SB Nation football analyst Bill Connelly looks back on WSU's 2016 season and crunches statistics to predict how the Cougars will fare in 2017

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Every year, Bill Connelly and the folks at SB Nation use a wide variety of metrics to predict the performance of every college football team.

But, the statistics often tend to underestimate Washington State. Last year, Connelly predicted that the Cougars would win 6.2 games. WSU finished 8-5.

This year, he’s predicting a 6-6 finish even though the Cougars return Luke Falk and a plethora of experienced players on both sides of the ball. (Though, Connelly does add the caveat that “with only two games likely out of reach — USC, at Washington — a run toward nine or 10 wins isn’t out of the realm of possibility.”)

Still, here are some interesting metrics from Connelly’s WSU football preview.

Offensively:

  • The 2016 Cougars were incredibly efficient, but big plays didn’t happen frequently. WSU ranked 15th nationally with 228 gains of 10 yards or more, but only 86th with 24 plays for gains of 30 yards or more.
  • Also, if you needed any more evidence as to how important running backs James Williams, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks have become to the offense, this breakdown spells it out plainly:
    • Running Backs: 284 carries, 152 targets, totaled 33.5 intended touches per game.
    • Outside Receivers (Z and X): 296 targets, 22.8 per game
    • Inside Receivers (Y and H): 194 targets, 14.9 per game

Defensively:

  • WSU’s progress under Grinch:
    • In 2014, before Grinch’s arrival, Cougs were 101st in defensive S&P ranking.
    • In 2015, Grinch’s first year, Cougs were 74th in defensive S&P ranking.
    • In 2016, Grinch’s second year, Cougs were 63rd in defensive S&P ranking.
  • WSU’s defense ranked 25th nationally last year in third down distance allowed — on average, opponents lined up for third-and-6.6 yards against the Cougs.
  • Room for improvement: The pass rush. Cougs ranked 110th nationally in adjusted sack rate last year.
  • Room for improvement No. 2: The secondary. Cougs allowed a combined 1,263 yards, a 73 percent completion rate and 11 touchdowns to two interceptions against the three most prolific passing attacks they faced combined: EWU, Cal and UW.

Special teams:

Eric Mele’s special forces finally broke their punt return-for-a-touchdown and kickoff-return-for-a-touchdown scoring droughts last season, but there’s still plenty to work on, says Connelly.

  • Kicker Erik Powell had a 67 percent success rate on kicks under 40 yards, which, as Connelly points out, is really more in line with what you’d expect for a success rate on kicks over 40 yards.