2014 COUGAR OUTLOOK: Offense

THE COUGARS open the 2014 season in 248 days, when the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers come to Seattle for an intersectional showdown at CenturyLink Field. There's a recruiting class to land before then, as well as spring practices and August camp to conduct, but right now the outlook for the Cougs on offense appears very bright in the coming year.

Notable losses:
C Elliott Bosch, OL John Fullington, OL Rico Forbes, OL Matt Goetz and RB/RS Leon Brooks.

Top returnees:
QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, RB Teondray Caldwell, RB Jeremiah Laufasa, WR Dom Williams, WR Gabe Marks, WR Rickey Galvin, WR Vince Mayle, WR River Cracraft, WR Kristoff Williams, WR Isiah Myers, WR Brett Bartolone, WR Bobby Ratliff, OL Joe Dahl, OL Gunnar Eklund.

Up-and-Comers:
QB Austin Apodaca, QB Tyler Bruggman, RB Gerard Wicks, RB Jamal Morrow, RB Theron West, WR Robert Lewis,OL Riley Sorenson, OL Eduardo Middleton, OL Jacob Seydel, OL Pierson Villarrubia, OL Carlos Freeman, OL Cody O'Connell, OL Cole Madison, OL Sam Flor.

Look for:
The Cougs will return every contributing wide receiver from 2013, including Gabe Marks (a team-leading 74 catches in 2013) and big Vince Mayle, who was granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA and began to turn it on in the second half of the season. With Connor Halliday back for his final season, the Air Raid should be operating at a fever pitch, provided the offensive line can back fill with the losses of three starting positions held in 2013 by Elliott Bosch, John Fullington and Matt Goetz/Rick Forbes. Halliday took plenty of heat this season for his 22 interceptions, but he also progressed nicely as the season wore on and finished with a record 4,597 aerial yards and 34 touchdowns, the latter number tying the single-season WSU mark by Ryan Leaf.

Halliday closed the season throwing 12 TD passes vs. three INTs, a rate of production that would suggest he has a strangle hold on the starting job for 2014. If he falters in the early going, though, two intriguing options are waiting in the wings in Austin Apodaca and Tyler Bruggman.

At running back, the Cougs will return Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason. In terms of touches and all-purpose yards, they were workhorses for the Cougars this season. And while the pair combined for just 700 rushing yards in the Cougs' pass-happy offense, they each had per-carry averages of 5.4 and 4.9, respectively. Look for promising redshirts Jamal Morrow (5-8, 190) and Gerard Wicks (5-11, 202) to push for playing time.

The offensive line showed tremendous improvement in 2013, slashing sacks allowed and giving Halliday time to throw. Three-fifths of that starting unit is leaving, however. LT Gunnar Eklund and LG Joe Dahl are the lone returning starters. With three spots on the line to fill, some big bodies are undoubtedly going to have to step up. One guy to watch for is sophomore-to-be Riley Sorensen, who had his redshirt burned this season. Coaches are very high on the 6-4, 300-pounder out Santa Margarita. Other talented young hosses to watch out for include Cody O'Connell, Eduardo Middleton, Cole Madison, Carlos Freeman and two former JC transfers, Jacob Seydel and Devonte McClain.

Keys to the season:
The skill positions are deep and experienced so the focus will be on the offensive line's development. The progress up front will of course be key to the passing game, but also the telltale sign of whether the Cougars can mount a more credible ground attack and more importantly, if the Cougar running backs will reach the all-purpose yardage levels Leach wants to see. A secondary key will be the play of Halliday and whether he can unequivocally put the decision-making that led to his 22 interceptions this season behind him.

COMING UP NEXT: The Cougars' 2014 outlook on defense and special teams.


RETURNING O-LINE STARTER JOE DAHL


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