When the Washington State Cougars begin their spring practice session in late March, the 2014 season will become even more of a reality.
Wazzou can go almost anywhere from last year's performance, when they finished the regular season at 6-6 and lost the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against the Colorado State Rams.
One more win in the regular season puts the team above .500, and a win in a bowl game would put the Cougars on the map again as a team that can consistently win college playoff games.
However, WSU can easily slip backward from last season’s miniature victory of qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2003. In order to continue their upward progress, the Cougars have a few things to do:
1. Acclimate the New Players
Six recruits are already enrolled for the spring semester, meaning they are already on campus and have had the most opportunities to be around players and coaches on the team. These players will have an advantage over the players who cannot join the team until they finish high school this summer. Chemistry between players is one of the most important aspects of a successful team, and theoretically, if the coaches and upperclassmen pay attention to these new recruits in practices, that chemistry will grow daily.
2. Create a Disciplinary Atmosphere to Avoid Behavioral Problems
A few players on the team last season could not keep themselves out of trouble, perhaps most notably wide receiver Gabe Marks, who was arrested in the offseason on multiple counts, including misdemeanor assault. The Cougars need to avoid these kinds of incidents because they cannot afford to lose key players during the season, whether it is because of in-house punishment or consequences from the law itself. Head coach Mike Leach is well-known for his three offenses that result in immediate dismissal: drug use, hitting a woman and stealing. Leach needs to stress to his team that any misconduct will lead to severe consequences so that players know they cannot get away with anything miscreant whatsoever.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
While the program did make marked improvements in 2013, it still has plenty of room to get better. Quarterback Connor Halliday led the FBS in interceptions last season with 22; the running game struggled to perform consistently; the defense is now missing safety Deone Bucannon and cornerback Damante Horton, who are preparing to graduate.
Washington State needs to find a playmaker on defense, and that starts in spring practice during drills and scrimmages. Halliday must build a connection with his receivers, new and old, so he can avoid excessive turnovers in the upcoming season, if he earns the starting job at quarterback.
The 2014 Cougars have potential for greatness, but need a strong foundation to support them as they go forward into an always-challenging regular season. That foundation starts in spring practice.