Washington State Preview 2016: Can Mike Leach actually win something important?
– 2016 Washington State Preview
– 2016 Washington State Preview: 10 Players To Know
After four seasons, Mike Leach has turned the corner on the Palouse. But can he keep Wazzu thriving now that the team has emerged into a Pac-12 threat?
The Cougars were unexpectedly dangerous in 2015, winning as many as nine games for the first time since 2003. And the team didn’t just load up on softies, shocking Oregon, Arizona and UCLA … away from home. The key for Leach and his kids is to keep building upon last year to ensure that staying power displaces any notion of flashes of brilliance.
Leach is building something special in Pullman. His roster is entirely comprised of his recruits, and the caliber of talent is on par with his Texas Tech squads that went to 10 straight bowl games and finished in the Top 25 five times. For Wazzu, it’s now about the culture and the right mindset that only comes with consistent results.
In junior Luke Falk, Leach doesn’t just have his next gunslinger, a West Coast version of Graham Harrell or B.J. Symons or Seth Doege. The coach has a legitimate NFL-caliber hurler who’s ready to assault the school record books. Falk performed like the franchise a year ago. And with another year in the system, and a quality collection of receivers, the junior is ready to become a household name among college fans, individual awards committees and pro scouts.
While the passing game will always be the calling card of a Leach-led team, the play of Alex Grinch’s defense was an underrated reason why Washington State reached 9-4 last season. Grinch succeeded in maximizing the athleticism of his Cougars, which allowed fewer than 30 points per game for the first time since 2006. However, now that Wazzu has tasted the fruits of a salty defense, it has no desire to revert back to old habits. The key for Grinch this summer will be to rebuild the front seven to complement a secondary that could rank among the stingiest in the conference.
After some ups-and-downs in the early going, Leach and his staff have found their groove, taking the entire conference by surprise last season. And Leach plus a pro-caliber quarterback and an underrated D ought to alarm everyone in the Pac-12, particularly the North Division denizens. After a dark decade as the league’s doormat, Washington State and its fans finally have reason for hope and optimism. Fueled by the momentum of a breakout year, the Cougs are now aiming to show that 2015 was the beginning of a new trend on the Palouse.