The Cougars play seven home games -- six in Pullman and one in Seattle -- and that fact alone is reason to be optimistic. Then when you add in a veteran offense, led by a fifth-year senior at QB, and a tough front seven on defense led by Darryl Monroe (pictured above), the forecast looks bright.
Breaking it down week-by-week, here's how I predict the Cougars' win-loss record will stack up when the regular season is done.
Week 1: vs. Rutgers @ CenturyLink Field
WSU 34, Scarlet Knights 20
The Scarlet Knights have been to eight bowls in the last nine years and, like the Cougs, they were 6-7 last season. But they played a mostly weak schedule and received spotty results from QB Gary Nova, who is back this year. The Knights are moving up to the Big Ten this year from the AAC (American Athletic Conference, formerly the Big East) and that's a whole different world. The Cougs will give them their first taste of what they can now expect to see on a weekly basis. Oddsmakers have made the Cougs a 10-point favorite. I think that is being conservative. Could a big WSU win save the annual “Seattle Game" from a possible demise given the ho-hum way Cougar fans view it?
Week 2: @ Nevada
WSU 28, Wolfpack 20
Nevada is not a team to be overlooked just because they come from a weaker conference. The Pack has a talented squad that many believe will win the Mountain West. But the Wolfpack defensive line will give up 30 or more pounds per man against the Cougar OL. That tells me that if the Cougs minimize unforced errors they'll leave Reno with a win.
Week 3: vs. Portland State
WSU 42, Vikings 13
Could this be Luke Falk’s college debut? The guess here is that he'll play all of the fourth quarter.
Week 4: vs. Oregon
Ducks 42, WSU 25
Presuming both teams come into it at 3-0, this game should have plenty of hype (and a GameDay debut?). The Cougs can hang with Oregon, but for how long? Playing in Pullman, especially with the added decibels created by the FOB, has to be worth one TD. That speed of the Ducks, however, is scary, and Marcus Mariota is a true star. The Cougs will play tough but as the game wears down, so will the WSU defense trying to slow down the Duck O.
Week 5: @ Utah
WSU 28, Utes 23
WSU and Utah play pretty competitive games when they meet, and this year won't be any different, especially if Utah can keep its QB healthy -- something that hasn't happened in the last two, 5-7 years. Dave Christensen is the new OC and that could be a boost as well. Their front seven on defense isn't formidable and that will spell the difference as the Cougs leave Salt Lake with a victory.
Week 6: vs. California
WSU 41, Bears 20
The Bears lost 10 straight last season and while they should be improved this year it will take more time for Sonny Dykes to turn things around. The offense airs it out like the Cougs and returns Jared Goff and a bunch of good receivers, but they they're not nearly good enough to offset the poor Bears defense.
Week 7: @ Stanford
Card 44, WSU 17
The Cougs have struggled mightily against Stanford, and the Card should once again be formidable. They're predicted by most to be a top 10-caliber team. Can the Cougar D keep up with Stanford's pound-it-out and then strike big offense? RB Tyler Gaffney is gone but QB Kevin Hogan is back for his third year as the starter. On defense, Trent Murphy and other standouts are gone but the pundits tend to see the Card D reloading, not rebuilding. The game is at Stanford, making it hard to envision a Cougar upset.
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: vs. Arizona
WSU 27, Wildcats 16
All-American RB Ka’Deem Carey is in the NFL and whomever comes out as the Cats' No. 1 QB will be inexperienced. The defense looks deeper but definitely not stout. Arizona cannot be taken lightly, but with the game in Pullman, this one is the Cougars' all the way.
Week 10: vs. USC
WSU 16, Trojans 14
Going out on a limb or simply thinking USC is overrated as always? This game is in Pullman and the crowd will be amped. The Cougs won in the Coliseum last season so there's no shred of intimidation because the other team is dressed in cardinal and gold. Daquawn Brown is the new Damante Horton and either Erik Powell or Quintin Breshears will be the new Andrew Furney. Cougs win as time expires!
Week 11: @ Oregon State
Beavers 23, WSU 14
WSU has struggled against the Beavs and the way Sean Mannion dissected the Cougar D last season was textbook. He's back, and the game is in Corvallis. Plus the Cougs may be primed for a letdown following the home win the week before against USC.
Week 12: Bye
Week 13: @ Arizona State
Devils 41, WSU 24
The Sun Devils are an interesting team. Their powerful offense returns almost everyone, but on defense nearly every starter from 2013 is gone. That makes this one tough to forecast. But based on recent history between the teams, the Devils' high-scoring offense, and the game being in Tempe, this is going in Sparky's column.
Week 14: Apple Cup in Pullman
WSU 35, UW 31
The Huskies will come into this game the same way they are coming into the season: overrated. Their record will have been built primarily on Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State, Cal, and Colorado. Martin Stadium will be rockin' and the moment Toni Pole steps on the field the ghost of Martin nightmares past will rattle the Dawgs. The UW defense won’t make it easy, but they also won't be able to stop Connor Halliday and his deep receiving corps.
WSU'S FINAL REGULAR-SEASON RECORD:
8-4 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-12.
All readers of Cougfan.com are invited to the annual Karlynn "Maw" Howard Memorial CF.C Tailgater before the Rutgers game on Thursday. The location has been changed from the original plan. It won't be in the north parking. Instead, it will be held at the northeast corner of the intersection of 4th Ave. S. and Royal Brougham. It's a lot between Pacific Office Automation and the Salvation Army, very close to the 4th Ave. off ramp from I-90. Royal Brougham is the east-west street that splits between Safeco and The Clink.
This year's event also will serve as an informal reunion of WSU's 1981 Holiday Bowl team, with Dr. Jeff Files, a starting corner on that squad, being the guest of honor. Jeff is battling ALS. He and his wife and kids -- all Cougs -- will be there. Matt Elisara, Jeff Keller, Jim Walden and many other notables from the 1981 team will be attending.
The first bratwurst will be served no later than 2:30 p.m. The Cougs and Rutgers kick off at 7 p.m.