USATodaySports/Ramirez

If Cougs need any extra motivation, ESPN provides it with this article

DOES WASHINGTON STATE need bulletin board material ahead of the 2017 football season? If so, this ESPN article should suffice nicely.

The ESPN article (pay) says not only is Washington State not a legitimate college playoff contender, its not a legit sleeper pick either. That's not overly surprising. WSU likely would have needed to finish in the top 15 in the polls last year with a good amount of returnees to create real buzz in the national media. But the article's reasoning is striking.  Here's a partial synopsis:

- Recruiting? WSU is among the worst in the Pac-12 the last five years, writes K.C. Joyner.
- Luke Falk? Not a big edge in the Pac-12, not as good as the QBs at USC and UW -- and Joyner also says an argument can be made Falk doesn't measure up to other Pac-12 QBs.
- Wideouts? WSU has to rebuild its vertical passing game due to three graduation losses.
- Bottom line? ESPN's FPI gives WSU only a 4 percent chance of winning the Pac-12, too low to be considered a legit CFP sleeper.

Where to start?

The article's recruiting argument has of course a fatal flaw. It assumes ESPN's recruiting rankings made on Signing Day are unimpeachable. The evidence on the scoreboard the last two years says the exact opposite: Washington State is tied with USC for most Pac-12 wins over the past two seasons. Coaching and development are key, yes, but 13 Pac-12 wins in two seasons proves beyond doubt you're doing some great work on the recruiting trail.

The argument for saying Falk isn't as good as Sam Darnold or Jake Browning, and that Falk might not be as good as some other Pac-12 QBs, is apparently based entirely on ESPN's QB rating.  The problem is that no one has ever come up with a QB rankings formula above reproach. In ESPN's metric for the 2016 season, it rated Arizona QB Brandon Dawkins as the No. 11 passer in the country and Falk No. 35.  Your honor, the prosecution rests.

WSU does need to replace Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, no doubt about it. But the ESPN article says it's not just those two, but John Thompson as well, saying the trio combined for "a ton" of the Cougs' vertical passing output. Given that Cracraft and Thompson were slot receivers, and Thompson's contribution was minimal, it's a head-scratching argument. The article doesn't mention rising WRs Isaiah Johnson-Mack, Dezmon Patmon or Easop Winston, all of whom are coming off solid springs.

There are other arguments made in the piece, some valid, some suspect, but let's skip to the bottom line.  ESPN's FPI gives WSU just a 4 percent chance of winning the Pac-12.

The FPI has had a lot of misses (as have all projections).  Before the 2016 season, the FPI gave Washington State just a 2.5 percent chance of winning the conference and after starting out 1-2, the FPI predicted WSU would notch only four more wins.  While Wazzu didn't wind up winning the Pac-12, it did win seven straight conference games and headed into the regular season finale as one of only two teams in the North who could win it

To read the full ESPN article (pay)  click here

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