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Originally published July 23, 2014 at 7:33 PM | Page modified July 23, 2014 at 10:16 PM

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Bowl game was nice but Cougars have bigger plans this year

Washington State has just three viable quarterbacks on the roster but one of them is senior standout Connor Halliday. “How far can we take this thing?” Halliday asked Wednesday at the Pac-12 media days event.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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LOS ANGELES – Between riffs on heat in Palm Desert and cold in Wyoming, gnats in Georgia and restaurants in Pullman, Mike Leach managed to slip in a few observations on his football team Wednesday at the Pac-12 football media days.

The Cougars open camp at the end of next week in Lewiston, Idaho, a practice they began a year ago and liked even before they broke a decade-long drought of postseason appearances in the New Mexico Bowl.

Prominent among the offseason issues were the transfers of quarterbacks Tyler Bruggman and Austin Apodaca, which leaves the Cougars with only three viable players there — fifth-year senior and unquestioned starter Connor Halliday, walk-on Luke Falk and incoming freshman Peyton Bender of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“It happens,” said Leach, the Washington State coach, talking about the quarterback attrition. “You play eight receivers, and you play one quarterback. There’s sort of limited space.”

As for Falk, the apparent backup now to Halliday, Leach said: “The negative is, we have less depth. The positive is, he’ll get more reps.”

Halliday, who appeared at the annual event with linebacker teammate Darryl Monroe, said he didn’t see the transfer coming from Bruggman, who had been a four-star recruit.

Of Falk, a redshirt freshman, he said, “You never really know; he’s never taken a college-football snap. When you’re trying to get all these senior receivers and guys like Gabe Marks to listen to you in the huddle, that’s not fun.

“But guys respond to him. If he had to go in, I wouldn’t be scared. I’ve got confidence in him.”

But the transfers also open the door for Bender, who has played in a similar offense in high school.

“We’ll find out,” Leach said. “Peyton’s a very smart individual. The ball comes off his hand really good, he’s very accurate, he has great feet and he’s getting bigger. Yeah, we’re excited about him.”

On campus, the Cougars are in their football-operations building, which they unveiled to the players in June. Leach called it “the biggest locker room I’ve ever been in, the biggest weight room I’ve been in and the best football complex overall.”

But much of Leach’s time in a general media session was spent musing on a lot of other subjects, like the 1988 season when he was linebackers coach at College of the Desert, broiling in Palm Desert, Calif.

“You’d go home and they’d say on TV, the hottest place in the nation today was Phoenix, Ariz., at 112 degrees. Well, I went by the bank (in Palm Desert), and it said it was 123 degrees.

“Then you’d go to a mall and see two skeletons lying there dead, next to a cactus, and one is saying to the other, ‘Yeah, but it’s a dry heat.’ ”

He was feisty. Asked about WSU’s attractive home schedule — Oregon, USC, Washington — Leach said of Martin Stadium: “It’s a mean, bad, nasty place to play. I can’t guarantee anyone’s survival, but they have to come there anyway.”

The hire of Washington coach Chris Petersen seems to raise the national profile of the Apple Cup, but Leach was probably accurate when he said: “No disrespect to him, but it’d be hard to ratchet that rivalry up any more. I don’t think I had anything to do with it. It’s a very meaningful game to both schools.”

Washington State opens against Rutgers at CenturyLink Field on Aug. 28, and Leach said: “Seattle’s got a ton of Coug fans. Sure, there’s some Husky fans’ flags flying around, but there’s way more Coug flags.”

The WSU delegation made it plain that it expects to get to a bowl game again. Said Monroe: “I would say going to a bowl game is ‘settling.’ Our expectation is to go in every week to win a game.”

“To be the first (WSU) team to get to a bowl game in 10 years was absolutely phenomenal,” Halliday said. “But it also put a taste in guys’ mouths: How far can we take this thing?”

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com



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