Southern Utah - Washington State TV viewer guide

Game day: September 14, 3:30 p.m. PT

Stadium: Martin Stadium – Pullman, Wash.

Southern Utah - Washington State TV Information: Pac-12 Networks

Story lines: The Cougars will officially be welcomed back to Pullman for their 2013 home opener with this clash against Southern Utah. The last time Washington State played at Martin Stadium? It was a pretty fun time for all in attendance. That was part of the good news for Washington State in 2012 – the Cougars won two of their first three games and their final contest of the season. The bad news? They lost all eight in between and finished the season 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-12. However, that win in the final game of the year brought many a good vibe to the Palouse, beating hated rival Washington in the Apple Cup after being down 18 points in the fourth quarter.

It’s now year two of the Mike Leach era in Pullman, and the Cougars are looking to make their first bowl game in a decade. Expectations were high for Leach’s boys in year one (probably too high), but Washington State feels like it’s headed in the right direction. With guys like senior nose tackle Ioane Gauta up front, it looks like the defensive line can carry its weight and, thanks to Darryl Monroe and Justin Sagote, the linebackers should be a strength. These are good signs for a defense that ranked 81st in the country in total defense a year ago.

But of course, when people think Mike Leach and Washington State, they think Air Raid. It might sound like a simple pitch-and-catch attack, but it’s significantly more nuanced than that: CougCenter spent multiple articles describing the playbook and Smart Football dedicated an epic to its origins, of which Coach Leach played a big role. Barring injury, there should be a lot more consistency at the quarterback spot now that Jeff Tuel has moved on.

[Related: 2013 Washington State football schedule]

It’s Connor Halliday’s show, and while he might not carry the high profile of a Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley or Keith Price, he knows how to fling that pigskin around. He’ll have plenty of options to throw it to as well – Gabe Marks, Brett Bartolone, Isiah Myers, Dominique Williams, Bobby Ratliff, Kristoff Williams, River Cracraft and so on. In other words, don’t expect this offense to finish 106th in scoring and 94th in yards per game in the nation again in 2013. Should Halliday get injured or Leach decide to make a change, Austin Apodaca has also looked solid in fall camp, so you could say that there is no bad choice at quarterback for Mike Leach (for the record, Leach has yet to officially name a starter, but has long said that Halliday would be the starter if the season opener were today).

On the other side of the football is Southern Utah, hailing from the Big Sky Conference. Perhaps no team in the country had as much fun with its spring game as Southern Utah, which decided to auction off the chance to coach one of the teams to a fan and her friends and let the other squad be coached by the women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer head coaches.

While that sounds all loosey-goosey, the Thunderbirds potentially solved the biggest question facing them in the off-season: Who will replace Thunderbird all-time leading passer Brad Sorenson, who was drafted by the Chargers? The answer was a resounding Aaron Cantu, who completed more than 80 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns against zero picks in the spring game. The East Los Angeles College transfer led the NJCAA with 3,358 yards passing and 32 touchdowns last year, so he has the potential to do some damage in the Big Sky.

[Related: Get tickets for the Cougars home football games]

The Cougs struggled with last year’s FCS opponent (Eastern Washington) before winning 24-20. Will the Thunderbirds provide the same challenge? A preseason projected finish of ninth in the 13-team Big Sky suggests not, but as Chris Berman says, that's what they play the game.

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