Forecasting WSU’s season week by week

YOU’D THINK I’d have learned my lesson. Like a clueless homer, my 2014 forecast for the Cougar football season was about as misguided as that 19-yard “gimme” to beat Cal. Since the embarrassing blunder the Cougs let loose a year ago in Century Link against Rutgers, I vowed to attack my 2015 crimson forecast with nothing but skepticism.

But no matter how hard I try, I can’t limit the 2015 Cougars to the standard three wins I’ve grown accustomed to since my fandom began in 2004 at the dawn of the lost decade. Even a 5-7 record seems to be selling the ’15 Cougs short.

The early schedule is great and the northern division isn’t especially imposing. The special teams couldn’t possibly be as horrific this year as last and Alex Grinch appears to be getting after it on defense. I also think Luke Falk is going to be a better leader and decision maker than Connor Halliday and that will translate to more points.

Here’s how I see the season unfolding, week by week:

Week 1: Sept. 5 vs. PORTLAND STATE: 55-17 win
The 2015 Cougs will come out with bad intentions, eager to notch a lopsided win against a struggling FCS program. WSU needs to put the stench of its last Martin Stadium appearance (the Apple Cup) way behind, so I expect Leach to leave in the big guns well into the fourth quarter. He’ll want to build confidence coming off that disappointing 2014 campaign and what better way to do it than getting Falk off to gaudy statistical start.

Week 2: Sept. 12 at Rutgers: 35-27 loss
This is a hard one to gauge because the Cougars historically play poorly when they cross the Rockies, but Rutgers lost a ton of starters and there’s off-field chaos with the head coach. Will the Cougs disappoint in Piscataway or avenge last year's 41-38 loss to the Scarlet Knights in Seattle? Gary Nova isn’t around to torch the left corner on the first play, but WR Leonte Carroo, DT Darius Hamilton, and LB Steve Longa are playmakers. I’m going to have to go with Rutgers as the Cougs will have to travel cross country to play in a fairly hostile environment.

Week 3: Sept. 19 vs. Wyoming: 42-21 win
While it looks like an easy victory on its face, Wyoming is the type of team the Cougs like to play down to and the Cowboys’ second-year coach, Craig Bohl, has an impressive track record. A few untimely turnovers and/or a bit of poor clock management — familiar faces in Cougar Country in recent years— might keep it interesting. However, with Wyoming’s inexperience at QB, the greater size and athleticism of a Pac-12 program will be too much for this building but struggling Mountain West team.

Week 4: bye

Week 5: Oct. 3 at CAL: 45-42 win
This 119-point matchup was arguably the most exciting of any in college football last year. The missed 19-yard FG try to win will no doubt burn in the crimson craw for years. While Cal seems to be the stylish pick of national pundits to break out this season, I believe that is pure nonsense. The only team they beat last season with a winning record was Sacramento State and the defense remains suspect. QB Jared Goff is outstanding and will no doubt test the Cougars’ young secondary, but this year WSU will not surrender two TDs on kickoffs. The Cougs will expose Cal as overhyped frauds and dispatch them in another high-scoring battle.

Week 6: Oct. 10 at Oregon: 57-35 loss
A 3-1 start will have Cougar fans excited, and the idea of knocking off the Ducks will have everyone talking. Although Wazzu had the Ducks on the ropes in Pullman in 2014, it’s hard to imagine either the Air Raid or the Cougar D escaping Autzen Stadium. The Cougs should keep it interesting for a half or more, but as the game progresses, the speed and depth will wear them down on both sides of the ball.

Week 7: Oct. 17 vs. Oregon State: 38-24 win
The general consensus is that the Beavers are going to be a bottom feeder this year, as they transition to a new coach, Gary Andersen, for the first time since 2003. OSU returns offensive standouts Storm Woods and Victor Bolden, but with no Sean Mannion under center the Beavs will find it hard to keep up in front of a loud and proud Martin Stadium crowd. Luke Falk picked apart the Beavs last season in Corvallis in his first start. This time, he’ll have half a season under his belt and the home-field advantage. Cougs roll.

Week 8: Oct. 24 at Arizona: 45-28 loss
Coming into Tucson at 4-2 against a Rich Rodriguez team that us expected to finish in the top 25 keeps the crimson buzz humming. The Wildcats have had the Cougs’ number for over a decade, and with QB Anu Solomon and WR Cayleb Jones leading the offense, and Scooby Wright III spearheading the defense, it will be tough for WSU to hang in for four full quarters.

Week 9: Oct. 31 vs. Stanford: 34-17 loss
The distance WSU still has to go to contend with the top teams in the north is reinforced on Halloween by the ball controlling, trench dominating Cardinal. The Card defense must replace nine starters, but with a stout O-line and veteran QB in Kevin Hogan they will cruise.

Week 10: Nov. 7 vs. Arizona State: 31-30 win
This is the game that I struggled with the most. The Cougs will be searching for the win they’re not supposed to get and this is in Pullman. It’s hard to get by the Devils’ recent dominance of the Cougs and, unlike last year, ASU’s defense returns many starters. I’m going with the Cougs, however. The Devils no longer have TFL kings Marcus Hardison or Demarious Randall, while the Cougs’ O-line returns intact. Luke Falk will have time to throw and that spells upset.

Week 11: Nov. 14 at UCLA: 49-34 loss
The Cougs will keep things interesting but the Bruins return most of their starters from a 10-3 squad and while Jim Mora will be replacing QB Brett Hundley with true freshman Josh Rosen, UCLA has a stud running back in Paul Perkins who figures to eventually wear the Cougar D down in the second half. The Bruins underachieved on defense last year and they have a new defensive coordinator in ’15 -- but by mid-November, one of the better d-lines in terms of talent should be lessening the time Luke Falk will have in the pocket. UCLA is back on the WSU schedule for the first time since 2012, but this one goes in the loss column.

Week 12: Nov. 21 vs. Colorado: 52-34 win
Star wideout Nelson Spruce will get his yards against the Cougs but the crimson stop corps will limit the Buffs in most other areas. The Pirate shocks the college football world by employing an early run-heavy game plan against the worst Pac-12 run defense of a year ago and then finishes them off through the air. Washington State will post a lot of big gainers in this one and Colorado won’t sneak up on the Cougs – everyone in Pullman knows the Buffs lost two Pac-12 double-overtime games (Cal, UCLA) last year.

Week 13: Nov. 27 at Washington: Win 38-30
Barring a spate of injuries, it’s hard to envision anything but a Cougar win here, even though Ws come grudgingly in Seattle. The Dawgs are weak at quarterback and in the offensive line and their defense lost four players who were among the first 44 drafted last spring. Destiny Vaeao, Darryl Paulo and the gang are going to shine in this one and, in the process, guarantee WSU its first winning season since 2003.

FINAL REGULAR-SEASON RECORD: 7 wins, 5 losses

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ryan Witter is a top-notch student and two-sport athlete entering his junior year of high school in Seattle. He is a lifelong Cougar fan whose dad co-founded CF.C two months after he was born.


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