2004 Predictions: Fifth in Pac-10 (media poll), 43rd of 117 teams in NCAA Division I-A (Sports Illustrated rankings).
Key Players: (2003 Statistics) MLB Will Derting (86 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks), QB Josh Swogger (41-for-81, 548 yards, 1 TD, 5 interceptions), RB Chris Bruhn (78 carries, 353 yards, 0 TDs), CB Karl Paymah (55 tackles, 1 interception, 10 pass breakups), TE Troy Bienemann (29 receptions, 273 yards, 2 TDs), P Kyle Basler (43.5 average), OLT Calvin Armstrong (protects Swogger's blindside), ORT Sam Lightbody (6-foot-9, 325-pound NFL prospect), FS Hamza Abdullah (fiery, vocal leader).
Coach: Bill Doba (10-3 career record; 10-3 at WSU; 2nd season at WSU).
The Good News: Derting, a preseason All-American, plays football like someone soaked his jockstrap in Tabasco sauce. Moving the Okanogan native from outside linebacker to middle linebacker makes it more difficult for frightened opponents to run away from him. Swogger has a rifle of an arm, and Bruhn is a powerful runner who showed flashes of brilliance last season. Paymah, overshadowed in the past by Jason David, is bigger and stronger than David and fared well when matched up against big, talented receivers like USC's Mike Williams and Washington's Reggie Williams last year. Basler punts balls like he has a personal grudge against pigskin. He was voted the Most Valuable Defensive Player -- virtually unheard of for punters -- when he dropped four punts inside the Texas 5-yard line in WSU's Holiday Bowl win last December. Junior college transfers Jerome Harrison (running back), Greg Prator (wide receiver) and Tyron Brackenridge (cornerback) look like keepers, and blurry-fast wide receiver Michael Bumpus is the rare WSU true freshman who may have an immediate impact.
The Not-So-Good News: With 16 new starters, the steady stream of injuries that sidelined so many Cougars in preseason workouts cost many players valuable learning time. Defensive co-captains Derting (dislocated wrist) and Abdullah (broken hand) will be limited or sidelined, at least in the early going, while playing in casts. Swogger, Bruhn and the three starting wide receivers have one WSU start between them. Swogger has been so-so in practice, and smaller, quicker Alex Brink is pushing him. Derting and Paymah are the only returning starters from the sensational defense that bailed WSU out time and again last year. WSU's revamped defensive line is filled with players who showed considerable promise as reserves last year, but now they must play full-time.
Coach's Quote: "I'm really excited about this team's work ethic. The way they have responded to being here this summer has been great, as is their attitude and ability to work hard. That's not to say we don't have some concerns."
Big Game: Oregon, ranked in the Top 25 by several sources, comes to Pullman on Oct. 9. The Ducks are still smarting from last year's 55-16 home loss to WSU, when the Ducks were ranked 10th and were that week's cover boys on Sports Illustrated.
Betcha Didn't Know: Thanks to record boosters enrollment, near-record football attendance and TV revenue keyed by a third straight Top 10 national polls finish in football, the WSU Athletic Department turned a profit of nearly $1 million for the 2003 fiscal year. Most NCAA Division I-A football schools lose money on athletics.