THE OPENING KICKOFF of the Mike Leach Era at Washington State is so close you can almost see the pirate flag waving now. After nearly a decade of woe, optimism on the Palouse is at a high not seen since Jason Gesser left. And indeed, there are many reasons to smile on the eve of the 2012 Cougar season. Alas, there are also a few reasons to frown. Here's a sampling from both sides of the equation.


1. USC is not on the schedule.
The Trojans look to run roughshod over most of the Pac-12 and their absence from the Cougars' itinerary is exactly the type of break a program needs as it looks to make the final turn back to respectability.

2. Mike Leach is the head coach.
Sure, his offense figures to light up the scoreboard, but his personality lights up the room. If you missed his performance at Pac-12 Media Day, take a look at the replay and you'll know why he's so darn compelling. His weekly teleconferences for reporters will be second only to Lane Kiffin's in popularity this season.

3. Mike Bowlin is kicking off.
The word touchback started falling out of the Cougar vocabulary sometime after the Adam Holiday and Graham Siderius eras and it damn near became extinct in recent years. Bowlin's big leg has the potential to gain more ground than John Deere at harvest time.

4. Andrei Lintz's Impending Nickname.
The breakout trajectory he's on is going to demand that fans give the tight end-turned-slot receiver a pithy handle. Why? Because he's big, and all big guys deserve a nickname when they start catching passes in bunches. The fact he's a Russian immigrant will make it all the more fun. The Red Menace, Drago, Komrade, The Baltic Bone-Crusher ... Oh, the possibilities.

5. The New Martin Stadium.
Even if you're not one of the fans smart enough to have booked a premium seat in the new structure atop the south side, it's size and style is going to be something to behold for everyone walking in the stadium. And better yet, the noise dynamics of Martin figure to be enhanced in a notable way.


1. The Cougar Defense.
Make no mistake, they'll be attacking and forcing turnovers like we haven't seen in a long time. But facts are facts: The D is young and light on depth, and that means the attacking style is going to result in many long scoring plays for the opposition.

2. Fence-Sitting Cougar Fans.
More than 1,000 seats are still available for the home opener on Sept. 8, and around 20,000 remain for the Sept. 29 game in Seattle. What the heck are you waiting for? The time is now!

3. No Jim Walden in the Booth.
The ol' ball coach had his detractors, for sure, but he was entertaining and insightful and a true Coug whose voice was welcoming and energetic. A new crew of three in the booth and one on the sidelines has "train-wreck potential" written all over it -- at least in the first two or three weeks.

4. No Alex Hoffman-Ellis at Linebacker.
Missed by a year. He's now with the St. Louis Rams, but his high energy on the field and quirky ways off it were tailor-made for a Mike Leach team. Moreover, the kiddie corps the Cougs have at linebacker this season could use his experience and leadership.

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