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2015 Pac-12 Football: A WSU Q & A

Which QB will set the FBS passing record against Cal this year? For an insider's perspective into this year's edition of football at the Washington State University, we turn to Jeff Nusser and Brian Anderson of CougCenter, SB Nation's WSU community.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1) What is the most important position of worry for you, and why is it quarterback?

Jeff Nusser: Man, you lawyers think you know everything. It's actually not quarterback! Yes, QB is a mild concern, if only because we're replacing the most statistically proficient quarterback in the school's history. But I'm not worried about the position. Luke Falk showed after Connor Halliday broke his leg that he can be effective, and let's face it: About the only time Mike Leach has had an ineffective quarterback in his career was in his first year at WSU. If you want to what actually worries me ... well, you probably actually know the answer to that if you watched Cal's ridiculously fortunate victory over WSU last season. It's the secondary. The Cougs recruited heavily to that position group, and a bunch of young guys who played last year are maturing, but it's still questionable as to whether anyone back there has the ability to stay with Pac-12 wide receivers. Falk will probably be fine, even if he's not as good as Connor Halliday, but another atrocious year from the secondary could undermine everything. Again.

Brian Anderson: I'm actually not that concerned about quarterback. We've seen enough of Luke Falk to know he'll be alright, and Peyton Bender looks extremely talented. I think we're fine there next season...this offense ride or dies with a quarterback's performance so it's more than vital to get someone back there you trust, and the Cougs have a healthy amount of "ok" on the roster at that position.

Defensive back, I'll just group corners and safeties, is the group that has me worried. Averaging over 30pts a game should notch more than 3 or 4 in the win column. But it hasn't because the secondary was questionable, on its best days. There's a couple of JC prospects coming in that could pan out, but really they just need to be average...get to be mediocre -- which would be a big step up -- and games might start going they're way a little more often.

2) Which player should Cal fans worry about who will torture our souls next season?

Jeff Nusser: Vince Mayle had 263 yards receiving against Cal last year, so let's go with his replacement: Dom Williams. He's even better at getting behind defenses than Mayle was, a long strider who specializes in catches down the field. He's added strength and looks ready to be the next monster receiver in the Air Raid. An honorable mention probably goes to River Cracraft, though -- he's an inside receiver who just catches pretty much everything thrown his way, making him the go-to guy on critical downs. You'll probably wish he was dead after he makes his fourth or fifth third- or fourth-down conversion.

Brian Anderson: There's three obvious answers and one dark horse candidate for nightmare fuel; Dom Williams and Gabe Marks are going to continue putting up video game stats. They're both capable of 1200+ yards on the season if Falk/Bender keep production at the level Connor Halliday set it at. River Cracraft will get his too, he'll probably convert a lot of third downs where you thought the defense might've done well enough to get off the field.

Keith Harrington will be a name you want to make note of. He's a RS Freshman at running back. Kind of a little guy that was recruited to play inside receiver, but shifted to running back on scout team last year to fill a need after a transfer. He dominated. He's greasy and fast, really, really tough to get an angle on and highly capable as a receiver. He's the type of guy who's one missed tackle away from the end zone from any spot on the field. Our running back position gets 90+ receptions a year, he'll be a major part of that next season.

3) Tell us about your coach and why you dislike him.

Jeff Nusser: There you go again. I love Mike Leach! He ain't perfect, but he's ours, and while a lot of fans are kind of down about the fact that he hasn't turned everything around as immediately as they would like, big things are on the horizon and I'm excited for that. He's already recruited better than any of his predecessors. The pieces are there for WSU to get up into the 8-win range, perhaps as soon as this season.

Brian Anderson: I love Coach Leach. Loved him at Tech when I started paying close attention to his offense about 10 years ago, love him now even though he hasn't gotten wins to pile up yet.

4) How do your fans view Cal this season, and why do you love us so much?

Jeff Nusser: I think our fans still view Cal as a team WSU should beat. The Cougs handled the Golden Bears easily two years ago, and last season's game came down to atrocious special teams, in which WSU essentially gave away 17 points in that phase. That said, I'd guess Cal fans feel the same way, given that the game two years ago was closer than the final score thanks to some terribly timed fumbles and that even if WSU hadn't given up two return TDs, Cal probably would have just scored on offense anyway. Personally? I think this is going to be a really fun game between two relatively even teams on the way up who each have really good offenses. Here's to hoping it's a 7 p.m. game so we can get some #Pac12AfterDark action.

Brian Anderson: I've always liked Cal, and have no good explanation why. Goff is legit. I said last year I thought he was a little too under-the-radar during all the conference quarterback ranking talks before the season. He might be the best this conference has to offer at the position. Cal is in that stage where you should win 6 and might have a shot at 8 if luck bounces your way a bit. Now's a great time to be pretty good in the north; Oregon's probably down a little, Stanford's been trending down and Hogan's probably got tenure now, UW will struggle, WSU is a weird enigma of a team, OSU will probably have to wait a couple cycles before they're a credible threat, and Utah is waiting to find someone decent at QB before they're considered top tier. It wouldn't surprise me a ton to see Cal come out of the North.

5) What were your biggest questions heading into spring practice? Were they addressed during the spring?

Jeff Nusser: Yeah, it's really all about the defense here. We learned some things about our new defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch, such as how he's going to deploy a base nickel defense. But I'd guess he didn't really show toooooo much of his arsenal at the spring game, and besides -- there's a pretty decent likelihood that two or three of the guys arriving in the fall are going to start right away. So, while we learned a little bit, we won't really learn what we need to know until the second or third game of the year.

Brian Anderson: What will the defense look like? Is it better? Those questions were kind of answered. Spring is really about alignment and assignment, and for the most part guys seemed to know they're responsibilities and where to stand. It's still a huge question mark for me, this can be an average team if the defense finds a way to just be not-bad enough.

6) What are your biggest needs for improvement after the spring?

Jeff Nusser: In terms of the guys who actually participated in spring (and to get away from defense), I'd say it's the offensive line. The unit was mostly young last season, and while those guys more or less held their own, it's time for them to become a strength so that WSU can turn all those yards (517 per game, second in the Pac-12) into points (31.8, seventh) by increasing red zone conversions.

Brian Anderson: Defense. All of it. I'd imagine they're spending their summer getting familiar with new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch's scheme. They have a huge emphasis on speed and creating turnovers, which sounds like a great idea.

7) Post-spring analysis: Your team is going to be a Contender, Pretender, or Middle of the Pac?

Jeff Nusser: I think we're all hoping for middle. That would be four or five wins in conference to combine with two or three nonconference wins to get the team to between six and eight wins overall. That would be just dandy.

Brian Anderson: Despite losing Halliday and Vince Mayle, this offense should still scare people. It'll make the band play the fight song a lot. Williams, Marks, and Cracraft could all be a No. 1 receiver on most teams, and the offensive line is looking less and less like a Big Sky roster every season. I still think the defense is shaky enough to keep them from being in contention, but they'll push some teams and fit right in with that group slap-fighting for the last two bowl spots.

8) Who do you want to punch in the face?

Jeff Nusser: Chris Petersen, of course.

Brian Anderson: Kevin Hart. It's like people forgot about Martin Lawrence or something.