Why do preseason magazines have WSU finishing fourth in the Pac-12 North?

SEVERAL PRESEASON MAGAZINES -- Athlon, McIllece Sports, Sporting News, Lindy’s, ESPN, Phil Steele – they’re all in agreement. They all project Washington State to finish in fourth place in the Pac-12 North, and they do not rank the Cougs in their preseason top 25. The question is why?

Reasons to slot WSU in the preseason top 25, and to pick WSU higher than fourth in the Pac-12 North behind Oregon, Stanford and Washington, are plentiful. 

WSU has the second-most experienced team in the Pac-12 and 23rd in the FBS, according to Phil Steele. Stanford and Oregon both have to replace their QB and the jobs remain wide open heading into fall camp. Washington had to win its final three games just to finish with a winning record, still finished with a losing conference mark and has questions on the o-line despite four returning starters. The list goes on.

So why is everyone picking WSU fourth?  There appear to be two main factors in play.

WSU last year posted its first season of 9 or more wins since 2003.  WSU also has the worst conference record in the Pac-10/12 over the past 10 years at 24-66 (Colorado is excluded having joined the conference in 2011).  Prognosticators are wary of whether WSU is ready to challenge for the crown after its first winning season in more than a decade.  

The second part is that the preseason magazines seem to be viewing WSU’s ability to win in the clutch as a negative. Those close wins last year? That means the Cougs were “lucky” and they won’t be as lucky this year. Phil Steele writes in his magazine a team fortunate enough to win a lot of close games probably won’t be as fortunate next year, citing historical records.

Two points: If we're going to assign future stock to close wins, then let’s not forget about the close losses to Stanford and Cal last season. Also, with a lot of starters and experience back, those close triumphs could also be looked at as a team learning to win, and a team that will close out teams earlier in games the following season.

And if not, which would you rather have: a team brimming with confidence to go out and earn the win in the final moments, or a team that falters in the clutch?

The Pac-12 North does look likely to beat itself up this season.  It’s hard to see any of the four North teams mentioned above getting through the other three unscathed. “On any given Saturday …” figures to be mentioned a lot this season when it comes to the Pac-12 North.

The safe move for the preseason magazines – that’s to pick WSU to finish fourth in the North.  But the safe pick often isn't the right one.

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