Cougar Football Notebook

MIKE LEACH HASN’T coached in the Big 12 since 2010, but his decade-long presence in the conference is still being felt today. KLBK-TV in Lubbock notes that with Bob Stoops’ hiring of Lincoln Riley yesterday as Oklahoma’s new offensive coordinator, the Big 12 now has five schools with a former Leach disciple dictating the offense and a sixth school that has been majorly influenced by one of them.

In addition to Riley at OU, there’s Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen, Baylor head coach Art Briles, and TCU co-offensive coordinator and QB coach Sonny Cumbie. The sixth school with Leach overtones on offense is Oklahoma State, where the offense is built around schemes Holgorsen brought there during his time as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator.

COUGAR FANS LOOKING TOWARD April’s NFL draft will have their eyes focused on receiver Vince Mayle, defensive tackle Xavier Cooper and quarterback Connor Halliday, but could there be a fourth Coug to watch out for when the names are called? While Mayle is widely believed to be a third-to- fourth-round pick, Cooper a third-to-seventh rounder, and Halliday, depending on his leg recovery, a seventh rounder or free agent, defensive lineman Toni Pole appears to be quietly sneaking into the conversation.

NFLdraftgeek.com rates Pole the 21st best DT prospect available and ESPN.com puts him at 25th. While neither spot would likely find him drafted, the fact they have him on the radar – unlike NFLdraftscout.com which slots him down at 51st -- suggests he’s getting more than passing attention. Moreover, Pole will have a chance to prove himself in front of NFL eyes this Saturday (1 pm, ESPN2) when he knocks heads in the NFL Players’ Association Collegiate Bowl at the StubHub Center in Dominguez Hills, Calif. He will be playing for the “American” team coached by Mike Holmgren. Two former Cougars -- Eastern Washington All-American OT Jake Rodgers and Idaho DT Quayshawne Buckley -- also will play in the game.

Cougar receiver Isiah Myers, who was just selected to play in the College Gridiron Showcase on Jan. 31, isn’t getting much love from draft forecasters. The only database that lists him is ESPN.com, which pegs him as the 89th best receiver available. In 2014 he caught 78 passes (third-most in WSU single-season history) for 972 yards and 12 touchdowns.

A PERUSAL OF THE COUGARS' FINAL STATS for the 2014 football season finds three very large red flags waving in the blowback of a 3-9 season. First is turnover margin. The Cougars were dead last in the Pac-12 with a minus-17. That represents a 12-point swing from 2013, when the Cougs were minus-5. That 2013 number was on the wrong side due to a whopping 35 turnovers by the offense. But in 2014, the Cougar O was way down on turnovers; the defense, meanwhile, generated only 8 takeaways, compared to the 30 they forced in 2013.

The two other categories that spelled doom for the 2014 Cougars were red-zone defense and red-zone offense. The Cougars ranked 10th in the conference in red-zone D, yielding points 86.8 percent of the time the opposing team advanced to the 20 or deeper. By comparison, consider that the league leaders (USC and UW) gave up points just 74.1 percent of the time. In red-zone offense, the Cougars were slightly improved in 2014 from 2013, but still woeful, placing ninth in the Pac-12 with an 80.3 percent conversion rate. The league leaders, Oregon and ASU, were at 94.1 and 90.6, respectively.

WSU'S ANNUAL "NIGHT WITH COUGAR FOOTBALL" events featuring Mike Leach, members of his staff, and a video breakdown of the Cougars' newest recruiting class, are locked in for 2015. The first gathering is the letter-of-intent signing day party in Spokane, Feb. 4, at Northern Quest Casino. That will be followed by dinner events in Pasco on Feb. 6, Beaverton on Feb. 8, and Seattle on Feb. 27. For more information, call the Cougar Athletic Fund at 877-IMACOUG or click to CougarAthleticFund.com.

THE PASSING OF FORMER WSU STANDOUT lineman and passionate Cougar booster Chris Dyko has hit hard in the Cougar Nation. But Cougs are turning that pain into a celebration of a guy who liked to celebrate. A pub crawl was held in Chris’ honor this past weekend and captured nicely in this KING5-TV story. In addition, a celebratory event for Chris will be held Jan. 25 in Seattle from 1-5 p.m. at Club Sur, and an endowment fund in his honor has been established within WSU athletics (head to CougarAthleticFund.com to donate). Memorial services will be held this Saturday, Jan. 17, at 2 p.m. at Redeemer Lutheran Church (3606 S. Schafer Rd.) in Spokane Valley. Chris, 48, was killed Dec. 28 while vacationing in the Florida Keys when he was struck on his bike by an SUV driven by an elderly man.

THE COUGARS WEREN'T IN Monday’s national championship game but there were still crimson connections on the field. Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, the younger brother of former WSU kicker Nico Grasu, played for the Ducks, as did linebacker Danny Mattingly, the younger brother of former Cougar linebacker Andy Mattingly. In addition, former WSU walk on receiver and one-time Cougar graduate assistant coach Tom Osborne is Oregon’s special teams/tight ends coach.

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