What to watch for: Washington State's Crimson and Gray Spring Game
The Air Raid sirens didn't quite go off as expected in Pullman following the hire of Mike Leach, but there were some building blocks set down late in the year that gave hope heading into year two. There's little doubt that the Cougars are behind in terms of competing for the Pac-12 championship, but progress is the name of the game this spring, and there figures to be plenty of it on the Palouse. Here are a few things to watch for as Washington State hosts its annual Crimson and Gray Spring Game on Pac-12 Networks at 2 p.m. PT Saturday:
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Will Connor Halliday take hold of the starting quarterback job?
It was a hot and cold-type season for Halliday in 2012. There were a few games - like the narrow loss to UCLA - where he looked like he was going to be just fine. There were a few others that made one understand Leach's decision to start Jeff Tuel. With experience under his belt, many expect Halliday to be the guy coming out of spring football, but no signal-caller has been named the starter just yet as Austin Apodaca has made this a two-man race. The spring game figures to be the last chance for Halliday to leave one last impression on the coaching staff that he's the quarterback for this team. Whether he steps up and takes the job is still to be seen.
[Related: Spring football TV schedule]
Bodies in the trenches
While there's a decent collection of skill position talent, the biggest question marks regarding the Cougars lies in the trenches. There was enough to get by last season, but it wasn't pretty: 120th in sacks allowed. Leach is at least hopeful the situation is better for the upcoming year with an infusion of fresh bodies and plenty of competition to be had. A number of key contributors won't arrive until the fall, but until they land in Pullman, the coaching staff is looking for improvement across the board. Though most of the linebacking corps returns, finding a replacement for the do-it-all Travis Long may be an issue over the course of a season for the front seven.
[Related: Washington State 2013 football schedule]
Is the team getting better or staying the same?
The current team getting put through the paces this spring has not experienced much success. That means the players need to learn how to get better. It's not just taking reps or lifting more in the weight room; it's knowing the play calls better and executing on the field no matter the conditions. A second season with the coaching staff helps, but it's on the players themselves to step up their game. This could be a much more competitive squad, but the jury is still out on that until the pads are strapped on.