Cougars 2007: 4 questions and 20 predictions

PULLMAN -- Football coaches forever preach about the importance of focusing on one play at a time, one quarter at a time, one game at a time. Sports writers, of course, are not nearly as patient. Therefore, let's look at the 2007 Washington State Cougars with four key questions and 20 possible answers.

Who will be WSU's most valuable veterans?

1. Alex Brink: He's the quarterback, and a darn good one. 'Nuf said.

2. Greg Trent: The middle linebacker traditionally sets the tone for WSU's defense, and Trent is a snarling, nasty, hard-hitting Texan.

3. Brandon Gibson: As the saying goes, this is one receiver who catches everythin' that don't sting. The Cougars just hope his left knee stops stinging.

4. Husain Abdullah: The senior safety is surrounded by greener-than-grass newcomers in the secondary. Fortunately, Abdullah is smart, talented and one of the most respected players on the team.

5. Ropati Pitoitua: If he stays healthy -- and that's a big if, based on the previous three years -- the jumbo-sized defensive tackle and end should parlay his senior season into NFL megabucks.

Who will be WSU's most valuable newcomers?

1. Vaughn Lesuma: This enormous, 25-year-old left tackle protects Brink's blind side. Omni-demanding O-line coach George Yarno is already saying Lesuma -- whose entire football playing experience consists of two years of JC ball -- has the potential to be one of the all-time greats at WSU.

2. Chima Nwachukwu: Only an uncommonly mature, bright and talented 18-year-old could handle the inevitable ups and downs that come with starting at cornerback as a true freshman. Nwachukwu is all that and more.

3. Devin Giles: He didn't play a down in two years of junior college, and now he's starting at cornerback. Are WSU coaches that smart or that desperate?

4. Jeshua Anderson: The frosh receiver, who owns the national prep record in the 300 meter hurdles, is just too damn fast to waste on the bench. Put him on the field, point to the end zone, and have Brink heave it as far as he can.

5. Terry Mixon: No one could generate this much hype without being really, really good … we presume. Whether the former JC stud safety will ever be healthy enough to play remains to be seen.

Who will be WSU's most improved players?

1. Charles Dillon. The former JC football and basketball sensation is absolutely dripping with athleticism. He'll catch passes and return kicks much better than last year, and he's the rare wideout who actually likes to block.

2. Michael Bumpus. True, he's been a fine player ever since he broke into the starting lineup as a freshman. Bumpus has only caught four touchdown passes, however, and coaches now seem determined to get him the ball more often in spots on the field where he can paralyze would-be tacklers with his shake-and-bake moves. Bumpus also should benefit from the very real possibility that teammates might actually block for him on punt returns this year.

3. Jed Collins: The colorful tight end surprised plenty of folks with his improved play last season, but he's going to be even better as a senior.

4. Bobby Byrd: He's better suited for guard than tackle, and now he's back home.

5. Aaron Johnson: Now that his back problems seem to be, uh, behind him, the giant defensive tackle seems ready to step up big-time.

Which WSU coach will be the biggest difference-maker?

1. Bill Doba: Duh -- he's the head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

2. Timm Rosenbach: WSU's quarterbacks coach calls the offensive plays, and he can't wait to take advantage of the entire playbook with so many experienced players at key positions.

3. George Yarno: That playbook will be cut in half if Yarno's offensive linemen can't do the job in the trenches. The progress they've made in fall practice has been stunning.

4. Dave Walkosky: Not only does the new cornerbacks coach have two starters with zero college playing experience, but he's the main man in charge of special teams that were not at all special a year ago.

5. Mike Levenseller: The offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach oversees half the team. With so much inexperience on defense, it would appear the Cougars will have to score in bunches to have any shot at a winning season.

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