For years, it seemed as if Washington State might never find a way to win in football.

From 2004-12, the Cougars went through a losing stretch with which Colorado could sympathize.

Washington State has enjoyed a run of success the past three years, however, and the challenge for this year will be to keep it going. This month, is previewing each of Colorado's opponents, with this installment focusing on the Cougars, who visit Folsom Field on Nov. 10.

Under the direction of head coach Mike Leach, the Cougars have gone 26-13 overall the past three years and their 19-8 Pac-12 record has been topped only by Stanford and Southern California, which have both gone 21-6 in that stretch.

CU’s Devin Ross, right, tries to outrun Washington State’s Nnamdi Oguayo at Folsom Field in Boulder in 2016.
CU's Devin Ross, right, tries to outrun Washington State's Nnamdi Oguayo at Folsom Field in Boulder in 2016. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

To keep it going, Leach and the Cougars have to first find a quarterback, and that won't be easy after a tragic offseason.

Although Luke Falk, who directed many of the wins over the past few years and finished his career as the Pac-12's all-time passing leader, graduated, there was plenty of excitement about Tyler Hilinski, who played well when given a chance.

The Cougars, however, tragically lost Hilinski, who committed suicide in January. Coaches and players, obviously, have spent much of the offseason dealing with the death of their teammate and friend. Hilinski is sure to be on the minds of the Cougars and their fans throughout this next season, and his absence was felt throughout spring practices.


In the spring, senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer told USA Today, "It's been a process. I think we made it over the hump, so to speak. It's never going to be perfect. The hardest part was finding that new normal."

Wazzu is now starting over at quarterback. Juniors Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon, both JUCO transfers with no game experience at Wazzu, led the way in the spring, and receiver Dezmon Patmon told media in the spring, "Everybody (at quarterback) has kind of stepped up."

The job, however, might wind up going to Gardner Minshew, a graduate transfer from East Carolina who arrived in Pullman this summer.

"This is an opportunity to compete for a (starting) job on a very good team with a staff that I've always looked up to and respected," Minshew told Sports Illustrated in March. "I've got goals as an (aspiring) coach but also as a player, and my goal right now is to get a shot in the NFL. And I think this will give me a good opportunity at that."

Minshew, or whoever takes snaps, will have plenty of weapons. Although just four starters are back on offense, six players with 30-plus catches in 2017 are back, and James Williams is one of the most versatile running backs in the Pac-12.

CU’s Shay Fields, middle, is tackled by Washington State’s Darrien Molton, left, and Jalen Thompson at Folsom Field in Boulder in 2016.
CU's Shay Fields, middle, is tackled by Washington State's Darrien Molton, left, and Jalen Thompson at Folsom Field in Boulder in 2016. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

In his 16 seasons as a head coach, Leach has always had explosive offenses, but what really put the Cougars over the top the past three years was their defense. Former coordinator Alex Grinch, who left in the offseason for Ohio State, made an immediate impact upon his arrival in 2015.

Washington State gave up 38.6 points per game in 2014, but never yielded more than 27.7 under Grinch, and they got better every year under his direction.

Former Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys was hired in the offseason to run the defense, and he's kept most of the terminology intact. With Pelluer, defensive end Nnamdi Oguayo and safety Jalen Thompson leading the way, the Cougars also have some talent on that side of the ball.

Certainly, it will take some time for the Cougars to adjust to significant changes to its roster and staff, but Leach has been through this before. He took Texas Tech to 10 consecutive bowl games from 2000-09.

Leach now faces the challenge of maintaining the success he's found in Pullman.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or