Mike Leach Returns! Washington State at BYU Preview and Prediction

This Thursday night, Mike Leach makes his return to college football as the head coach of Washington State.

Leach’s Cougars will take on the Cougars of Brigham Young University in Provo. The game will be televised on ESPN starting at 10:15 ET.

Washington State “Pirates”

At least that should be WAZZU’s new handle as long as Mike Leach is at the Palouse.

Let BYU have the suddenly semi-insensitive Cougars handle to themselves.

Leach’s long-standing fetish with Buccaneers is summed up by this quote in Wikipedia:

“Pirates function as a team. With pirates, it didn’t matter if you were black, white, rich or poor. The object was to get a treasure. If the captain did a bad job, you could just overthrow him.”

Or, if the head pirate starts to make too much loot himself, you do what Texas Tech did 32 months ago and just decide to let the captain walk the plank.

The swashbuckling coach finally makes his return to the a college football sideline this week.

For Mike Leach, his life and career officially reaches full circle when his Washington St. team travels to Provo, which he is predictably downplaying.

If you know Leach’s bio, he is a BYU alum, but he never played a down of football there. Leach played club rugby at the school – and this past spring congratulated the current BYU rugby squad that won a national championship on social media.

Soon after leaving school, Leach traded his world of off-loads and hit-ups and broke into coaching with the other ‘football’.

Having followed the exploits of an all-time great BYU coaching staff that included HC LaVell Edwards, OC Norm Chow, a quarterbacks coach named Mike Holmgren, and a graduate assistant named Andy Reid, Leach embarked on his own coaching career. He started as an assistant at Cal Poly in 1987, which began a journey that culminated in a spectacular but ultimately controversial ten-year tenure (84 wins) at Texas Tech University. Leach’s time at Tech ended in his termination over his handling of an injured player just days before he was due a lucrative tenure bonus.

I’m sure Craig James will be distancing himself from having any role in the ESPN telecast.

Although as far away as possible from Leach’s adopted home of Key West, Florida (where he and ‘Robert the Doll’ are no doubt good bed-fellows), Pullman, WA appears to be the perfect landing spot. It is a similar underdog gig to coaching Texas Tech in the Big XII.

In recent years Washington State has been the worst team of any BCS conference, but showed signs of life in 2011. Although last place in the Pac-12 North, WAZZU wound up with an overall 4-8 record. This was not good enough for HC Paul Wulff (9-40 in four years) to save his job.

The team was respectable in most contests, even against top ten teams Stanford and Oregon. WAZZU held its own, losing to the Cardinal at home 44-14 and losing in Eugene 43-28. The two conference wins came at Colorado (31-27) and v. Arizona State (37-27). They also scored non-conference blowouts v. Idaho State (64-21) and UNLV (59-7).

So 2011 was a start.

Leach’s offense always revolves around a high percentage passing game, one eight yard pass at a time. Leach’s system does not translate into NFL prospects under center though, and anyone who has seen Graham Harrell in pre-season action with the Green Bay Packers the past few weeks knows that.

WAZZUu does have an experienced senior at QB with Jeff Tuel, who completed around 60% of his passes last year (65% is considered acceptable under the Leach system). Redshirt sophomore Connor Halliday is the backup and will be in the picture this year. He passed for 494 yards/4 TD’s in the win over ASU late last year but suffered a liver injury the following week and is just now getting back up to speed.

BYU Cougars

Remember when Jake Heaps was supposed to be the latest savior at QB in Provo?

After being one of most highly recruited prep quarterbacks in 2009, Heaps was shaky over a year and a half and could never shake off veteran Riley Nelson, with the eventual last straw being a turnover-filled early season 54-10 loss to arch-rival Utah. Heaps has since transferred to the University of Kansas and head coach Charlie Weiss, where he is expected to start there in 2013 … if he lives up to the press clippings the second time around.

A RM/red-shirt/senior who started his college career at Utah State in 2006, Nelson gets to start his final season without looking over his shoulder, and he is on the early season Maxwell Award/Davey O’Brien watch lists.

