2013 Husky Football Preview

Can you believe that August 31st happens THIS Saturday?  And can you believe that once again I will be out of town and won’t be able to make it to the home opener, or even watch it live on television?  I’M DYING!  Somebody kill me, because I’m dying.

Maybe it’s because I follow Husky fan-blogs, but I’ve got to say there is an amazing amount of optimism among the homers out there.  For instance, there is this universal belief that THIS is the year that Washington finally beats Oregon.  Which immediately gives me pause, because it can’t be THAT easy, right?  I mean, yeah, we’re looking at improved depth, we’re looking at a senior quarterback poised for a bounce-back season, and we have been focusing non-stop to counter Oregon’s style of play by adopting Oregon’s style of play (the ol’ Can’t Beat ‘Em/Join ‘Em Corollary).  When I see everyone and their mothers making the “difficult” prediction that the Huskies are going to beat Oregon, I can’t help but be the contrarian.  So, I’m sorry to say that it’s my official opinion that the Huskies WON’T be beating Oregon in New Husky Stadium and that it’s probably another couple years before we do.

For the record, I think this is the first time the Huskies actually make it a GAME with Oregon.  I think the final result is the Huskies lose by one score or less, and I think Oregon needs a fourth quarter scoring drive to seal the deal – certainly one of their toughest tests of 2013 – but ultimately I think they do, in fact, seal the deal.

So, here’s what I’ll give you.  Since you can’t be a college football fan and NOT be a homer, I’m going the other way with my prediction than the crowd at large.  I say the Huskies WON’T beat Oregon, but I say they DO have a winning road record for the first time in years.

Oh … yeah, I’m going there.  The Huskies have one of the surprisingly tough road schedules in the entire Pac-12 conference.  After playing Illinois in Soldier Field, they go to Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA, and Oregon State.  ASU and UCLA will be with USC in fighting for that Pac-12 South title; and Stanford & OSU will be fighting with Oregon and, yes, Washington for the North title.  And here’s a bombshell for you:  the Washington Huskies go 4-1 on the road.  BOOM!  Take that, prognosticators!

As much as it angries up my blood, I say the Huskies lose to UCLA and Jim Mora’s dumb ass (God, you have no idea how much I hate the Bruins and wish them nothing but pain & misery).  In every other road game, though, I think the Huskies play tough, hard-nosed football, and they prevail with a bevy of final-minute scoring drives.  You are going to look at one of the clutchest football teams since Tui was roaming these fields!

A 4-1 road record would be about as Awesome Sauce as it gets, because I think the Huskies will be going 6-1 at home, with that aforementioned defeat to the Ducks, leaving us 10-2 with a 7-2 conference record.  Ultimately, I don’t think two conference defeats gets us into the Pac-12 Title Game (because, with tie-breaker, that would involve Oregon losing three times in conference, which – with their relatively easy schedule – isn’t happening), but 10 wins isn’t 7 wins, and that by itself is something.

I think 2013 will ultimately be remembered as the year Sark finally put together a dominant team.  All that hot-seat bullshit will go away for good and this program will spring-board into bigger and better things.  Of course, 2014 by default will be a bit of a step back, as we will be working in a first-time starting quarterback.  But, I don’t think we will step back far enough to miss out on a bowl.  And, that kind of experience should make 2015 our target year for making it back to the Rose Bowl and returning to the kind of prominence we deserve!

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The season, as always, hinges on Keith Price’s performance.  If he manages to return to or exceed his Sophomore form, we will be looking at that 10-win team everyone has been salivating over.  If he maintains his Junior form, then God help us all.

I truly think Price was hampered by a loss of weapons in this offense last year, moreso than the injuries.  Remember, Price was hobbled for most of his Sophomore season too, and that didn’t prevent him from being one of the best QBs in the conference.  The bottom line is:  we need to supplement the talent round Kasen Williams and ASJ, and I think this team has done so.

Kevin Smith, thus far through camp, has taken a huge step forward after an injury-plagued Junior season.  At the moment, he’s looking at a starting spot on this team, but of course that can change at any time.  The real reason for optimism lies in our true freshmen receivers:  John Ross and Damore’ea Stringfellow.  At the moment, Ross is listed as a starter and Stringfellow is listed behind Williams.  There were grumblings about red-shirting one or both of these players, but I think this season is too special and too important to not play our very best guys.  That means All Hands On Deck, and that means true frosh – if they’re able – get the nod over disappointing elder statesmen like Jaydon Mickens and DiAndre Campbell.

