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2021 Washington State college football preview: Can Cougars make leap in Year 2 under Nick Rolovich?

Washington State looks to make noise in the Pac-12 North in 2021.

Washington State v Utah
Jayden de Laura of the Washington State Cougars scrambles away from Maxs Tupai #92 of the Utah Utes during their game on December 19, 2020 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

The Washington State Cougars enjoyed moderate success in the Mike Leach era, but saw their head coach leave for Mississippi State in 2019. Nick Rolovich took over as head coach, and hopes to use a rough 2020 campaign as a springboard for a successful 2021 season.

It’s also an interesting case study in if the Run & Shoot offense can still work at the highest levels of college football.

2020 Season Review

  • 1-3, 1-3, Conference finish, Bowl result
  • Will QB Jayden de Laura elevate his play in Year 2 under Rolovich? Washington State was highly successful with Leach’s “Air Raid” offense, and Rolovich brings a similar-but-different game plan that focuses on receiver reads and being on the same page as the quarterback from his time at Hawai’i. de Laura will need to take a big step forward for the Cougars to compete in the Pac-12.

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 9th in Pac-12
ESPN Returning Production: 87% overall (5th): 88% offense (9th), 86% defense (13th)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 8th in Pac-12
Returning starters: 8/11 offense, 4/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Jayden de Laura (Fr.)

de Laura put up decent numbers in the first two games of Washington State’s abbreviated season, but struggled in the remaining contests. He’ll be tasked with being more consistent in 2021 while also being the leader for what should be a dynamic passing attack. The Cougars are unlikely to stop anyone defensively, so de Laura and the offense will have to keep them in games.

Offense (non-QB): RB Deon McIntosh (Sr.)

McIntosh averaged 6.2 yards per carry last season and should be a big factor in Washington State’s attack. The key is to create more balance in Year 2 and McIntosh should be able to help in this area. The Cougars need to keep their defense off the field as much as possible, so running the ball more could be a successful strategy in 2021.

Defense: DB Daniel Isom (Sr.)

Isom was one of the team’s top tacklers in 2020, which isn’t typically a good thing for a defensive back. He needs to be more involved in pass breakups and also create turnovers. As the senior leader, Isom will be expected to anchor the secondary and lock up some of the best receivers of the Pac-12.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 64th overall: 16th offense, 108th defense, 40th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 46th overall: 12th offense, 102nd defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +25000
To win Pac-12: +3500
Win total: 6 (Over +100, Under -120)

2020 Against The Spread: 1-3
2020 Point Total: Over 3-1

2021 Washington State Schedule

2021 Washington State Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 Utah State 11:00pm/P12Net WSU -16.5/64.5
Saturday, Sep. 11 Portland State 6:00pm/P12Net N/A
Saturday, Sep. 18 USC 3:30pm/Fox N/A
Saturday, Sep. 25 at Utah TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 at California TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 9 Oregon State TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 Stanford TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 BYU TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 30 at Arizona State TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 6 OPEN TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Oregon TBA N/A
Friday, Nov. 19 Arizona 9:00pm/P12Net N/A
Friday, Nov. 26 at Washington TBA N/A