5 reasons why Cougs go bowling again in 2014

PULLMAN – The New Mexico Bowl was likely the first of many postseason trips for Washington State under Mike Leach. After watching all of spring ball I can tell you this: If the Cougs perform even remotely close to their potential, Washington State is preparing for their second straight bowl game come December. And here are five reasons why WSU will indeed earn a postseason berth this season.

1. Offense, offense, and more offense: At this point, the one part of the game WSU should have down to a science is lighting up the scoreboard. As long as the offensive line manages to keep Connor Halliday off of his backside, the commander of the Air Raid should easily connect with any of his multiple offensive weapons. Unlike the past two seasons, the Cougars have plenty of fire power coming out of the backfield – from my chair, balancing runs and passes will be critical to the offense having success. While other areas like special teams and the defensive secondary remain question marks, the offense should be consistently effective and look fairly similar to the way it did for 58 minutes in New Mexico. I won't be surprised in the slightest if the Cougars average close to 40 points per contest on their way to another postseason appearance.

2. Speed, and lots of it: There's no shortage of speed anywhere on the field. The increase in overall team quickness is notable at the skill positions, in the trenches and even on special teams units. In the receiving crops, River Cracraft and Vince Mayle looked like straight roadrunners during spring ball, separating from defenders with ease. At the same time the speed in the secondary looked to be up another level from last season. Coverage skills may be an issue at the start of the year, but the ability to recover after getting beat should make up for that on the back end at least some of the time. On offense, all of the running backs looked faster in the spring, most notably Theron West and Teondray Caldwell, who both have potential for explosive special teams. Instead of Caldwell being chased down from behind on a 99-yard kickoff return, expect he and guys like West to use their speed to give the Cougars an edge by ending the special teams touchdown drought. You heard me, the Cougs return a kickoff for six this season.

3. A poised, experienced Connor Halliday:
Plain and simple, the fate of the Cougars' season rests primarily on the right arm of Connor Halliday. When he's on point, typically the entire team is sharp. There's no better teacher than experience and last year Halliday received plenty of that, which appears to have raised his confidence and made him the leader the team needs. He's one of those guys who genuinely believes the Cougars will win every time they step on the field and play their game. So next season when the team is in need of a big road win at Stanford or a clutch throw on third down against Oregon, he won't be overcome or ambushed by the situation. It also helps that he will be throwing to a troth of familiar targets in an offense he is in complete control of every time he steps under center.

4. Favorable home schedule:
The six games in Pullman definitely increases the Cougars 2014 bowl chances. They were just 3-2 at home last season but with attraction of the new Football Operations Building and the student plaza, I believe this is year the home field advantage begins to have a substantial impact. Three of the six opponents are teams WSU defeated on the road last season (Arizona, USC and California). Now of course, no win is guaranteed and each season is its own entity but with this team, having confidence and knowing they've beaten those opponents before provides a boost for this group. It's plausible the Cougars win five games at home on their way to earning a bowl game bid. The fact they don't face a tough Pac-12 foe in the Seattle Game is a bonus as well, considering the last three seasons featured embarrassing blowouts on the west side of the state. And if it comes down to it, there's always the possibility of taking down the Huskies in the Apple Cup to clinch bowl eligibility.

5. No fear in these Cougs:
The games last year against USC and Auburn instilled a "we can compete with anyone" mentality in this group, with confident players like Darryl Monroe and Daquawn Brown leading the charge. Whether they are willing to admit it or not, having the confidence to march onto the field against juggernauts like Oregon and Stanford has been bit of a struggle for this team. While WSU was in a rebuilding mode those other programs were trying to win championships, so the thought of defeating teams like that was more farfetched than it is today. That's not to say they didn't believe they could win but it would've certainly been a monster upset whereas now it would be more about just doing what they are supposed to do. When teams like the Ducks come to Pullman now, it won't be perceived a David vs. Goliath scenario. Instead, the Cougar players will see it as two evenly-matched Pac-12 North opponents squaring off on a Saturday afternoon. Football is as much mental as it is physical, and that new mindset will produce results next season … and ultimately another bowl trip.

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