Editor’s note: This is the latest in a six-week series where we will take an early look at each of Arizona’s 12 opponents this season. Today, we look at Washington State. Up next: UCLA on Friday.
A winning season was all but guaranteed.
Leading Colorado State by 15 points with less than three minutes to play last December in the New Mexico Bowl, it sure looked like Washington State was headed to its first winning season since 2003.
The Cougars led 45-30 and had been up the entire way in a convincing effort. But as Arizona fans know very well, the New Mexico Bowl often features dramatic endings.
So Colorado State scored 18 points over the final 2:52 and stunned Washington State 48-45 on a last-second field goal.
The Cougars headed back to Pullman owners of a 6-7 record and still searching for that elusive winning campaign.
Their hope is they don’t have to wait another 10 years.
Washington State should be a tad more talented and a lot more experienced this season as they try to end the streak.
Here’s a closer look at Washington State:
Matchup vs. Arizona: Saturday, Oct. 25
Where: Martin Stadium
Last year’s record: 6-7
Projections: After a three-win jump from coach Mike Leach’s first year to his second, most analysts believe the Cougars will take another step this season — just not as big of one as last year. Phil Steele and Lindy’s both have Washington State finishing fifth in the Pac-12 North behind Oregon, Stanford, Washington and Oregon State. The Sporting News put the Cougars ahead of Oregon State and have Leach’s team slated for the Las Vegas Bowl. The Sporting News wrote: “A relatively soft early schedule coupled with missing UCLA in conference play suggests Washington State can get bowl-eligible again.” And Steele acknowledged that he may have put the Cougars too low in the conference: “This is dangerous putting the Cougars down here as Mike Leach has been a head coach for 12 years and 11 times has been bowl eligible, including last year.”
Three names to know
Quarterback Connor Halliday: Halliday has morphed into a prototypical Leach signal-caller and can make all the throws his coach needs him to. The senior threw for 4,597 yards last season with 34 touchdowns. He set school and Pac-12 records in completions (449), attempts (714) and yards. He has some of his favorite targets back at receiver and should be a nightmare for opposing defensive backfields this season.
Wide receiver Gabe Marks: Marks was Washington State’s leading receiver last season, grabbing 74 catches for 807 yards and seven touchdowns. His receptions were the second most in Washington State single-season history. His biggest game last season came against Oregon when he had 13 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Linebacker Darryl Monroe: Monroe was third on the team last year with 94 tackles, with six going for a loss. He started all 13 games as a sophomore and was voted team captain for 10 games. One of his strongest performances last season came against Arizona when he totaled 11 tackles, including eight solos. The middle linebacker will be the clear leader of a defense.
Three numbers to know
102: The Cougars offense put up plenty of points last season, and needed to with their defense ranking 102nd in the country in total defense, allowing 458 yards per game.
89: Halliday attempted a remarkable 89 passes in a 62-38 loss to Oregon last season. He completed 58 for 557 yards and four touchdowns.
93: Leach, with 93 career victories, has a shot to reach 100 this season if the Cougars can post a winning season.
How they’re different than last time
They won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year. Last year, the Cougars came into Arizona Stadium as 11-point underdogs and left with a 24-17 win. The Wildcats weren’t ready for an early-morning battle and the Cougars outlasted them with some strong plays late. Rich Rodriguez and the UA will head to Pullman this season with a lot more respect for Leach’s team and won’t be surprised by anything. In fact, expect one of Arizona’s best games this season against Washington State. The UA has been thinking about a rematch since the disappointing home loss.