Forecasting the 2006 Cougs -- Part II

THE COUGAR FOOTBALL season kicks off in three weeks, but we're looking for answers now. As such, in the search for the best forecasting available, Cougfan.com is twisting the arms of people whose opinions we respect and asking them to predict the Cougars' 2006 future. In the second of two installments, here's what we're hearing ...

RYAN LEAF
All-American Cougar quarterback, 1997
Five-year NFL veteran
Now: Assistant Coach, West Texas A&M

"The first thing that stands out to me is the schedule. The Cougs open at Auburn and then play a good Baylor team two weeks later. Those are two tough tests. In a way, it's similar to 1997 when we opened against UCLA and USC after coming off a season with a lot of close losses. As we proved in '97, when we won the Pac-10 title despite being pick to finish 7th, pre-season polls mean nothing. I believe Washington State has a good shot at a bowl game this year. They've got to step up and play hard, but they definitely can do it. Plus, Coach Doba, who is one of my favorite people in the whole world, is a great motivator. At quarterback, I think Alex (Brink) has done a great job. And even though the Huskies are down, he's beat them back-to-back, which every Cougar should appreciate. Now it's time for him to really excel -- I don't see how he won't. I know some fans got on him last year, but that's just a fact of life -- unless the quarterback is overwhelmingly dominating, everybody always loves the backup better. This will be Alex's year to shine."

COLLIN HENDERSON
Cougar receiver (and flea flicker quarterback), 1999-2002
Now: Coordinator of WSU's Gray W Varsity Club

"Word around campus is that this summer was the best pre-season conditioning program the Cougs have ever had. Virtually the entire team stayed on campus to lift weights, condition, and practice together preparing for the 2006 season. I'm excited to see these dividends pay off. WSU football started this tradition after my freshman year in 2000 and this year's seniors have done an excellent job providing leadership throughout the summer months.

"Speaking of leadership, the art of providing guidance, inspiration, and direction is at the heart of any successful organization, business, family, and sports team. What separates the Cougs this year from the last two seasons is the quality of leadership from our players. Bill Doba and his staff can only do so much. The team and the players have to take ownership and put it upon themselves to make plays and create a culture of winning in a style all their own. The power of influence is much greater when its "peer to peer" instead of "coach to player." I felt that in 2004 and 2005 no one really stepped up and accepted a peer leadership role. This year is much different. Alex Brink has emerged as an obvious leader, but the guy who I think has shown exceptional poise, character, and direction for the 2006 Cougs is senior defensive end MKristo Bruce. I am anxious to see Alex, Mkristo, and the rest of the seniors take charge of this team and get us back to our winning ways - especially late in games when it comes down to making a clutch play. I support our coaching staff and players 100 percent and can't wait to cheer them on. Let's go beat Auburn!"

MILFORD HODGE
Cougar defensive tackle, 1980-84
NFL mainstay, 1985-91
Now: Coordinator of WSU's minority student athlete mentoring program

"These kids have worked hard over the summer in the classroom, in the weight room and on the field -- the quarterbacks, the linemen, everyone. I know they'll be better than they were a year ago. They were young last year and learned from the ups and downs. Now they know what they have to do. At the skill positions, even without Jerome Harrison, I think they'll be better. DeMaundray Woolridge is bigger and stronger than he was last year. He doesn't have to be Jerome Harrison for the Cougars to succeed – he just has to be himself. I think Alex Brink is going to be ready and come out firing, both athletically and as a leader. Defensively, I'm really looking forward to seeing what the interior line can do with a healthy Ropati Pitoitua in the mix. As a whole, this team is very balanced. I see real good things happening this year."

MEL MELIN
Cougar quarterback, 1959-61
No. 2 in nation in passing and total offense, 1960

B.C. Lions quarterback, 1962-65

"The key to the season is how the defense plays. You win with defense. Most good teams have very strong defenses that can take the ball away. When you're on your heels you don't win many games. The Cougars have a tough schedule, but some solid people to build around on defense. If they can develop some guys in the secondary – and in college ball, you can see big jumps in improvement from one year to the next – that will help everybody else. On offense I'm anxious to see how Alex Brink does. He's the key. I expect him to be stronger and more mature. I was disappointed with the offense last season because they scored so quickly in the first half of games and then couldn't sustain any drives to eat up the clock up in second half. Jason Hill should be super if the line gives Brink protection and the running game is productive. Auburn is a tough test right off the bat – the Cougs will have a good indication after that one on how they're progressing. It's better to start with somebody like that then a softer team you know you're going to beat. It'll be an interesting test. Bill Doba is a super guy and I'm impressed with the rest of the coaching staff. I think they'll lead the Cougs to a bowl invitation when all is said and done."

TOM POUNDS
Founder, Ol' Crimson (ESPN GameDay flag) Booster Club
WSU class of 1981

"I think the offense will be able to put up just as many points (33.5 per game) as last year, if not more, despite Jerome Harrison being gone. I doubt DeMaundray Woolridge will gain 1,900 yards, but he and the other backs are capable of enough run production to give the Cougs a balanced offense. The offensive line should be solid – I'm very eager to see Andy Roof in action. The defense looks improved -- all of Mkristo Bruce's diaries for Cougfan.com this summer got me excited about the D. I hope Ropati Pitoitua can stay healthy and have the kind of big year he's capable of – maybe not a Rien Long type of breakout, but a big, big year. Last season we won four games and lost another four by four points or less. With a year of maturity, I see a lot of those close games turning our way this season."

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT ...

Forecasting the Cougars – Part I

Cougfan Top Stories