2012 Cougar football outlook: OFFENSE

PREDICTIONS ARE ALREADY RAMPANT about just how high-powered an offense new coach Mike Leach will be bringing to Wazzu in 2012. You might think there has to be a tradeoff, say, a lot of sacks. But Leach's history indicates far fewer sacks than average. Better yet, Leach says his offense is easy to pick up, predicting the Cougs will already have a solid grasp of it by the time spring ball ends.

Notable losses: WR Isiah Barton, 6-1, 187, graduated; OL David Gonzales, 6-6, 286, graduated; OL B.J. Guerra, 6-3, 324, graduated; WR Jared Karstetter, 6-4, 213, graduated; QB Marshall Lobbestael, 6-3, 209, graduated; OL Andrew Roxas, 6-2, 288, graduated.

Top returnees: OL John Fullington, 6-5, 286, jr.; RB Rickey Galvin, 5-8, 172, so.; OL Matt Goetz, 6-4, 270, jr.; OL Taylor Meighen, 6-3, 280, sr.; OL Dan Spitz, 6-6, 302, sr.; QB Jeff Tuel, 6-3, 217, sr.; TE Andrei Lintz, 6-5, 243, sr.; WR Marquess Wilson, 6-3, 181, jr.; RB Carl Winston, 5-8, 199, sr.

Up-and-comers: QB Connor Halliday, 6-4, 181, so.; RB Marcus Mason, 5-9, 176, so.; WR Bobby Ratliff, 6-2, 194, so.; OL Jake Rodgers, 6-6, 297, so.; WR Kristoff Williams, 6-2, 211, so.

Look for: If quarterback Jeff Tuel can remain healthy -- he played just three games last season after breaking and then aggravating a left clavicle injury -- to challenge Ryan Leaf's school-record 3,968 passing yards in 1997. Mike Leach's quarterbacks at Texas Tech exceeded that total each season from 2002-08. In 2010, Tuel completed 219 of 366 passes for 2,780 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions despite facing constant pressure. While running backs are not the position that most think about in the Air Raid, they are a significant part of it.

WSU might have as much depth at the position as it has featured since Jerome Harrison rushed for 1,900 yards in 2005. Leach sometimes has used a feature back or has divided the work between two players. He likes multi-purpose backs, which could favor sophomore Rickey Galvin, who rushed for 602 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per hash. Galvin also had 242 hashes on 28 catches. But there are others who could push Galvin for playing time. Carl Winston, who had 442 yards and four touchdowns on 123 carries, also had 11 receptions. Speedy Marcus Mason showed his game-breaking ability with a 65-yard touchdown run in his first collegiate game. He averaged 8.1 yards on 19 carries in 2011. The Cougars also have secured a commitment from an explosive back, Los Angeles Harbor's Theron West, who is expected to challenge for playing time. Teondray Caldwell, a recently enrolled freshman, could also figure in prominently.

The questions: Tuel or Connor Halliday will have one of the nation's top wide receivers in Marquess Wilson, who broke Nakoa McElrath's school-record 72 catches in 2001 with 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns on 82 receptions last year. But WSU will transition from the three-receiver sets commonly featured under former offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy to four wideouts with Leach. The Cougars also graduated their second- and third-leading receivers, Jared Karstetter and Isiah Barton. That duo combined for 109 catches in 2011.

Former coach Paul Wulff signed several receivers the last couple of seasons, but with the exception of Wilson, only Bobby Ratliff, who 348 yards on 28 receptions, emerged last year. It remains to be seen if Aaron Dunn, who has fought through injury all throughout his short WSU career, will emerge under Mike Leach. Gino Simone, who was considered the state's top recruit by some analysts in the 2009 class, caught 36 passes as a true freshman. But Simone, who will be a senior, has seen his production drop dramatically the last two years because of concussion and other injury problems. Kristoff Williams is another receiver whose potential was touted by Wulff, but has been hindered by injury problems. Four others Henry Eaddy, Isiah Myers, Dominique Williams and Rahmel Dockery -- signed in the 2011 class. Dockery (5-10, 170) enrolled this month after qualifying academically, while Williams redshirted and the other two saw little playing time.

Leach has made the position a priority in this recruiting class with multiple highly touted receivers scheduled for officials visits this month. He also has secured commitments from Alex Jackson and Brett Bartolone. Another receiver, Dalen Jones, who committed to the former coaching staff, is scheduled to visit Fresno State this weekend. Depth is critical as five players caught at least 45 passes during Leach's final season in 2009 at Texas Tech. Another question among fans relates to the usage of the tight end, particularly after Andrei Lintz emerged as a capable receiver later in the season. Leach faced a similar scenario when he inherited Cole Roberts in 2000 at Texas Tech. Roberts caught 12 passes and also was used as a blocker that season. "It's crucial that we have good tight ends," Leach told the Avalanche-Journal newspaper in Lubboch, Texas, in March 2000. "If we don't, then we're going to be in trouble."

The improvement WSU displayed in the passing game during Wulff's final two seasons often came in spite of its offensive line. The Cougars allowed 91 sacks during the last two seasons. But WSU will return some experience at the position, including John Fullington, who has started at both guard and tackle the last two seasons. Others, such as tackle Dan Spitz and interior linemen Matt Goetz and Taylor Meighen, have starting experience and Wade Jacobson is expected to be granted an extra year of eligibility after playing less than 30 percent of the season. Injuries also pushed tackle Jake Rodgers into starting the final two games of the season as a freshman.

Depth is a concern. The Cougars also must adjust to a new system as Leach asks his linemen to use wider splits than others, something that has been highly successful for Leach. In 2007, the Red Raiders allowed just 18 sacks despite 763 pass attempts.

Keys to the season: Leach possesses two quarterbacks, Tuel and Halliday, who might have more potential than any of his signal-callers at Texas Tech. But neither stayed healthy last season and that will be critical to WSU reaching its first bowl since 2003 this fall as there is little experience behind them. That means an offensive line must adjust Leach's scheme and show substantial improvement in the process. Avoiding injuries on the offensive line will be significant as the graduations of B.J. Guerra, David Gonzales and Andrew Roxas -- and potentially Jacobson -- have left limited experience.

Wilson figures to become the Cougars' latest receiver to play in the NFL and Ratliff showed that he is capable, but WSU needs more playmakers to emerge at the position. Can Simone and Kristoff Williams avoid injuries and develop into the standouts some expected from them? Will Leach close out the recruiting class by securing talents, such as Kenny Lawler, Robert Lewis, Gabriel Marks and/or others to vie with other newcomers Bartolone, Dockery and Jackson for immediate playing time?

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