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Washington State/Wyoming Preview

Cougars at Cowboys

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Washington State vs Michigan State
Coming off of a 9-4 season in 2017, Washington State travels to Wyoming to start the 2018 season.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time - Broadcast:

Saturday, September 1st at 1:30 PM (Mountain) - CBS Sports Network

Getting to Know the Washington State Cougars:

Washington State was pretty bad when Mike Leach came to Pullman after the 2011 season. In the four seasons prior to Leach’s arrival, Washington State was 9-40. In Leach’s first three seasons at WSU, he went 12-25. In Leach’s next three seasons, he went 26-13. Entering Year 7 in 2018, it’s safe to say that Leach has turned the Cougars around.

However, that’s not to say that Washington State will have an easy time this season. Mike Leach experienced some major turnover in his coaching staff this off-season, losing six assistant coaches as well as his strength coach and assistant strength coach. The biggest loss was Leach’s defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch. Tracy Claeys, who was previously head coach at Minnesota, replaces Grinch as defensive coordinator.

In addition to the coaching staff changes, the Cougars have just four returning starters on offense and five returning starters on defense, so Washington State lost a lot of starters from 2017. Most notably is Luke Falk. Falk was the starter at QB those last three seasons that were so successful. That’s notable since Leach is known for throwing the football - a lot. Strong QB play is vital for Leach’s offense.

Making things worse, and much, much more tragic, the expected starter at QB coming off of last season, Tyler Hilinski, committed suicide in January. This is a horrible and shocking loss for so many, including the WSU football team. Overcoming such a loss is an unusual and difficult territory for the Cougars that is much different than the typical roster changes that occur on a football team. Washington State has decided against a moment of silence before this game as they are focused on trying to move forward rather than lingering on the loss.

To move forward at QB, Gardner Minshew was brought in as a grad-transfer from East Carolina. Minshew has playing experience the previous two seasons, but played on a bad ECU team that went 6-18 during that time. He has not officially been named the starter, but I expect he will be the one on the field this Saturday in Laramie.

The Matchup:

The Wyoming defense is experienced and coming off a very impressive performance in Las Cruces last week. Wyoming was amazing versus the run, but the Cougars don’t run all that often. Minshew has a deep group of receivers to throw the ball to which will represent a very different challenge for the Cowboy defense.

To the other side of the field, Wyoming came out running the ball against New Mexico State last week to the tune of over 300 yards on the ground. Washington State had some turnover on the defensive line. Expect Wyoming to continue to lean on the ground game early rather than rely too heavily on Tyler Vander Waal and the passing game.

On special teams, Wyoming has been pretty good. Washington State was solid in 2017, but they are also breaking in a new kicker this season.

The Outcome:

This is a tough game to call. Wyoming does not play teams that spread you out and and throw the ball like Washington State does. It’s also difficult to know how well Wyoming will do offensively versus Washington State’s defense under their new DC. Ultimately, I think Wyoming has an advantage in already having played a game. They have home field. Wyoming also has an experienced defense that led the country in takeaways last season while Washington State will be breaking in a new starting QB in a pass-heavy offense. I expect/hope the Cowboys win the turnover battle, and win a low scoring game.

Washington State 17, Wyoming 19