3. Connor Halliday
Halliday in the Air Raid has the freedom to audible to any play based on what the defense is showing him at the line of scrimmage. Any play, anytime. But as Mike Leach says, if you change it, you'd better be right.
Halliday has been right more often than not. And when he's on, he's as good as anyone.
Halliday burst onto the Pac-12 stage against ASU in November of 2010. He shredded the highly favored Sun Devils in that game, to the tune of 494 yards, 4 TDs and no interceptions. It was the most yards that anyone in the Pac-12 had thrown for that season.
But early career success at quarterback can be both a curse and a blessing, and it was for halliday. The latter because it showed what Halliday was capable of, the former because everyone began to expect it every time out from the redshirt freshman.
In retrospect, the Pac-12 learning curve had just begun for the Cougar QB. The key issue so far over Halliday's WSU career, headed into his junior season, is that when he makes mistakes they tend to be big ones. And they haven't had much to do with audibles.
THERE WERE TOO many drives last season with Halliday at the helm that started out well but ended with no points -- or a momentum-changing pick.
He appeared in nine games with five starts in 2012 -- and he moved the ball well. He had four 300-yard passing games, with 1,874 hashes on 151-290 passing. But his TD-INT ratio was 15-to-13. And that's not only too few TDs for that many yards, it's way too many picks.
To be fair, the leaky offensive line had a whole lot to do with WSU's struggles to finish off drives and put points on the board. If Halliday can get decent protection this season, those bad decisions, the ones that seemed to pop up after a lot of good had preceded them, might be fewer and farther between in 2013.
But it must also be said that in the 2013 spring game, Halliday threw a pair of breathtaking interceptions where pressure wasn't the problem. Even if the receiver didn't run the correct route or if Halliday and his target weren't on the same page, both passes had far too many defenders in the area and should never have been thrown. That cannot happen this season, not for a redshirt junior QB in the Pac-12.
Still, there's a large segment of fans who think the Spokane native is about to turn the proverbial corner, where he goes from ‘good but inconsistent' to one of the better, more productive quarterbacks in the conference. He certainly has all the tools.
Others aren't as optimistic and think improvement will be only incremental, saying this is what you get with a risk-reward type of quarterback like Halliday – you just have to be more accepting of the good with the bad.
LEACH LIKES TOUGH players and that's never been in question with Halliday. Not many players would play on with a lacerated liver, as Halliday did against Utah his freshman campaign.
He's also, at times, feisty as hell. That's another trait Leach likes.
If a receiver or o-lineman messes up, Halliday more often than not will let them know about it, in both colorful and direct terms. He probably needs to better locate the sweet spot in that area, but you'd rather have your QB err on the emotive side than on the melba toast side of things.
However, the Washington State QB competition remains open headed into fall camp, says Leach, and a starter -- Halliday or Austin Apodaca -- isn't expected to be named until days before the opener... just like last year with Tuel and Halliday.
The two Cougar quarterbacks this spring each did good things and the gulf between them isn't large – just like last fall camp.
But from this chair, our take is something would have to drastically change between now and then for Halliday not to be under center on Aug. 31 at Auburn. And Apodaca having yet to take his first college snap in a game has a lot to do with that.
That doesn't mean Halliday, if he is named the starter sometime in August, won't have to keep winning the job on Saturdays in the fall.
Leach has shown, as in last year switching up early and often between Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, that he won't hesitate in going to his No. 2 quarterback if his starter is struggling -- or even if he simply isn't playing up to the high level Leach demands of his signal callers.
Halliday, as a fourth-year junior at WSU, needs to make his struggles more a thing of the past in 2013. And he'll have a wealth of talent to throw to this season in order to accomplish that. It's simply time to stop talking about potential and realize it.
Chances are, there's no opportunity Halliday relishes more.
The 10 best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 4
The 10 best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 5
The 10 best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 6
The 10 best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 7
The 10 best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 8
The 10 best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 9
The 10 best players on 2013 Cougars: No. 10