Washington State's Mike Leach making a brand new start in Pullman
Editor's note: Second in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — It may be a case of if he can make it there, he'll make it anywhere.
And it has nothing to do with New York, New York. It's quite the opposite, in fact.
When it comes to new Washington State coach Mike Leach, the storyline involves Lubbock, Texas, and Pullman, Wash. After guiding Texas Tech to 10 consecutive winning seasons in the former, he's determined to find success in the latter as well.
Leach insists that each locale has a unique, special identity. And he readily acknowledges that a lot of people haven't been to either place.
Once student-athletes check it out, though, Leach said they appreciate life off the beaten path.
"They see the electricity and the atmosphere that exists there and that you have a specific identity that's special," Leach explained. "So I think the key is getting them there."
And then, he said, they'll come for the same reasons that brought him there.
After two seasons away from the game, Leach is trying to rejuvenate a Washington State program that hasn't had a winning season since 2003 and just one .500 campaign since then.
Senior quarterback Jeff Tuel noted that the new coaching staff is changing the culture in Pullman.
"The level of confidence that they bring to this program and the level of excitement that they bring to the university is tremendous," he said.
The highest expectations, however, may come from within the program.
"Nobody expects more out of us than we do out of ourselves," Leach said. "I think with coaches and players it's more meaningful for us to do the best we can and manifest our actions the best we can."
Turning the tide may take time. The Cougars have won only four conference games over the past four seasons.
OFFENSE: With a talent like junior receiver Marquess Wilson around, the Cougars will likely take to Leach's high-powered offensive approach quickly. Wilson has made 137 catches over the past two seasons, including 18 touchdowns. He'll be the primary target for Tuel, who is back as the starting quarterback after an injury-plagued junior season that limited him to three games.
DEFENSE: Senior defensive end Travis Long has been a mainstay for the Cougars since arriving on campus. He's started in all 36 games he's played and is coming off an all-conference (second team) campaign in 2011. Long could use more help this time around. Aside from UNLV, every Washington State opponent scored 21 or more points last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior kicker Andrew Furney posted the best single-season field-goal percentage in team history by making 14 of his 16 attempts in 2011. Junior college transfer Michael Bowlin is also in the mix and is expected to handle punting and kickoff duties.
PLAYMAKERS: Wilson set school records last season with 1,388 yards receiving and 82 receptions. Had 1,006 yards and 55 catches as a freshman. … Long is a player to watch on defense. The three-year starter has made 29 tackles-for-loss in his career.
TOUGH STRETCH: Back-to-back road games at projected contenders Stanford (Oct. 27) and Utah (Nov. 3) present a big challenge in Leach's first season at the helm. It remains to be seen, however, if it will be all that relevant since the Cougars will have seven games under their belt by then.
EXTRA POINTS: Martin Stadium, home of the Cougars, has undergone a face-lift since last November. A new press box structure includes loge boxes, luxury suites and a club room. … WSU's Sept. 29 home game against Oregon will be played at CenturyLink (Qwest) Field in Seattle.
2012 media poll: 5th, North
2011 record: 4-8, 2-7
Head coach: Mike Leach (first season, 84-43 overall)
Aug. 30 — at BYU
Sept. 8 — EASTERN WASHINGTON
Sept. 14 — at UNLV
Sept. 22 — COLORADO
Sept. 29 — OREGON (Seattle)
Oct. 6 — at Oregon State
Oct. 13 — CALIFORNIA
Oct. 27 — at Stanford
Nov. 3 — at Utah
Nov. 10 — UCLA
Nov. 17 — at Arizona State
Nov. 23 — WASHINGTON
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