PULLMAN | With the season just over a week away, WazzuWatch.com takes a stab at projecting who Mike Leach will trot out on the field with the first team against Auburn. We begin by taking a look at the offense.
The presumed starter since the end of last season, Halliday, who threw for 1,874 yards, 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while splitting time last season, has seen the majority of the reps with the first team throughout the offseason. Praised by Leach for his improved leadership and decision making, Halliday has the experience and has shown a better grasp of what Leach wants to do on offense over redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca.
2012: 151-for-290, 52%, 1,847 yards, 15 TD, 13 INT
Caldwell finds himself as the clear cut number one heading into his second season at Washington State after making three starts last year. Although Leach will rotate in several different guys at the position, Caldwell presents the biggest threat on the ground out of the Cougars backfield but also possesses quality hands in the passing game. Junior Marcus Mason has also seen time with the one's this fall and will be featured, as well.
On the deepest position group on the team, D. Williams projects as one of the top targets in the Cougars' Air Raid. Williams started the final five games of 2012 and appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman with mixed results. His length and ability to make the tough catch in coverage makes him a potential mismatch on the outside. Junior college transfer Vincent Mayle and Kristoff Williams are also battling for rotational time at the X-spot.
This is a tough call and the starting job at Auburn could easily go to true freshman River Cracraft, who has had arguably the best fall of all the receivers, but Ratiliff is firmly situated within the offense. For that reason alone, I'd give the starting nod to Ratliff given he has the experience, making five starts last year and appearing in 11 games. Cracraft will be seeing a ton of snaps, though.
An upstart walk-on who has quickly ascended the depth chart, Eklund is expected to be an anchor on an offensive line that had significant struggles in 2012. Leach has been vocal about Eklund's emergence as a leader on the offense since cracking the first team at left tackle last season seemingly out of nowhere. He missed the final three games of 2012 after making seven starts.
Teaming with Eklund on the left side of the line is Dahl, another walk-on who forced his way into a starting job after an impressive spring. The Montana transfer has distanced himself and looked impressive in pass and run blocking. He brings a solid presence to, what should be, a much improved left side of the line.
The Cougars' MVP along the offensive line last year, Bosch was as steady as they come at center last season while starting all 12 games and earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention. The preferred walk-on continued to be a veteran presence and a rock in the middle throughout the offseason. Expect Bosch to have another solid season.
After a rather disappointing spring that saw him drop down to the second team, Fullington showed up in great shape for fall camp and took control of the right guard spot from day one. After bouncing around the line during his Cougars career, the senior looks to have found a comfortable spot on the right side. Goetz and Middleton will provide some experienced depth.
Finally one hundred percent healthy and playing to the potential that everyone expected when he arrived as a junior college transfer, Forbes is looking like a solid component on the right end. Forbes, who was the projected starter at right tackle last season before a season ending knee injury during fall camp, showed up this spring in solid shape and has thoroughly impressed.
The Cougars' top returning receiver has been solid once again this fall and adds another dynamic threat to a deep core of wideouts. Bartolone saw action in all 12 games last season, starting nine of them and was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a true freshman. He is as steady as they come in the slot and will be counted on to have another big season at the H.
The vocal leader of the Cougars' receiving core looks primed for a big season after yet another impressive spring that saw Marks haul down everything thrown his way. Slated to be one of the go-to guys on offense, defenses will need to key on the speedy outside receiver who can be dangerous all over the field.