Editor’s note: Sixth in a series previewing each team in the Pac-12.

Could Washington State be bringing back a version of the “Air Raid” offense this fall?

The late Mike Leach brought the high-flying, pass-happy style to Pullman in 2012, producing tons of points, passing yards and entertainment.

During the offseason, WSU coach Jake Dickert hired 27-year-old Ben Arbuckle, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the coaching profession, as the new offensive coordinator.

Arbuckle has been an assistant coach for one season — in 2022, when he served as the co-offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky. 

The Hilltoppers ranked No. 2 in the country in total yards with 4,929 yards and 43 touchdowns. Quarterback Austin Reed threw for 4,746 yards. 

What’s Arbuckle’s philosophy?

“With the quarterbacks, I have a saying in my room: ‘Just throw that ball deep and good things happen,’” he told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. “I like our odds whenever the ball goes in the air.”

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With the Cougars, Arbuckle will work with Cameron Ward, who threw for 3,231 yards and 23 TDs and nine interceptions last season. 

Arbuckle can’t wait to restore the passing tradition at Washington State. 

“Over the last decade or so, you had explosive offenses throwing the ball through the air,” Arbuckle said. “I wanted to put my stamp on that.”

Dickert explained why he hired the relatively inexperienced Arbuckle.

“It’s been really important for me to create stability,” he said. “How do we take a step forward? How do we not restart? How do we build upon the pieces and players that we currently have in place? That’s where Ben Arbuckle rose up above the rest.”

There are some concerns, however. The Cougars’ top four receivers from last season have left the program and left tackle Jarrett Kingston transferred to USC.

However, WSU has added several new wide receivers to the program through the transfer portal — Josh Kelly (Fresno State), Kyle Williams (UNLV) and Isaiah Hamilton (San Jose State). 

Meanwhile, DT Sheffield, who caught 58 passes for 776 yards and 11 touchdowns last season at Northwest Mississippi Community College, was rated the fourth-best junior college wide receiver in the country by ESPN.com. 

At running back, Nakia Watson, who transferred from Wisconsin and WSU and had 144 carries for a team-leading 769 yards and nine rushing touchdowns in 2022.

On the defensive side, Dickert hired a new coordinator in Jeff Schmedding, who spent the past two seasons at Auburn as the D-coordinator. He inherits a solid defense that gave up just 22.9 points per game last season. 

WSU’s defense is highlighted by linebackers Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson. 

The Cougars have also added a pair of linebackers from the transfer portal — Devin Richardson (Texas) and Ahmad McCullough (Maryland). 

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2022 record: 7-6 (4-5 Pac-12)

Utah ties

DE Lawrence Falatea (Alta HS)

OL Rodrick Tialavea (Highland HS) 

OL Christian Hilborn (Highland HS)

2023 schedule

  • Sept. 2 @Colorado State
  • Sept. 9 Wisconsin
  • Sept. 16 Northern Colorado
  • Sept. 23 Oregon State
  • Oct. 7  @UCLA
  • Oct. 14 Arizona
  • Oct. 21  @ Oregon
  • Oct. 28 @ Arizona State
  • Nov. 4 Stanford
  • Nov. 11 @California
  • Nov. 17 Colorado
  • Nov. 25 @Washington
Washington State defensive end Brennan Jackson, left, is one of the Cougars’ top returning defenders in 2023. | Godofredo A. Vásquez, Associated Press
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