Most of the headlines this offseason in the PAC-12 have been centered around USC’s signal caller Sam Darnold and what’s spewing out the mouth of UCLA’s quarterback Josh Rosen. But it seems not to be a ton of buzz around the Washington Huskies who are coming off an incredible season by winning the conference crown and being one of the four finalists to compete for the National Championship.
Everyone is barking about Sam Darnold and how USC is back but don’t think for a minute the rise of the Huskies was just lightning in a bottle. The Huskies still have plenty of bite left.
Head coach Chris Petersen has proven he can build a program and be a consistent winner. He built Boise State into a mid-major titan that always was a threat. Maybe not to win the National Championship, but to pull off victories against the perennial powers.
Now that Petersen is leading a team in a power five conference, him and the Huskies want to be more than just a threat. They want a National Championship and this is the year they capture that crown. Here’s some reasons that the Huskies are prime and ready to bring the first National Championship back to Seattle since 1991.
The first seven weeks of Washington’s campaign will be somewhat of a cake walk or better yet a “Jake Walk”. Junior quarterback Jake Browning will feast on the competition for the first half of the season. Sure, they go on the road against Colorado, who handed the Huskies their only lost in the regular season last year and Browning his worst game of the year. But you better believe he knows that and will be looking for sweet revenge this time around.
The back end of the schedule is where things may get a tad bit tough for the Huskies, beginning with back to back home games versus UCLA and Oregon, followed by a tough road match up with Stanford. Then it’s a classic trap game against Utah before ending the season with the Apple Cup against in-state rival Washington State.
Washington doesn’t have the pleasure of facing the USC and golden boy Sam Darnold during the regular season which means they will likely meet in the PAC-12 championship if the Huskies win the north. The winner of that contest will punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff.
Controlling the line of scrimmage
The game of football is won in the trenches. The Huskies come barking loud and ready to fight on both sides of the line. Offensively they return four starters on the line to protect Browning and open up gaps for that duo in the backfield. Center Coleman Sheldon was a first-team All-PAC-12 selection last season along with tackle Trey Adams. Tackle Kaleb McMary was selected to the second all-conference team. Guard Nick Harris started six games as a true freshman last season, giving the Huskies incredible depth up front on offense.
On the other side of the ball, Elijah Qualls going pro was a loss but Washington still has two monster tackles in Vita Vea and Gregory Gaines Jr. who came really can control the opponents run game.
The Huskies will have a nice edge rush from the likes of Jaylon Johnson, Shane Bowman Jr., and freshman Levi Onwuzirike. The PAC-12 has some of the most talented quarterbacks in the country so getting pressure on the opponent’s signal caller is vital.
Backing up that tough defensive line is probably the best linebacking core in the conference led by Azeem Victor. After being out the last four games due to injury, Victor would’ve been a top pick in the draft but decided to return to school to have a chance at a National Championship. Victor is joined in the middle by Keishawn Bierria, who’s a solid player in his own right.
On the outside, Connor O’Brien is a versatile linebacker and Tevis Bartlett is great coming off the edge. The player to watch though is Benning Potoa, who made the transition from defensive line to linebacker.
After losing guys in the secondary such as Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, and Kevin King to the NFL Draft, this linebacking core will be essential to making back to the College Football Playoff.
Let’s move to the other side of the ball….
That dynamic backfield
When you read the headline for the PAC-12 conference, it’s typically all about the quarterbacks. While the Huskies have one of the top signal callers in the nation, don’t forget about those workhorses in the backfield. A quarterback’s best friend is a great run game.
In 2017, the duo of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman combined to rush for 2,225 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gaskin is considered one of the best running backs while Coleman is explosive in his own right, racking up 7.5 yards per carry. Then you throw in Sean McGrew, a former Gatorade Player of the Year; Washington could potentially have a three headed monster in that backfield.
Quarterback Jake Browning
The junior quarterback is coming this season as the unquestioned leader of the dog pack. Browning had a remarkable 2016 campaign, throwing for 43 touchdowns to only nine interceptions.
Even though the Huskies lost star wide receiver John Ross to the NFL, Browning will still have dangerous group of weapons surrounding him. Dante Pettis is going to have a breakout year for the Huskies. With his breakaway speed, Browning and Pettis will be taking the tops off defenses all year long. Another weapon on the outside is Chico McClatcher, who averaged 18 yards per catch last season. And you can’t forget about that dynamic duo coming out the backfield.
We saw slight dip in Browning’s production towards the end of the year but that could be mostly due to the injury to his throwing shoulder. But after surgery during the offseason, he will be prime and ready to have another Heisman-type year.
The ability to get stops when needed on defense matched with a high-octane offense will be the calling card for the Huskies to bring home a National Championship this season.