Washington State coach Mike Leach is fascinated by pirates, having titled his autobiography “Swing Your Sword.” Gardner Minshew is an ex-Pirate, having transferred from East Carolina.

That swashbuckling connection is not the reason Minshew has become WSU's likely starting quarterback, but there's no question he's a central figure in Leach's QB-driven offense as the Cougars regroup this season.

WSU lost record-setting quarterback Luke Falk, a Logan High School alumnus who started for parts of four seasons in Pullman. The death of Tyler Hilinski, Falk’s probable successor, shook the program in January and launched the search that landed Minshew. He apparently has won the job of three other contenders, including freshman Cammon Cooper of Lehi.

Minshew is “really accurate,” Leach said last month during the Pac-12 Media Day, and his experience and familiarity with a scheme that’s somewhat similar to WSU’s have elevated him as the starter.

PAC-12 PREVIEWS


This is the sixth installment in a series previewing Pac-12 football teams. Today: Washington State.

Minshew played in part of the Pirates' win over BYU last October, throwing two touchdown passes, and then took the job in the next game at Houston, completing 52 of 68 passes for 463 yards and three scores. So he’s accustomed to the high-volume passing of Leach’s scheme.

Quarterback is not the only position that needed a replacement, though. The Cougars are rebuilding throughout the offense, explaining why they were picked fifth in the Pac-12 North in the media poll. WSU hosts Utah on Sept. 29, after a nonconference schedule of Wyoming on the road and San Jose State and Eastern Washington at home and the Pac-12 opener at USC.

The Cougars will succeed if:

Minshew proves to be a plug-and-play QB as a graduate transfer and the offense develops quickly around him. He’s unproven at the Power Five level, and Athlon Sports ranked WSU’s quarterback, offensive line and receivers No. 9 or lower among position groups the Pac-12. Tay Martin, who caught 31 passes last season, is the top returning receiver.

The Cougars won’t succeed if:

A defense with a new coordinator is not good enough to carry the team in the early stages of the season. Former Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys replaced Alex Grinch as the coordinator, after Grinch impressively turned the WSU defense into a strong unit and then left for Ohio State. The Cougars will need the conference’s No. 1-ranked defensive line, led by end Nnamdi Oguayo, to have a big impact.