There's a good chance Washington State coach Mike Leach will once again turn the Cougars' Air Raid offense over to a graduate transfer quarterback.
The conventional wisdom is that former Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud is likely to succeed Gardner Minshew. Gubrud has a big edge on experience over quarterbacks Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon, who have barely seen the field in their careers with the Cougars.
Gubrud, who was granted a rare sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, threw for nearly 10,000 yards and 87 touchdowns at FCS Eastern Washington. He led the Eagles to a memorable upset of Washington State in his first game as a starter in 2016.
Sure to draw some comparisons with his predecessor in Pullman, Gubrud wants to make one thing clear: "I'm not Gardner."
"I don't lead the same way as Gardner. I don't throw the ball the same way as Gardner," Gubrud said. "Gardner's a great quarterback, but we go about things differently."
Minshew emerged as the starter during fall camp last year and ended up as the Pac-12 offensive player of the year. He threw for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns in leading Washington State to an 11-2 mark, a school record for victories.
Minshew is now in the NFL and Washington State has question marks at quarterback for the second straight year.
Leach has insisted the starting job is wide open.
"We're kind of accumulating data, information, evaluation," Leach said. "The biggest thing is who's consistent. You try to develop a level of consistency and that's what you're really working toward."
Whoever wins out will have a deep crew of returning receivers, including Dezmon Patmon, Jamire Calvin, Tay Martin, Easop Winston and Calvin Jackson Jr.
Other things to know about Washington State this season:
DOUBTING THE DOUBTERS: Despite having gone to a school-record four consecutive bowl games, the Cougars were forecast to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North this year. Leach said the predictions don't bother him. "Every season everybody thinks we're going to get our head kicked in," Leach said. "So everybody gets to be stunned and surprised, so it's fun for everybody."
SECONDARY QUESTIONS: Strong safety Jalen Thompson lost his final year of eligibility for violating an NCAA rule and entered the NFL a year earlier than expected. The three-year starter was the vocal leader of the defense. Freshman Tyrese Ross and sophomore Chad Davis Jr. are in the mix to replace him. Skyler Thomas may also move over from nickel to his original safety position.
RUNNING GAME: The Cougars will be looking to replace the production of running back James "Boobie" Williams, who gave up his senior year to try for a job in the NFL. Williams led the Cougars last season with 560 rushing yards and with 83 receptions, good for another 613 yards. He also scored 16 touchdowns. His departure should mean more exposure for Max Borghi, who earned a starting job last year as a freshman and is expected to be the primary option in the backfield. Junior college transfer Deon McIntosh is also expected to produce.
BOOMING PUNTS: Junior punter Oscar Draguicevich III earned attention by averaging 45.7 yards per punt last season, a school record. That earned him a spot on the Ray Guy Award watch list for the nation's best punter. The junior college transfer sent 13 of his kicks 50 yards or more.
THE SCHEDULE: Washington State opens with home games against New Mexico State and FCS Northern Colorado. The Cougars' other nonconference game is at Houston. In the Pac-12, the Cougars will host UCLA, Colorado, Stanford and Oregon State. They are on the road at Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, California and Washington.
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