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The Early Glimpse: Are we watching the greatest Cougar QB of all time in Luke Falk?

IT'S PROBABLY TOO early to discuss this, as Luke Falk probably has more than two years remaining in his Washington State football career. But what the heck, speculation is what we do. So here goes: in Falk, are we watching the greatest quarterback in Cougar history?

Cougar fans all have their favorite No. 1. There's the throwback, Jack Thompson, who aired it out during an era when football was decidedly ground-and-pound. Drew Bledsoe probably had the best arm of any WSU quarterback. Ryan Leaf led the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl in 68 years. Jason Gesser was at the helm for the bulk of the most successful era in WSU history.

There are others, like Mark Rypien and Alex Brink. Which leads to Falk. Even as a sophomore, it's clear he'll be on just about everyone's top 10 list when it comes to Cougar quarterbacks.

But best ever?

Statistically, it's not a fair fight. Providing Falk remains healthy, he'll own every significant WSU passing record. It's a by-product of playing in the Mike Leach system. It will take much more than fancy passing statistics to gauge Falk's worth among the best-of WSU quarterbacks.

The best measure, as is usually the case with quarterbacks, is wins. Thompson and Bledsoe had their moments. Leaf was spectacular for one season. Gesser was the triggerman on back-to-back 10-win seasons.

Falk has a chance to do all that, and more. Falk is 7-3 this season as a starter, and 8-5 for his career. Odds are Falk will add a ninth win to his resume Saturday when the Cougars play host to Colorado (7:45 p.m. Martin Stadium, ESPN2, WSU by 15). With Washington and a bowl game, this could be a 10-win season for Washington State and Falk.

As we recently wrote, as long as Falk stays healthy and the Cougars young talent continues to mature, it's not unreasonable to think WSU might on a path of several 10-win seasons. Falk could end his career with 30 wins, perhaps more. But there's more.

More in the way Falk is winning games. The guy is unflappable at the finish, the trademark of a great quarterback. Falk has already led the Cougars on last-minute drives to win at Rutgers, Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. I mean, who does that, on the road no less?

Great quarterbacks do.

The stats, the wins, the moxie. You might be watching the greatest quarterback in Washington State history in Luke Falk.

About Colorado:  At first glance, this appears to be on par to Oregon State in terms of a Washington State walkover. Colorado (4-7, 1-6; Buffaloes have 13 games, having played at Hawaii) only has one Pac-12 win, that over the beleaguered Beavers.

But Washington State had better be ready to strap it on and not let the Buffaloes think they're the Cougars' equal. Because this team has shown plenty of scrap this season. Three of Colorado's past four losses were by a touchdown or less, including last Friday's 27-24 defeat to USC. Just three weeks ago, Colorado took UCLA to the wire before losing 35-31 in Pasadena, if you're looking for a Cougar comparable.

Colorado appears to be a program on the rise that has yet to figure out how to win. The Buffaloes are also starting over at quarterback, as three-year starter Sefo Liufau suffered a Lisfranc injury against USC and is gone for the season. Replacing Liufau -- the nephew of Cougar great Jack Thompson -- is freshman Cade Aspay, who passed for 128 yards and two touchdowns against the Trojans, who sacked CU quarterbacks six times.

Colorado has lost six of its past seven games, the lone win a 17-13 decision at Oregon State. After WSU, the Buffaloes conclude their season at Utah.

As you would expect from a 4-7 squad, Colorado isn't much statistically. The Buffaloes offense is No. 58 nationally (411.7 yards per game), and No. 86 defensively (419.5 yards). Of the NCAA's 25 statistics it ranks nationally, the only one where Colorado is among the top 30 is first downs.

Colorado's top playmaker is Nelson Spruce, a senior receiver who is among the Pac-12's best. The 6-1 Spruce is within reach of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, as he has 74 catches for 822 yards in 2015. Spruce is the definition of a possession receiver, as he has caught at least five passes in every game this season, but has never cracked 100 yards.

Aspay makes his first career start Saturday. He has played in only three games, the bulk coming against USC. Aspay is 25 of 34 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and one pick this season.

Colorado's top running threat is sophomore Phillip Lindsay, who has 527 yards and six touchdowns this season. Lindsay has one 100-yard game, but of late, he's been silent, as his past three games have produced 24, 14 and 24 rushing yards.

Defensively, linebacker Rick Gamboa and safety Tedric Thompson lead the Buffs in tackles, while the most likely players to take aim at Falk in terms of sacks are defensive back Chidobe Awuzie and linebackers Derek McCartney and Jimmie Gilbert.

As for turnovers, Colorado is slightly better at taking it away than giving it up, as the Buffaloes have 18 takeaways and 15 turnovers.

The series: As was the case with UCLA last week, Washington State resumes its series against Colorado following a two-year hiatus. In 2012, the Buffaloes scored their lone win of the season over the Cougars, a 35-34 decision in Pullman. In terms of games, it's the thinnest series among Washington State's Pac-12 rivals, as this is the ninth game between CU-WSU. The Buffs lead 5-3.

Familiar faces: The lone Washingtonian on the roster is Liufau (Bellarmine Prep). None of Colorado's coach have WSU ties.

Notable notes

  • With a win over Colorado, the Cougars clinch a winning home record for 2015, the first-ever during the Mike Leach era. WSU is 3-2 at home this season.


  • Washington State leads the country in passing offense, averaging 414.4 yards per game. Not surprisingly, the Cougars are 127 out of 127 in rushing offense. WSU is also among the top 10 in red zone offense (eighth).


  • A few other national statistics of note: WSU is 11th in fewest penalty yards per game, and also 11th in fourth down conversions.


  • Among individuals, Falk is No. 1 in passing yards (406.7 per game) and Gabe Marks is fourth in receptions per game (8.1). Falk has three of the top six passing yardage games among FBS teams this season.


  • FYI: If there is anyway for college football poobahs to arrange a bowl game between Washington State and Cincinnati, we're all for it. What a shootout. The Bearcats own the top two single-game passing performances of the season, while Falk is 3-4-6.

Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

 

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