BYU had a successful first season as an independent, with Bronco Mendenhall’s bunch going 10-3 and defeating Tulsa 24-21 in the bowl season. Although the independent template still works well at Notre Dame, the jury is still out on whether the idea will work at Brigham Young.

Say what you want about the old WAC and the Mountain West, but conference titles are always nice goals to shoot for. Unless BYU runs the table and gets into BCS consideration, they will be automatically consigned to the Poinsettia Bowl by just becoming bowl eligible this year. The opponent would be against a Mountain West representative.

The September schedule will be challenging. The Cougars will play at Utah for the last time for the foreseeable future on September 15, and at Boise State just five days later. Oregon State will be the highest marquee home opponent this year in October, followed by road games at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.

The University will tell you that they are very happy with their current arrangement as an independent and their TV contract with ESPN (where they don’t have to split up the $$$ as they would as a conference member). The company line is that the school gets as much air-time as any in the country, even if it often is on odd days (Thursday/Friday) andat  odd times.

For a school/church that prides itself on marriage, the football program insists they will remain happy being single for the time being.

My question long term is how many quality opponents will the Y be able to schedule. More importantly, how many of those teams can they get to come out to Provo?

The Cougars have some Pac-12 schools – Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, among others – as opponents, which helps the school’s goal of achieving a national profile. BYU also recently scheduled a home-and-home versus Wisconsin; the two will play in Madison in November 2013 with the return game at LES in a future year.

But as far as getting elite opponents to come to Provo, I do not imagine too many taking that gamble. The #1 pre-season ranked 1990 Miami Hurricanes are a prime example of why. They lost to the Ty Detmer-led BYU team to open that season. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is currently in a watered-down Big Ten division with perennially awful Indiana and Minnesota among their opponents, along with a currently crippled Penn State program, so they are a program that could use a non-conference bump.

And then there is the University of Utah’s decision to drop their century-old rivalry with the Y, one of the most bitter in college football. Fans should be able to understand Utah’s reasoning. With nine Pac-12 games, the Utes only have three non-conference slots available, and like BYU, the Utes are also looking for marquee intersectional, non-conference games to help spread its own product around.

There are other in-state rivalries between teams in different conferences (Florida/Florida St., Clemson/South Carolina, Georgia Tech/Georgia), but those programs already sell themselves. BYU and Utah are in different boats however, and both schools have a need to play different opponents. College football is a business, and will go on with the universities taking a break from their football rivalry – I actually think long-run it will be good for both concerned.

Possible Draft Prospects

Washington State

  • Jeff Tuel/QB – Has started since frosh year, last QB there to do that was named Bledsoe, but has injury history.
  • Marquess Wilson/WR (Jr.) – 6’2” 188, Considered WAZZU’s best pro prospect in several year, 82 catches/1,388 receiving yards/12 TD’s last year, 40 time estimated in 4.5 range, some think current weight more in 175 range.


  • Romney Fuga/NT – Fitting first name, limited experience but should thrive this year in 34, had torn ACL earlier in his career.
  •  Cody Hoffman/WR (Jr.) – On Biletnikoff Watch list, was on the sidelines during camp due to a ‘team discipline’ issue
  • Preston Hadley/CB – Late bloomer, was cut first year from his JC team, not elite skills, but could be mid-round pick.

Washington State-BYU Prediction

Give WAZZU some time and Mike Leach will have this group competitive.

  • BYU 45, Washington State 31


Washington State-BYU Game Info

  • Date: Thursday, August 30
  • Time: 10:15 PM Eastern
  • TV: ESPN (subject to completion of previous game, start may be aired on another ESPN outlet)
  • Location:  LaVell Edwards Stadium – Provo, UT
  • Weather:  Pleasant, game-time temperature upper 70’s, light winds (And Mike Leach DOES care about the weather)
  • Announcers:  ESPN/Joe Tessitore/Matt Millen, sideline reporter TBA – BYUtv (tape-delay) Dave McCann/Blaine Fowler
About the Author

Kurt Allen

Have written/blogged about sports since 2000, along with starting my popular Twitter feed in 2009. I also closely follow fantasy sports developments, along with events such as the NFL Draft.