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Washington State Cougars Preview – 2014

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Washington State Cougars Preview – 2014

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Reminder for first time readers: The CFBMatrix is built on simplicity. For predictions and previews I use only my trends and rankings of Talent, Location (schedule) and Coaching. T.L.C.

Talent:

Until you have been to Pullman, you cannot appreciate how tough it is to consistently increase recruited talent. Pulling a recruiting class ranked 44th may not seem like much to some but, when it is the third top 50 class in the last nine years, you’ve got to love it and hope it is the start of a new, upward trend as the Cougars facilities upgrade with the talent. The Cougs’ No. 53 talent ranking is the lowest in the Pac 12 North, so you are going to need to keep relying on scheduling and great coaching to get to bowl eligible.

Washington State returns 87 percent of key production from last season, but must replace three of five starting offensive linemen. On defense, the Cougars get back 58 percent of their 2013 production. So, like many Pac 12 teams they are going to lean on the offense early in the season to find wins in the schedule. If you dare to make the trek, take the long way ’round and catch a concert at The Gorge with me.

Coaching:

You can argue with me about it, but for my buck, 2013 was the best coaching effort of Mike Leach’s career. At Texas Tech, he had nowhere near the lack of talent and competition that he has today. Texas Tech was and still is a mid-level recruiter and still is in the Big. In Pullman, Leach has Kansas- like talent and to get bowl eligible with nine conference games (5 on the road) and a non-conference game at Auburn was just flat out awesome. He posted a plus-4 CFB Matrix Coach Effect in 2013 after a zero in 2012. His two-year CFB Matrix Coach Effect is plus-2.5 games per year, which is No. 6 in power conference football and No. 3 in the Pac 12. While I do not expect him to be able to pull off a plus-4 games every year, I must account for this effect in the final total and head-to-head contests with lesser coaching. He gives them a chance to win football games, and that will happen with greater frequency if he can continue to draw talent to The Palouse.

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Schedule:

I hate this schedule. For getting their turn for five home games in the Pac 12 scheduling, there are few favors in 2014. The Cougars’ non-conference scheduling was wise and does come with a break in Week 1 as Rutgers comes to eastern Washington. Most don’t realize, but the Scarlet Knights have been the No. 29 recruiter in power 5 conference football the last four years. The problem is not the talent, so it must be the coaching. Coach Kyle Flood had one of the top 3 worst coach effects on this team in 2013. And in the CFB Matrix, when a coach goes bad, he strongly tends to stay that way. Under normal circumstances a No. 29 talent versus No. 53 is an automatic pick to the better talent. Not any more as the odds for Flood when I pick him to win on the road say take the home team. WSU beats Rutgers. The next two weeks are wins again Nevada and Portland State to hit 3-0. But don’t get too excited.

Their five homes games are with Oregon, USC, Arizona, Cal and Washington. You may disagree, but when your team is playing a team you are very unlikely to beat, who cares where it is played. Give me team closest to me in talent at home to get the home field edge.

Oregon drops WSU to 3-1 in Week 4. Week 5 is at Utah, and I see this as one of three critical games for Washington State to get to bowl eligibility. The Utes are more talented than most folks give them credit for (No. 47 in the CFB Matrix) and at home with a solid head coach are a tough out. This is a game where I take the home team, and, with WSU on the road. They drop to 3-2.

The Cougars have to get a win at home against Cal the next week. A missed opportunity here or against Rutgers digs too deep of a hole to get to six wins.

Stanford is next on the road. Talent and location, plus a very solid head coach, all favor the Cardinal. Heading into the Week 8 bye, I have the Cougs at 3-4.

The Week 9 game after the bye is a small trap with Arizona coming to town. Coach Rich Rodriguez is good, and the next week USC comes to town. Don’t look past Arizona. Please, as I am taking the home field and even coaching to swing the win to the Cougs, who have a small talent deficit. This puts them at 4-4 with the Trojans coming to town. I am very intrigued by road games for USC this year. Coach Steve Sarkisian, while at Washington, was bad on the road every single year. Why? I have no idea, but his talent advantage evaporated on the road. Nevertheless, the talent gap between USC and WSU is too great to even consider the Cougs. They drop to 4-5.

Two of the last three for Washington State are on the road and all are against quality coaching and better talent. The first is on the road at Oregon State. Coach Mike Riley and the Beavers are close in talent to the Cougs. Coach effect is a wash. For me, it is the home field that swings this game. Were it in Pullman, I would take the Cougs. It is that close of a matchup. Sandwiched between the Beavs and the Sun Devils is a very timely bye week. Like the Cal game coming off the bye week, the Arizona State game is a trap as well. Not that I have WSU favored to win, but on the road, better talent and good coaching (just like Oregon State) and the Apple Cup seven days out, this could be an easy one to overlook and get smoked.

I love the Apple Cup. And I really love the Apple Cup in the frozen tundra that is the Palouse in November. It is a hellish place to go and win this late in the season. Two years ago, given Sarkisian’s propensity to lose on the road, I would like the Cougs. However, Washington coach Chris Petersen is not Sarkisian and the Huskies have too much talent to go against taking them.

Favorite ‘middle’ number for WSU is 4.5

2014 Win Loss Schedule Pattern

W, W, W, L, L (huge coach effect game), L, L, bye, W, L, L, bye, L, L  Record projected 4-8 – 5th

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1 Comment

  1. Colin

    August 13, 2014 at 10:46 am

    The Rutgers game is in Seattle which is NOT in Eastern WA. Had you done a little hw maybe you would have known this. Also, you have them losing to Cal in Pullman?? Are you high??? 4-8 record… Get real. A more realistic record is 9-4 after a bowl win.

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