Preview 2017: Is This Washington State Team Mike Leach’s Beat Yet?
Loaded, could this 2017 Washington State team by Mike Leach’s best yet?
If this isn’t Mike Leach’s best team yet, it’s going to be very, very close to it.
The whole Leach experience is certainly a whole lot of fun, with lots of offense, wild games, and plenty of crazy strategical decisions that have a funky way of either working out huge, or exploding in spectacular fashion.
It’s just that offensive flair, and the hubris it takes to crank the thing up like Leach does, that allowed Texas Tech to at least compete with the bluebloods of the Big 12 throughout the 2000s.
And now, after a few years of building the thing up, Washington State has been able to hang around the Pac-12 title discussion over the last few seasons.
Now, it has the experience and the talent to actually win it – if Leach can finally put a full season of wins together. Considering he’s only lost fewer than four games once in his 15-year FBS coaching career, can he actually do this? Can he take the heater hand he’s been dealt and win with it?
Washington State was good enough to destroy a strong Stanford team last season, but it lost to Eastern Washington.
It was terrific enough to beat Oregon on the road in 2015 and finish with nine wins, but it lost to Portland State to start the regular season and got destroyed by Washington to end it.
It was resilient enough to win eight straight games last season after a rocky start, but just when it needed to come up with a win to jump into the Pac-12 title chase with both feet, it got dropped like third period French by Colorado and Washington by a combined score of 83-41.
And then – as if to prove a point – the operation got shut down cold, as Minnesota and soon-to-be-fired head coach Tracy Claeys put on a clinic in a 17-12 Holiday Bowl win.
But chalk all the negatives up to growing pains. Call it a part of the process that might turn out to be the necessary life lessons leading up to this year and this team and this head coach, who – ask Texas Tech how its going lately, throwing for a bazillion yards in losing seasons – has this system mastered.
Washington is going to be terrific again, Oregon won’t be worse, Stanford will be better, and USC has to make the trip to Pullman – it’s not going to be easy. But Leach finally appears to have the team in place to rival that 2008 Texas Tech squad that went 11-2, tied for the Big 12 South title, and kept Texas out of the Big 12 and BCS championships.
Luke Falk returns as the conductor, and while there might be a ton of quarterbacking talent in the Pac-12, he should be the statistical best of the bunch – unless he spends half of his time handing off to the tremendously deep group of backs running behind should-be-NFL-starting-guard Cody O’Connell and another good line.
The defense that was so good against the run last season gets back nine starters. If the pass rush is better, and the secondary can be stronger in the bigger games against the better teams, the D should be able to hold serve just enough so the offense can win.
It’s time to prove all the naysayers wrong.
It’s time for Leach to show that, yeah, he really is smarter at this than everyone else.
It’s time for Washington State put it all together in one magical season before Oregon gears it up again and before Washington and Stanford can fully reload.
It’s time for there to be substance for all this style and actually get to a conference title game for the first time in Leach’s career.
It’s time for Washington State to be the powerhouse. This could be the year it happens.