2015 Opponent Primer: Washington State

Jul. 15 -- After a two-year break, the Bruins and the Cougars will match up again in 2015...

It's the offseason right now, so we thought we'd put together some advance primers on the 2015 opponents on UCLA's schedule. We've already previewed Virginia, UNLV, BYU, Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, California, Colorado, and Oregon State. Next up: UCLA's tenth opponent of the season, Washington State. Washington State Nov. 14, The Rose Bowl 2014 Record: 3-9 (2-7)

2014 Recap: Last year was a significant step back for Mike Leach and Washington State. After putting together a surprising bowl team in 2013, the Cougars struggled mightily throughout 2014, particularly defensively. Washington State ranked 107th in the country in terms of yards per play allowed at 6.2, and gave up massive amounts of points to some not-very-good offenses. The only wins were a home beatdown of Portland State, a one-point win over Utah on the road, and a seven-point win over imploding Oregon State at the end of the year. Otherwise, the season was mostly marked by blowout losses and the unfortunate loss of quarterback Connor Halliday to a career-ending injury. Obviously, Mike Leach and company will look to rebound significantly in 2015, but it could be a difficult task.

Returning Starters: 14 (7 defense, 7 offense)

Notable Recruits: JC S Shalom Luani , JC DE Jeremiah Mitchell ,
DT Thomas Toki , S Kameron Powell

2015 Projection: After fielding an objectively bad defense in 2014, Washington State switched things up, replacing defensive coordinator Mike Breske with former Missouri safeties coach Alex Grinch. It'll be difficult for him to do a whole lot worse than Breske, whose defense forced just eight turnovers in all of 2014. Unfortunately, it's also difficult to imagine him doing a whole lot better -- the Cougars return just one starting defensive lineman from last year's team, which didn't have a great pass rush to begin with. No doubt Grinch will have to be creative to get much out of the defense.

Offensively, the situation is better. The entire starting offensive line returns intact and former walk-on quarterback Luke Falk, who was impressive in a few games toward the end of last season, returns as the starter. He'll have a couple of effective weapons in the receiving corps as well, with the return of Gabe Marks from injury and River Cracraft in the fold after he emerged last year as one of the best receivers on the team.

There's no doubt that, to an extent, Washington State was really hurt by injuries last year. The Cougars lost several players in the secondary, their starting quarterback, and their best receiver (Marks) throughout the year, which likely contributed to some of their difficulties. The Cougars are perhaps a little bit deeper in 2015 thanks to a nice crop of incoming junior college talent, which should help to shore up some of the thin spots in the depth.

In looking at the schedule, it's very similar to last year in terms of difficulty for the Cougars. The major changes are swapping USC for UCLA, which probably doesn't matter a whole lot, and swapping Utah for Colorado, which gives the Cougars a better shot at a win (though Washington State did beat Utah last year). If you project that the Cougars will beat Wyoming and Portland State in the non-conference, and likely take care of Oregon State and Colorado at home, it's still going to be tough to come up with two more wins for bowl eligibility. The best opportunities are probably at Rutgers, at Washington, or at California, with the remaining home slate full of mostly tough games.

Outlook for UCLA: This is the last of the cupcakes for UCLA in the stretch of four games that started with Cal on Oct. 22. Interestingly, this is also the final home game of the season for the Bruins, who will go on the road against Utah and USC to end the season. The one danger for UCLA in this game will likely come down to whether they're looking ahead to the two road trips against tough teams and not paying enough attention to the Cougars.

At this point, ten games into the season, UCLA will probably want to be 8-2 or better at this point to have a non-ridiculous chance of winning the Pac-12 South, since there's a decent enough chance that UCLA will drop one of their final two games to either Utah or USC. That means sweeping through that slate of cupcakes is very important to UCLA's chances of being a threat in the South heading into the final weekends of the season.

By this point in the season, UCLA, assuming there haven't been an unusual amount of injuries, should be peaking, with a freshman quarterback in Josh Rosen who should now be playing more like a sophomore. The defense should be, by this point in the year, the best its been under Jim Mora, and we'd bet that the team overall, heading into the final two games of the season, is starting to look pretty close to elite.

Next up: Utah...

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