than any of his teammates, so it'll be interesting to see if the Cougars can stretch the field more with him this season, as you'd expect an NCAA hurdle champion to be the guy running 40-yard fly routes, not seven-yard curls. Tardy, who has good hands, and Montgomery may factor into the passing game too, as WSU's offense threw 18 passes Tardy's way in his abbreviated season last year. Still, with no proven threat and their top starter gone, this figures to be the Pac-10's weakest receiving corps.
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