It's common for Washington State fans to spend the offseason analyzing the upcoming 12-game schedule and penciling out different paths to bowl eligibility.
Las Vegas oddsmakers conducting the same experiment this summer have decided the Cougars have a chance to return to the postseason this December. But there isn't much room to stumble.
The popular gambling website DraftKings.com set over/under win/loss totals for every college football team approximately one month ago, setting WSU right at six wins — the minimum total for bowl eligibility.
Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill released its own win/loss totals earlier this month and utilized the same line of thinking, projecting a six-win season for the Cougars.
A third sportsbook, BetOnline.ag, is also anticipating six wins for WSU and coach Nick Rolovich in year number two.
If the Cougars can squeeze out at least six wins from a schedule that features seven home games and five on the road, they'll most likely secure their sixth consecutive bowl bid (in full seasons). In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, WSU played just four of the seven games on its original schedule. The Cougars opted out of playing in a bowl game before their mid-December finale at Utah, although it's unlikely they would've picked up an invitation with their 1-3 record.
With five wins or fewer, the Cougars will miss out on the postseason for the first time since 2014, when Mike Leach's team went 3-9 and won just two games in Pac-12 Conference play.
In an article analyzing the over/under odds for every Pac-12 team, AthlonSports.com took the under on WSU's six-win season projection, posing concerns about the Cougars' quarterback situation and ability to improve on defense. When fall camp opens, the top storyline promises to be the three-man QB battle between returning starter Jayden de Laura, graduate transfer Jarrett Guarantano and Cammon Cooper.
"This one is close, but if we had to pick, taking the under is the call," wrote author Steven Lassan. "Washington State has six winnable games at home, but uncertainty at quarterback and defense push us to the under right now."
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News also took the under, pointing to the quarterback quandary and difficult road schedule as things that may hinder WSU's success in 2021.
"The number feels a tad high considering the muddled quarterback situation, the brutal road schedule (Seattle, Eugene, Tempe and Salt Lake City) and the wrong cross-division misses (Colorado and UCLA)," Wilner wrote. "Not even a fairly soft non-conference schedule gives us much confidence in the Over. Were the total instead set at 5.5, we'd consider it. But seven wins? Feels like a stretch."
While most oddsmakers agree on WSU's win/loss total, they seem to differ when deciding where the Cougars will fall on the Pac-12 totem pole. DraftKings gives WSU the seventh-best odds of winning a conference title, tied with Colorado at +2000, and the fourth-best odds of winning the North division, at +900. California (+1400) and Oregon State (+2000) both have lower odds of claiming the division.
William Hill Sportsbook gives both WSU and Colorado the eighth-best odds of winning the Pac-12 championship at +2500, while BetOnline.ag is slightly lower on the Cougars' chances, giving them the 10th-best odds of winning the Pac-12 at +2800.
Using a model that computes 10,000 schedule simulations for every Pac-12 team, Pro Football Focus projected a bowl appearance for the Cougars at 6.5 wins. In the June 2 article, PFF gave the Cougars a 6% chance of reaching their first Pac-12 championship game and a 3% chance of winning the league.
For the first time since Pac-12 career passing yards record-holder Luke Falk held WSU's starting quarterback job, the Cougars enter a football season with a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. Between now and September, WSU fans can bet on the team's win/loss odds, but also those of running back Max Borghi claiming the school's first Heisman.
While quarterbacks like Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), D.J. Uiagalelei (Clemson) and Bryce Young (Alabama) have dominated the preseason Heisman conversation, Borghi is given the 17th-best odds of winning college football's most prestigious trophy, according to DraftKings. Borghi also has the third-best chance in the Pac-12, behind USC's Kedon Slovis and Arizona State's Jayden Daniels, to win the Heisman and the best odds for a non-quarterback in the conference. Borghi's DraftKings and PointsBet odds sit at +5000 while William Hill gives him +6000 Heisman odds.