It appears the 12-year tradition of Washington State playing a home game in Seattle will come to an end with the Cougars' season-opener against Rutgers on Thursday.
With the exception of 2010, Washington State has played one home game at Seattle's CenturyLink Field every year since 2002, when the venue was known as Seahawks Stadium. The Cougars will not play a home game in Seattle next season, and athletic director Bill Moos has indicated that Seattle home games will no longer be scheduled for the foreseeable future.
Games in Seattle were scheduled to improve Washington State's exposure and bring more money to the program from gate receipts.
The average Seattle game attendance of 50,273 is roughly 15,000 more than the seating capacity of WSU's Martin Stadium. Although Washington State incurs travel expenses for the trip to Seattle, the game nets the program as much as twice the revenue that a sellout in Pullman could bring.
"(The Seattle game) has served its purpose well and in my time," Moos said. "Especially during the period of time when we had a lot of things that we wanted to address and really didn't have the means in which to do that, the Seattle game created a revenue stream so that we could get started on some of these things."
Dwindling attendance in Seattle has made Moos change his mind about scheduling there. Attendance dipped against Stanford last season to an all-time low of 40,095. With a weeknight game during the first week of classes in Pullman, fewer than 30,000 tickets have been sold for the game with Rutgers.
Moreover, Washington State, without the intimacy of Martin Stadium, has lost the last three games in Seattle in conference games vs. Oregon State, Oregon and Stanford by a combined score of 150-64.
Washington State is in less of a need of the financial boost from Seattle games because of the Pac-12 television deal. The Cougars also want to show off their revamped facilities with as many games at Martin Stadium as possible.
"We probably have a better chance to win if we're playing at home in Pullman," Moos said. "And our product is at the point now where we can realistically compete with everybody on our schedule."
A game between Washington State and Rutgers in Seattle may not have much appeal to folks outside of Pullman, but Cougars coach Mike Leach will use the experience as a bonding mission for his team.
The game can also boost the confidence of senior quarterback Connor Halliday, who will face a questionable Rutgers secondary that has suffered injuries in the preseason. The Scarlet Knights allowed more than 4,000 passing yards last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--RB Jamal Morrow, a redshirt freshman, has emerged as Washington State's No. 1 back. Morrow, who is listed at 5-8 and 187 pounds, has a fearless running style that Washington State coach Mike Leach respects. The Cougars' running game was practically non-existent last year, averaging only 13 carries a game, but they averaged 5 yards per carry. Morrow figures to get a bulk of the carries and yards.
--QB Connor Halliday is the leader of Mike Leach's Air Raid offense and set a Washington State record last year with 4,597 passing yards. He led the nation with 714 pass attempts, including an FBS record 89 attempts in a loss to Oregon. The Cougars threw the ball on 75.7 percent of their plays from scrimmage last season.
--DT Xavier Cooper, a junior, started all 13 games last season and compiled 50 tackles with a team-leading five sacks. He also had 13.5 tackles for lost yardage, ranking ninth in the Pac-12. Considered a potential mid-round NFL draft pick, Cooper has been named to various preseason watch lists for college football awards.
SERIES HISTORY: Washington State and Rutgers have never played in football.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are 100 percent healthy, which is amazing because this is two straight years 100 percent healthy." -- Washington coach Mike Leach on his team's health, although his top receiver, Gabe Marks, might be lost for the season with an unspecified injury.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Washington State's new blood at running back figures to boost a rushing attack that averaged only 53.4 yards per game last season. Three new rushers have pushed themselves to the forefront, relegating Marcus Mason (last season's leader in offensive yards) to the scout team and moving Teondray Caldwell (who started five games at running back last season) to safety in an effort to get him on the field in some capacity. Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and Theron West have mostly been tested in fall camp, and Morrow has emerged as the No. 1 back. Wicks should be used in short yardage situations.
Scouting the passing game: Led by prolific passer Connor Halliday, Washington State's Air Raid offense is one of the most feared among in the Pac-12. Washington State had eight players with at least 39 receptions last season. All eight are back, although the availability of junior wide receiver Gabe Marks (74 catches, 807 yards, seven touchdowns) is in question. Marks has practiced off and on during fall camp with the scout team. Coach Mike Leach has commented that his top receiver might redshirt to become completely healthy before playing again.
Scouting the run defense: This area is one of Washington State's strengths with experience and talented backups on the defensive line. The threesome of defensive linemen Xavier Cooper, Kalafitoni Pole and Robert Barber could rank among the best in the Pac-12. Washington State also has freshmen defensive linemen Ngalu Tapa (6-2, 314) and Daniel Ekuale (6-3, 281) who will push for playing time. The linebacker corps is also experienced. With a combined 54 starts under their belt, Kache Palacio, Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen should make Washington State's defense formidable.
Scouting the pass defense: This is a major area of concern with the loss of Deone Bucannon to the NFL. The All-American strong safety led the team in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles a year ago. At cornerback, the Cougars lost Nolan Washington, who made 31 career starts. They also lost Damante Horton, whose three interceptions returned for touchdowns were critical in wins over USC and Utah. Taylor Taliulu is the dean of the defensive backs with 12 starts in his two seasons. Cornerback Daquawn Brown made four starts in 2013 and is the best playmaker in the secondary.
Scouting the special teams: Gone is reliable Andrew Furney, who had 45 starts at Washington State and made 77 percent of his field goals. Also gone is punter Mike Bowlin, who started 23 games in two years at WSU. Even the return game is in flux with the departure of Leon Brooks, whose average of 9.0 yards per punt return was No. 3 in the Pac-12 last season. At placekicker, Erik Powell appears ready to take over after a redshirt season. Powell made 25 of 28 field goal attempts in the spring. After some early struggles in fall camp, Powell seemed to regain his rhythm. Wes Concepcion will likely replace Bowlin because of his accuracy with punts. The prime returner will likely emerge from freshmen Marcellus Pippins, Jamal Morrow and Robert Lewis.
DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):
--QB Connor Halliday (No. 20 quarterback, 377th overall) -- A senior, Halliday, known for his arm strength, could improve his stock by exhibiting more control behind the line of scrimmage. Halliday set the school record with 4,597 passing yards last season and tied Ryan Leaf's single-season mark with 34 touchdown passes. In his first season as Washington State's full-time starter, Halliday took too many risks, resulting in 22 interceptions. He has a lot of zip on his passes and has a tendency to overthrow his receivers.
--WR Vince Mayle (No. 25 receiver, 194th overall) -- After spending his first year out of high school playing basketball in junior college, Mayle switched to football in 2012 and led all California Community College receivers with 16 touchdown receptions. Mayle signed with Washington State and became one of the Cougars' primary receivers with 42 catches for 539 yards last season. Reports indicate that Mayle -- listed at 6-3, 240 -- has dropped 20 pounds since last year and is showing improved quickness and route-running.
--DB Barry Ware, a freshman who was part of Mike Leach's 2014 recruiting class, is not on Washington State's roster and is not attending school.
--WR Deion Singleton, a member of WSU's 2014 recruiting class, is not listed on the roster and is not enrolled.
--CB Sebastian LaRue, a transfer from Texas A&M, has not practiced with the Cougars for two weeks while attending to family matters, according to Washington State coach Mike Leach.
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