LOS ANGELES — Washington State head coach and Brigham Young University alumnus Mike Leach has a determination to improve his football team. That won't stop him from hunting, fishing, and his Civil War studies.
BYU, which was 10-3 last year, will open its season at home against Washington State in a nationally-televised game on Aug. 30. The teams last played in 1990, with BYU winning two of the three times they faced each other.
The Cougars are certain to win, since both teams share the same mascot. Washington State was 4-8 in 2011, but former coach Paul Wulff was 9-40 during his four-year tenure and was replaced by Leach, who is one of four first-year coaches in the Pac-12.
Leach, easily the most entertaining of the 12 coaches at Tuesday's Pac-12 media day, graduated from BYU in 1983. Although he didn't play on the football team, he did keep his eyes open and learned.
"I borrowed from LaVell Edwards, Mike Holmgren, Norm Chow and some of the people who have passed through there," said Leach, whose Texas Tech teams went to a bowl game in each of his 10 seasons at Lubbock.
"If I handed out a paper and told everyone here to design a great play, most of you could do that — everybody can do that," he said. "BYU is an example of packaging. The team isn't just the quarterback."
Leach hasn't spent too much time thinking about the 2012 BYU team yet, being busy preparing for the entire season.
Just as BYU can cite a history of standout signal-callers, Washington State has had some notable quarterbacks. Ryan Leaf set the WSU single-season record by throwing for 3,968 yards and 34 touchdowns in the 1997 season. Leaf's college exploits impressed the San Diego Chargers enough to be the second overall selection in the 1998 draft, although his collegiate success certainly didn't translate to the NFL.
Other NFL quarterbacks who attended Washington State include Drew Bledsoe, Timm Rosenbach and Mark Rypien. Jeff Tuel, WSU's starting quarterback this season, is regarded as a candidate for the Davey O'Brien Award recognizing the top college quarterback.
Tuel, from Fresno, Calif., started all 12 games as a sophomore in 2010, passing for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns. He started five games as a true freshman, but he suffered a variety of maladies as a junior in 2011.
Tuel, now a senior, missed the opening game with a stomach illness. In the next game, he broke his left collarbone and missed four games. He showed promise when he completed 11 of 13 passes against Oregon State, but followed that by missing five games.
"I'm 100 percent healthy now," said Tuel, who is a psychology major. "The coaches came in and explained things, and they made an example of a couple of guys who didn't buy in and weren't willing to make the commitment."
Offense shouldn't be a problem for WSU — it scored 29.8 points per game in 2011. The problem was the Cougars yielded 31.8 points per game, surrendering 40 or more in four games. Leach plans on running multiple defenses with odd-man fronts, and opponents can expect WSU to be more aggressive and attack from different angles.
"We will be looking to force more turnovers," said Travis Long, a senior defensive end who was WSU's defensive lineman of the year. Leach said he would compare Long to Ulysses S. Grant and Tuel to Stonewall Jackson in references to Civil War generals.
In addition to the BYU game, Washington State will come to Utah again on Nov. 3 to play the Utes. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was rated highly among the top Pac-12 coaches Leach would like as a hunting and fishing partner.
"You have to figure that Kyle has been around the mountains and he is very tenacious," Leach said. "I think he would have to be in the middle of any discussion about the top hunting partner."
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