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Originally published Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 3:31 PM

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Wulff: WSU has the Tuel to improve

Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel played just six games as a freshman before he was knocked out with a knee injury, but coach Paul Wulff believes he can lift the Cougars from the bottom of the Pacific-10 Conference.

Associated Press Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. —

Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel played just six games as a freshman before he was knocked out with a knee injury, but coach Paul Wulff believes he can lift the Cougars from the bottom of the Pacific-10 Conference.

Tuel has been named the starter this season and Wulff is making comparisons to former WSU great Drew Bledsoe.

"His freshman marks were better than Drew Bledsoe's stats as a true freshman at Washington State," Wulff said.

Tuel put more than 20 pounds on his skinny 6-foot-3 frame in the offseason, and says he is coming into camp with confidence and will not be bothered by pressure.

"I'm out here playing a game I love to play," Tuel said. "I don't try to blow it up too big."

He will have more freedom to throw this year, and is eager to prove the Cougars are better than the last-place team many predict. "We are dead-last in everything," Tuel said. "It gets a little old."

In six games, five as starter, Tuel completed 58 percent of his passes for 789 yards and six of the 11 touchdown passes the Cougars threw all season. He dislocated his kneecap against Arizona. By contrast, Bledsoe completed 48 percent of his passes for 1,386 yards with nine touchdowns in more games as a freshman.

Junior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, who started some games last year, will also get plenty of work in practice.

"We have the luxury of two quarterbacks," Wulff said. "Jeff is obviously the clear-cut favorite to be the guy. He's the one that's got huge upside to be better and better.

It will take more than Tuel to improve on last year's record of 1-11, 0-9 in the Pac-10, one of the worst in the program's history. The year before they were 2-11, bringing Wulff's two-year record to 3-22.

That's why Wulff ranks high on many lists of college football coaches on the hot seat.

"It's definitely not a positive," Wulff acknowledged about the attention on his job security.

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Wulff talked to his team about how such articles were inevitable this season, and to ignore them.

Wulff isn't saying how many wins the team must have for a successful season. Instead, he wants the Cougars to stay competitive late into games. That has rarely been the case the past two seasons.

"Right now, a good step would be to put ourselves in position to win games in the fourth quarter, and however many we pull out, we pull out," he said.

A big reason for the optimism Wulff has is that he red-shirted a lot of recruits last year to allow them to grow into Pac-10-quality athletes.

Washington State returns eight starters on offense and six on defense.

The defensive line is led by ends Travis Long and Kevin Kooyman, who is back for a fifth season after winning a medical waiver from the NCAA.

The offensive line remains a question mark, despite returning five starters. That unit gave up 53 sacks last year, second-highest in the nation, and was a major reason that WSU ranked second to last in total offense (249 yards a game) and scoring offense (12 points).

The Cougars will need a better running attack after averaging just 70 yards a game last season.

James Montgomery, the only WSU player to rush for more than 100 yards in a game last year, is in the midst of a remarkable comeback. Last September, he suffered a rare injury called acute compartment syndrome, in which blood flow to a muscle is restricted, resulting in tissue damage. Montgomery underwent emergency surgery and it appeared his football career might be over. But he is in camp and says he is close to 100 percent.

Other running backs are Marcus Richmond, Carl Winston and Logwone Mitz.

The top returning receivers are Jared Karstetter, who caught 38 passes for 540 yards and six touchdowns, and Gino Simone, who caught 36 passes for 330 yards.

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