No. 11 Washington
Eight years ago, Washington was coming off a 12-loss season. Now they're coming off a 12-win season.
They lost five draft picks, including three players from one of the best secondaries in the nation, but return a Heisman-contending quarterback, two terrific running backs and a front-seven that can play with anyone.
"I don't think you reload. That's not our mentality at all — at all,” head coach Chris Petersen said this summer. “We rebuild. That's just the mindset. We're not even kind of the same team we were last year. So that's always our process. We start from ground zero. We take nothing for granted.”
2016 Record: 12-2 (8-1, Pac-12)
Washington tied the program record for wins as they went 11-1 during the regular season — with the only blemish a home loss to USC — and beat Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship, their first conference title since 2000.
They scored at least 40 points in 10 games and held opponents to 21 or fewer nine times, including the 41-10 demolition of the Buffaloes.
Head Coach: Chris Petersen (4th year, 27-14 overall)
"A dream hire," then-associate athletics director (and current athletics director) Jennifer Cohen said of hiring Chris Petersen in December 2013.
Even Cohen or the most ambitious dreamers couldn't have predicted Petersen would have the Huskies in the College Football Playoff just three years later.
His extraordinary work with the program that toiled in mediocrity for most of the last two decades was rewarded with a contract extension and raise that makes him the highest-paid coach in the Pac-12.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, RB Lavon Coleman, WR Dante Pettis, WR Chico McClatcher, OT Trey Adams, C Coleman Shelton
Washington's scoring average jumped from 30.6 points per game in 2015 (56th in the FBS) to 41.8 last year (eighth). They struggled in losses to USC and Alabama (20 total points), but the Jake Browning-directed unit was otherwise potent.
Browning, still just a junior after two years as starter, was the Huskies' first legitimate Heisman candidate in years, finishing with 3,430 yards and a Pac-12-record-tying 43 touchdowns. He did have offseason shoulder surgery that limited him spring practice but is 100 percent.
“Complacency will kill you, no matter who you are,” said Browning. “I mean, last year, we had hype, and I was barely above .500 as a starter. So I think complacency, if you start reading too much about yourself, how great you are — I don’t care who you are, that’s going to affect you.”
Myles Gaskin's 1,373 rushing yards ranked 24th nationally and third in the Pac-12, but don't forget what No. 2 running back Lavon Coleman did. He had 852 yards and seven touchdowns on only 114 carries (7.5 yards per carry). And he's even more explosive and in better shape than last year.
"This is the best I’ve felt, honestly. I feel very hyperactive energy-wise,” Coleman said. “I don’t feel a lot of burn in my legs after a couple of carries, or after a couple of drives."
The same goes for Chico McClatcher, a 5-foot-7, 179-pounder speedster who didn't make as many headlines as returning star Dante Pettis or first-round draft pick John Ross but still averaged 18.5 yards per catch.
The offensive line is led by two-year starting tackle Trey Adams, an All-American candidate, and senior center Coleman Shelton. Both guys are all-conference players and have talked about how the line grew closer over the season.
“I’d say we are as close as we have ever been on the line,” Adams said. “We did a lot of offseason bonding stuff. It’s been a fun summer, and it’s going to be a fun season.”
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Greg Gaines, DT Vita Vea, LB Connor O'Brien, LB Azeem Victor, LB Keishawn Bierria, S Jojo McIntosh, S Taylor Rapp.
Petersen and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski don't allow themselves to create units and position groups that rely too heavily on one, two or even three players. They reached 12 wins, held opponents to 17.7 points per game and had an FBS-best plus-18 turnover margin because of remarkable balance.
No player had more than 70 tackles last year but they had 14 players with 30 or more. No one had more than 9.5 tackles for loss but nine had at least five. No one had more than six sacks but eight had three or more. And only one player had more than two interceptions but 12 players had at least one.
The defense returns six starters, including three senior linebackers, a group led by Azeem Victor (below), who is heathy after fracturing his leg late last season.
“I don’t see any holes in our defense,” said Victor. “Everyone is ready to go out there. Everyone is ready to play. I can see that. Just being around these guys, even in the summer, just their mindset of how they worked out, I can tell that they’re ready to roll.”
Two big, meaty men will own the interior defensive line. Juniors Greg Gaines (6-foot-2, 322 pounds) and Vita Vea (6-foot-5, 340 pounds) both have All-American potential.
Though the secondary lost Kevin King, Budda Baker and Sidney Jones, the next wave of talent is ready, starting with sophomore safety Taylor Rapp. He led the team with four interceptions as a true freshman.
Notable Player Losses
WR John Ross, G Jake Eldrenkamp, DT Elijah Qualls, CB Kevin King, CB Sidney Jones, S Budda Baker
As good as Chico McClatcher could be at receiver, there's no replacing John Ross, an elite athlete who caught 81 passes a year ago. He was the first of five Huskies selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, a group that also included the secondary trio of King, Jones and Baker and defensive tackle Elijah Qualls.
But the loss of one player who was not drafted could be felt equally as hard. All-Pac-12 First-Team guard Jake Eldrenkamp — who signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent — is gone after allowing just nine quarterback pressures last season.
Notable Player Additions
WR Ty Jones, LB Trevis Bartlett, LB Amandre Williams, CB Byron Murphy, S Isaiah Gilchrist,
Chris Petersen and his staff are recruiting like champions, especially on defense. They've signed nine four-star defensive players in the last two classes.
Redshirt freshman Byron Murphy, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder from Arizona, could have contributed behind the veterans last year and on special teams but was redshirted. He should start at corner.
"He’s had a really good spring," Petersen said of Murphy. "He’s done a nice job. He’s one of those guys we’re excited about . . . We knew this coming in, really good ball skills. That has showed up all the time. If the ball’s around him he’s got a very good chance of making a play on it.”
Offensively, four-star receiver Ty Jones is a big (6-foot-4, 209 pounds) target who's made countless plays early in camp.
Washington shouldn't have any issue with their non-conference slate, therefore attention turns to the Pac-12 schedule, which begins on Sept. 23 at Colorado.
|Friday, Sept. 1||at Rutgers|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Montana|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Fresno State|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Colorado|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Oregon State|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Cal|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Arizona State|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. UCLA|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Oregon|
|Friday, Nov. 10||at Stanford|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. Utah|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||vs. Washington State|