The Cougars finished with their most wins and their first winning record since 2003, beat Oregon for the first time in nine attempts and came within a last-second field goal of upsetting Stanford.

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Washington State’s regular season finished the way it began — on a disappointing note.

Even without Luke Falk at quarterback, the way WSU imploded in last week’s loss to the Huskies in the Apple Cup came as a surprise considering how the Cougars had battled in the three months following their upset loss to Portland State.

Still, WSU can wipe away that sour taste with a good showing in its bowl game. Overall, this season was big for the Cougars, one that fans might one day point to as the turning point in the Mike Leach era.

The Cougars (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) finished with their most wins and their first winning record since 2003, beat Oregon for the first time in the past nine attempts and came within a last-second field goal of upsetting Pac-12 North champion Stanford.

This was a season for the ages, and a welcome reprieve for Cougars fans who had spent more than a decade awaiting signs of a resurgence.

Here’s how the Cougars graded out this season:


Quarterback: Even though Luke Falk finished 2014 at quarterback, no one really knew what the Cougars would get out of him this year. But Falk established himself as the catalyst of the WSU offense and earned All-Pac-12 first-team honors. Falk entered the final week of the regular season leading the nation in passing yards (4,266) and passing yards per game (387.8) and was third in passing touchdowns (36). He already is the most accurate quarterback in WSU history — 68.8 percent career completion rate — and he holds WSU’s record for touchdown passes in a season (36). Falk could, however, work on getting rid of the ball more quickly. He was sacked 36 times.

Grade: A

Running back: The emergence of WSU’s “Earth, Wind & Fire” running back committee of Gerard Wicks, Keith Harrington and Jamal Morrow was a huge factor in the Cougars’ success this season. Their 79.9 yards-per-game average was more than double the 39.8 average of 2014 and the best of the Leach era. WSU also had its first 100-yard rusher since 2010 when Wicks broke for 123 against Colorado. Together, WSU’s backs averaged 6.3 yards per carry. That’s pretty impressive.

Grade: A

Receiver: WSU began the season with one receiver (River Cracraft) on the Biletnikoff watch list and finished with three. Gabe Marks had a record-setting season with 99 receptions for 1,125 yards, and became WSU’s record-holder for career receptions (222). Not to be outdone, Dom Williams (997 yards, 11 TDs, 30 career TDs) has a chance to tie Jason Hill for WSU’s career receiving-touchdown record (32) in the bowl game. Cracraft missed the last three games of the season because of a foot injury, but freshman Kyle Sweet has been solid in Cracraft’s absence.

Grade: A

Offensive line: This group loses points for the way it struggled at the beginning of the season — remember the back-to-back seven-sack outings against Cal and Oregon? — but gains points for how it held up at the end despite playing without starters Joe Dahl (missed four games due to injury) and Riley Sorenson (missed Colorado game). WSU has a much deeper corps of linemen now, and that will serve the Cougars well in 2016. Still, the line gave up 39 sacks, tied with Arizona State for second-worst in the Pac-12.

Grade: B-


Defensive line: Joe Salave’a gets a lot of credit for ensuring that this unit did not struggle to fill the shoes of Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole. The defensive line was a dominant force. The fact that Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao earned All-Pac-12 second-team nods in their first season as starters speaks for itself. Paulo was effective off the edge, and he leads WSU in tackles for a loss (12) and is tied with Hercules Mata’afa for the team lead in sacks (six).

Grade: A

Linebackers: Peyton Pelluer and Jeremiah Allison might be the most underrated linebacker tandem in the Pac-12. They started every game for WSU this season and finished as the Cougars’ top tacklers, providing direction and consistency in the middle of the defense. Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio distinguished themselves as pass-rushers, and walk-on nickelback Parker Henry was hailed by Leach as the biggest overachiever he’s coached. Still, there were lapses at times — case in point being the Apple Cup, in which WSU was powerless to stop Myles Gaskin (138 yards, 2 TDs).

Grade: B

Secondary: The defensive backs were perhaps the most improved unit on the team. Free safety Shalom Luani (three INT, two forced fumbles) really established his presence in the backfield with his ball-seeking ability and hard hits. Marcellus Pippins followed up on a promising freshman season to earn his stripes as a capable starter at cornerback. Across from Pippins, the Cougars have found another promising young talent in true freshman Darrien Molton, who has proved his worth as a reliable, game-ready starter. WSU went from worst in the Pac-12 in pass defense to fourth this year.

Grade: A-

Special teams

The negatives: WSU gave up two punt returns for touchdowns and two kick returns for touchdowns this season and often looked shaky on kick coverage. The positives: In the last five games, WSU demonstrated measured improvement in special teams. Erik Powell made 18 of 24 field-goal attempts and was 47 for 47 on PATs. And punter Zach Charme finished the season on a very strong note, hitting a couple of coffin-corner punts to flip the field in WSU’s upset of No. 18 UCLA.

Grade: C+