Saturday Out West Crystal Ball: Predicting every Washington State football game for 2022
Editor’s note: Saturday Out West’s annual Crystal Ball prediction series will preview every team in the Pac-12. Today: Washington State.
Jake Dickert did just enough last year to hang onto the head coaching gig at Washington State, sealing the deal with a massive Apple Cup win over rival Washington.
How does he follow up in his first full year at the helm?
It’ll all come down to an offensive line that lost three starters and suffered depth losses early in fall camp.
If Washington State can hold up in the line — and if Cameron Ward is as good as advertised — a second straight bowl game is a distinct possibility. If the Cougars suffer any more injuries up front, they’re in trouble.
Take a look below to see how things stack up …
Is Cameron Ward the real deal?
There hasn’t been an FCS-to-Pac-12 transfer this hyped, well, maybe ever. Ward lit it up for Incarnate Word after being lightly recruited out of Columbia High in Columbia, Texas, which primarily employed a running offense. As a sophomore, Ward was named FCS All-American second team and a Walter Payton Award finalist after completing 384-of-590 (65.1%) passes for 4,648 yards with 47 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. All that, after winning the Jerry Rice Award for the most outstanding freshman player a year before.
As a result, Ward is regarded as the 10th-best transfer in the country by 247Sports.
Will Washington State’s new coaching staff come together quickly?
Dickert, who was promoted from interim head coach to the full-time gig after leading Washington State to a 3-3 finish down the stretch, thought outside the Pac-12 box when composing his coaching staff.
Washington State’s assistant coaches combine for just 15 total years as assistants in the Pac-12. While most new conference head coaches tend to dip back into the Pac-12 coaching pool time and time again, sometimes hiring assistants on their third or even fourth league teams, Dickert went for coaches who look at Pullman as their big break, rather than just another stop along the way.
“I’ve coached at every level of college football, and not that I’m carrying the flag for those guys, but there are just a lot of coaches who don’t get an opportunity,” Dickert said at Pac-12 Media Day. “They’re everywhere. I’ve been fortunate — right people, right place, right players — to continue to move up. But a couple things: I either personally knew everyone I hired, or at some point in their career, they were at Washington State. I wanted their families to know why Pullman is unique and special. Stability is important.
“Just like players, I want a staff that wants to be here.”
Will a lack of returning talent doom the Cougs?
Not many teams have suffered the losses that Washington State has this offseason. With starters graduating and transferring, the Cougars return just 50 percent of their overall production, 46 percent on offense (117th nationally), and 65 percent on defense (113th).
Washington also has limited overall talent, averaging less than 84.0 on average recruiting average, with a 6-year recruiting class ranking of 55th nationally.
Week 1: vs. Idaho (W)
Washington State draws one of the easiest FCS matchups on the Pac-12 slate with the Vandals, who went just 4-8 last year. The Cougars will have no trouble with this one.
Week 2: at Wisconsin (L)
Talk about the pendulum swinging to the other side. Wisconsin presents one of the most difficult nonconference games in the Pac-12.
Ward will have his hands full with a Badgers defense that lives up to its name. Wisconsin had 39 sacks and 16 interceptions last season, second in the Big Ten in both categories.
They’ll hound Ward throughout.
Week 3: vs. Colorado State (W)
The last time these teams met, it was an instant classic, a 45-42 Colorado State win in the 2013 New Mexico Bowl. The Rams survived 6 Connor Halliday touchdowns that day but two late fumbles doomed the Cougars.
Can Ward best 6 touchdowns against CSU this time around?
Considering the Rams allowed 168 points the last four games of last season, he just might.
Week 4: vs. Oregon (L)
Someone had to draw Oregon first, and there’s something to be said about being Dan Lanning’s first Pac-12 opponent. In Week 4, Oregon might not yet have rounded into shape.
But do they need to be firing on all cylinders?
Oregon has won the past three years, and they’ll make it four in a row with this win with a front seven that ranks among the best in the country in raw talent.
Week 5: vs. Cal (W)
The teams have traded wins the past five years, with Washington State edging 3-2, including last year’s 21-6 win in Berkeley.
The Cougars’ defense dominated Cal in the win, shutting out the Bears after their first drive of the game.
With Cal’s passing game a mystery heading into the season, I expect the Washington State defense to put up another big game.
Week 6: at USC (L)
Considering USC flattened the Cougars last season, 45-14, in the midst of a chaotic 4-8 season, how do we approach this year’s matchup? Washington State returns very little production from a year ago, just like USC — only the Trojans hauled in the best transfer recruiting class in the country.
With the game back in Los Angeles and the Trojans ready for the Hollywood spotlight once more, they’ll flip the score from last year.
Week 7: at Oregon State (W)
Looking forward to a bye week that will provide a respite before a matchup with Utah, Washington State will need a bit of a reprieve
If we’re going off last year’s game, the Beavers are in trouble. Washington State stifled the OSU passing game, holding Chance Nolan to 11-of-25 passing for 158 yards while intercepting him twice.
My sense is that after 3 games against USC, Utah, and Stanford, the Beavers will be a little beaten down.
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: vs. Utah (L)
Judging by a reverse Fibonacci sequence, Washington State is still a year or two away from the Utes — though it may be much longer before the Cougars actually break through. The Cougars have cut the Utes’ margin of victory from 25 to 17 to 11 over the past three years, and this year, Washington State gets them back in Pullman.
Even more favorable for the Cougars: Utah is coming off a bye that follows USC, UCLA, and Oregon State. The Utes may be caught napping. Even if they are, they still have a much better roster than Wazzu.
Week 10: at Stanford (L)
Athlon Sports has the Cardinal ranked 64th nationally and Washington State ranked 59th, so this game is just about a draw going in, with Stanford likely favored because of home-field advantage.
But the Cougars have taken hold of the series in the past half-decade, winning 5 straight over the Cardinal with a pair of 20-plus point wins.
Stanford had won eight straight before Wazzu took hold. At this point, while we all expect the Cardinal offense to spruce things up this year, the Cougars still have the edge. ESPN vehemently disagrees, favoring Stanford in the Football Power Index, 67.2-32.8.
Week 11: vs. ASU (L)
Washington State pulled off a big win over the Sun Devils, 34-21, last year in Tempe. But like ASU, the Cougars suffered major personnel losses.
Wazzu forced five turnovers last year, and they won’t get that many takeaways this year.
I like Ward over ASU’s transfer QB, Emory Jones, but not enough to lift the Cougars over the Sun Devils.
Week 12: at Arizona (W)
Needing two wins to close out the season to reach the postseason for a second straight year, Washington State is in position to make it with an easy win over the upstart Wildcats. Arizona should be much improved this year, but not so improved that they’ll beat Wazzu for the second time in six years.
Week 13: vs. Washington (W)
It took quite a while, but the Cougars exacted a measure of revenge over the sagging Huskies last year, pummeling Washington with a 40-13 win. It was the biggest margin of victory for Washington State in the history of the Apple Cup.
That history was quite one-sided for a while.
Starting with a 30-0 Washington win in 2009, the Huskies won 10 of the next 11 matchups, holding the Cougars below 18 points for seven consecutive years.
This time, offensive and defensive line play will determine things, as well as health. Neither team has great depth, which will play a factor.
2022 Projection: 6-6 (4-5)
When is a 1-game regression considered a good thing?
Well, the Cougars have some of the lightest returning talent in the Pac-12 and they’re breaking in a new coaching staff. Just making it to a bowl game would be an achievement for Dickert’s squad.
But with one of the most electric quarterbacks in the conference in Cameron Ward, the Cougars will do it.