- Head Coach: Nick Rolovich (2nd Season)
- 2020 Record: 1-3 (1-3 in Pac-12)
- Last Meeting: 11/7/20 - Washington State 38, Oregon State 28
- Key Returners: RB - Max Borghi, OL - Abraham Lucas, WR - Renard Bell
The debut of head coach Nick Rolovich in Pullman was more of a slippery stumble into the water instead of a cannonball splash, but in his defense, the former Hawai’i leader and Oregon State-hater should be given some slack. The Cougars hopped into 2020 with confusion at the quarterback spot, played most of the year without their top talent in running back Max Borghi and knew they needed to reworked a whole defensive unit across the board.
The problem is that besides Borghi returning to the mix, most of 2021’s issues look to be the same.
Starting with the defense, the Cougars are incredibly top-heavy with linebacker Jahad Woods being good enough to start for anyone in the league, but the rest of the crew performing as a spotty bunch. Last season’s leading tackler Daniel Isom combines with Armani Marsh, George Hicks III and Jaylen Watson to form a secondary that allowed 461.8 passing yards per game in 2020, second worst in the league in front of only Arizona. Heading into 2021, that simply has to improve.
Up-front, they could also use help around edge rusher Brennan Jackson, who looks to be a rising stand-out.
No matter which way you slice it though, the defense is simply not good and the offense doesn’t look to be any less murky, especially considering Washington State is supposedly an offense-led team with a quarterback dispute that will last well into the season.
While last year’s starter in rising sophomore Jayden de Laura would seemingly be the locker room favorite, the transfer of Jarrett Guarantano into the fold from Tennessee now creates a competition for the starting role. Neither have done enough through the spring to pull away as a clear front-runner and these sorts of battles usually don’t end once an opening day choice is selected. If it is de Laura, he may play most of the season looking over his shoulder.
One player who won’t fight for time on the field (pending he’s healthy) is versatile running back Max Borghi, one of the best pure talents in all of college football. Borghi posted numbers of 127 carries for 817 yards and 11 scores on the ground in 2019, while also snagging 86 passes for 597 yards and 5 more touchdowns. He should return to an All-Pac-12 level of play in 2021.
And finally, the receiving combo of speedsters Renard Bell and Travell Harris top the depth chart at the split-out positions, where whoever QB1 is will desperately need their help. Bell, a talent featured below in our Player to Watch, could be the biggest surprise of the Cougars campaign, while Harris is more the face of consistency as a high-target route-runner.
Either way, unless Nick Rolovich can work his magic and sprinkle some pixie dust over this team by the time the fall comes around, Washington State is going to have an uphill fight on their hands, which may favorite Oregon State in their mid-season showdown.
Player To Watch
Renard Bell - Wide Receiver
When he’s not high-stepping after a score, Renard Bell is hauling in catches for the Cougars and posing himself as one of their better options to carve apart team’s secondaries. The pint-sized weapon has caught an average of over 5 passes a game over the past seasons and had two double-digit reception games in 2020 alone. He’ll be a huge piece in the maturation process of whichever quarterback eventually lands the job.
- Date: Saturday, October 9th
- Time: TBD
- Location: Martin Stadium (Pullman, Washington)