Jon Wilner's preseason prognostications have never been proven so wrong as Washington State this season. What's behind the Cougars' surprise success? Mike Leach tells Pac-12 Hotline in his own words.
Each August for the past three seasons, the Hotline has picked the outcome of every game for every team in the Pac-12. The exercise presumes my overall projection for any one team will be either slightly off or dead wrong in the vast majority of instances. (Hopefully, I’m close, or spot-on, with a few.)
Over three years, 36 teams and hundred of picks, I have never been as wrong as I was this year with Washington State.
Largely because of personnel losses (quarterback, receiver, offensive and defensive lines, coaching staff), the Hotline picked the Cougars to finish 3-9 (1-8 Pac-12).
My late-August summation:
“How long can the Cougars continue to compete with programs that have richer traditions, more resources or better players … or all three? How long can they keep outpacing their margin-for-error? Feels like a crash is coming.”
After a come-from-behind victory over Stanford pushed WSU’s record to 7-1 (4-1 Pac-12), I asked coach Mike Leach to share any insight, specifically: What did he see during an offseason of tragedy and tumult that could account for the Cougars’ remarkable success.
Obviously, quarterback Gardner Minshew has been a revelation: His play last season at East Carolina suggested a productive year in the Air Raid, but nothing like this.
(With his performances the past two weeks against Oregon and Stanford, Minshew must be considered the frontrunner for Pac-12 offensive player of the year.)
But what else? What did Leach see?
“We went through a lot of adversity, obviously, with (Tyler Hilinski’s) passing,” he said. “That was tough on everybody, but the best way to honor and glorify one of your friends or relatives is to reach your full potential.
“But I think the biggest thing is we had a good offseason, a great offseason. I think Tyson (Brown, the strength coach) has done an outstanding job.
“But we’ve asked ourselves that same question that you’re asking. I’m not sure that part of it didn’t have to do with the fact that we had so many open jobs and so many people competing for jobs. You had to fight to get reps because a certain number of people aren’t here anymore. And we tried to elevate it through the offseason.
“Our guys were about that age where, ‘Okay, it’s my turn to distinguish myself,’ except, ‘We’re not so sure about you. We like him too, you know.’ The level of competition was really good, and then Gardner’s energy escalated that.
“And then (defensive coordinator Tracy) Claeys and (special teams coach Matt) Brock holding the team together. There’s none of these sides-of-the-ball divisions. Those things, I hate. It’s pathetic. There isn’t any of that division, and that’s kind of elevated everybody. It’s an all-for-one environment. And again, the competition. It’s maybe the most coachable team I’ve ever had.”
So there you have it.
To the power ratings …