Analyzing WSU’s football schedule, Part II: Murderers' Row

COUGAR FANS won’t have to wait too long for the murderers' row part of the football schedule in 2016. It begins immediately after the non-conference slate, with Washington State’s first Pac-12 game.

Week 4: Oregon
Returning starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)
Oregon's offense under new coordinator Matt Lubick carries with it a lot of unknowns, except for at running back. UO under new QBs coach Dave Yost ended spring without settling on a starting QB, with FCS transfer Dakota Prukop a slight leader over second-year freshman Travis Jonsen. Both can run, but neither knocked the socks off the coaches throwing the ball on a consistent basis, according to reports. Oregon has one of the best running backs in the nation in Royce Freeman, and the Ducks have plenty of talent behind him as well. Oregon is replacing two receivers and three offensive linemen but keep an eye on tight end Pharaoh Brown, who missed last year. Defense is a whole new ballgame under new coordinator Brady Hoke, who is installing a 4-3 over the 3-4 Oregon has played since 2009. The secondary, much criticized in 2015, returns mostly intact. The Ducks in 2016 want to attack on D, with one-gap responsibilities rather than two-gap and to wear teams down on offense with a stout running back rotation featuring Freeman. Whether they can do so consistently over four quarters is the question.

Week 5: at Stanford
Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Whether it's Keller Chryst or Ryan Burns at quarterback, the Cardinal can be effective if the QB can simply manage the offense because Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey is the bell cow. Washington State held McCaffrey to fewer rushing and receiving yards than anyone in the Pac-12 last year (133 hashes) and may need a similar effort to knock off the Cardinal on the road in '16. The biggest question on offense is the o-line, where Stanford is replacing three starters. David Shaw offered rave reviews about the o-line and its new faces this spring. Whether that's coachspeak or prophetic figures to determine if Stanford can defend its Pac-12 crown. (It's worth noting ahead of the 2014 season Shaw offered similar praise when Stanford was replacing  four starters and the Cardinal finished 8-5 and 5-4 in thePac-12).  Up front defensively, Stanford is in a similar position to last year headed into the season - it doesn't have a lot of proven depth. Defensive end might hold the most question marks, while Stanford also has to replace its top linebacker (Blake Martinez). In the secondary, Stanford has to replace two standout starters but the Cardinal's strength might still be found here. Last season, the Cardinal ranked 110th nationally with 14 takeaways but still got it done enough on defense.

Week 6: UCLA
Returning starters: 13 (4 offense,9 defense)
No quarterback controversy here, some in the media have tabbed Josh Rosen as the Pac-12's best QB. UCLA has made some changes on offense -- they'll be running a more traditional offense with a fullback, tight end and Rosen under center more, under new o-coordinator Kennedy Polamalu. That's probably in part because only one Bruin wideout with more than 11 receptions returns in 2016.  But still count on Rosen throwing the ball a lot, via play action. UCLA looks set at o-tackle up front but they'll need to have their interior o-linemen step up.  On defense, the Bruins figure to swim or sink based on how the defensive line performs. The Bruins will run more 4-3 this season in an effort to improve its run defense (97th in 2015). The secondary could be one of the better units in the Pac-12. That said, the front seven holds a fair number of question marks headed into fall camp which in turn figure to impact the defensive backfield. The Bruin d-line's star player, Eddie Vanderdoes, missed last season after tearing his ACL in Week One.

Analyzing WSU’s football schedule, Part I 

WSU football schedule:

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