One of my very favorite things about college football is that constant sense of competition (it’s also one of my very favorite things about the Seahawks right now).  You replenish lost talent via recruiting, and those guys have an instant chance to make an impact and join the ranks of the starters.  They only fail in that charge if they have legitimately been beaten out by more experienced players, who feel the push from those coming up behind them and rise to the occasion.  Either John Ross and Damore’ea Stringfellow play meaningful snaps with this team, or they make the other receivers around them better.  Win/win.

And, speaking of improved depth, look no further than our running game.

Bishop Sankey returns as one of the best backs in the Pac-12 – with an outside shot at being one of the best backs in the nation.  Jesse Callier returns from injury to give us that change-of-pace quickness we were lacking last year (though, some accounts have him as not quite back to his 2011 form; possibly worried about that knee, possibly due to lack of conditioning).  Between the two (Callier is listed 3rd on the depth chart, if you can believe it), is Dwayne Washington, the converted wide receiver who – by all accounts – has looked absolutely phenomenal in camp thus far.  So phenomenal, in fact, that it wouldn’t be shocking to start seeing him steal carries away from Sankey as the season goes along.

As with any other football team, though, this offense will only go as far as its offensive line allows.  I can’t remember the last time the Huskies have had a dominant line, which goes a long way in explaining how far this team has fallen from its Don James/Jim Lambright days.  This year, I think we’re all hoping for marginal improvement.  Major improvement would be unthinkably outstanding, but let’s not get our hopes up too much.  What this line does have going for it – aside from returned health – is experience.  The number of linemen on this team who have started games is amazing.  That can only be an asset for a unit searching for an identity and hopefully some cohesion.  There are currently no Seniors on the depth chart, so that’s a little concerning.  But, four out of five starters are Juniors, so that will bode well if they manage to play the majority of snaps.  If we can get improved play out of these guys, 2014 should be an embarrassment of riches along the line.

This offense should be capable of averaging well over 30 points per game this season.  I have the utmost confidence that we will see a return to form for this Husky offense.  It will be an asset and not a liability like last year, I promise you.

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The 2012 Husky defense was the very definition of a Pleasant Surprise.  After the Nick Holt abomination, the 2012 D could have been only slightly better than its 2011 counterpart and we would have been thrilled.  But, in truth, the 2012 D was a legitimate strength, it kept us in some games we had no business being in, and it won us some games we shouldn’t have won.  Granted, we still got thrashed by LSU, Oregon, and Arizona.  But, they helped us over the hump against the likes of San Diego State, Stanford, Oregon State, and Cal on the road, in one of the sloppiest games in recent memory.

The 2012 defense wasn’t perfect.  That choke-job in the Apple Cup is an embarrassment of the highest order.  But, the defense was a step in the right direction, leaving this team poised for even better things in 2013.

The two big losses on this unit were Justin Glenn and Desmond Trufant.  I agree that there’s no way to replace someone like Trufant, but I don’t think the cupboard is bare by any stretch.  We still have Sean Parker, who will be among the best safeties in the conference, as well as Marcus Peters at one corner spot, who should be poised to make a name for himself in his second season.  Gregory Ducre, my erstwhile whipping boy ’round these parts, is one of the fastest guys on the team and going into his Senior season.  The level of improvement out of this kid never ceases to amaze me.  With another senior, Will Shamburger, at the other safety spot, we actually have one of the most experienced secondaries in the Pac-12.  There’s no Desmond Trufant in there, but that might not matter with the depth we’ve got behind these guys I just mentioned.

The Husky linebacking corps is one of the best – as a whole – we’ve had in some time.  Led by Junior John Timu in the middle, and all-world athlete Shaq Thompson on the outside, we will be fast, powerful and elite in the middle.  Which is important as this defense goes from challenging the power rushing attack of Stanford to the speed rushing attack of Oregon to the aerial assault of Arizona State.  If this team is going to take the next steps towards being elite, it’s going to be on the backs of these linebackers.

I’m not necessarily as sold on our D-Line as many, but I’ll be glad to be proven wrong.  Danny Shelton is a Junior looking to make a name for himself among NFL draft boards.  To generate the kind of attention he’s hoping to get, he’s going to have to be a dominant force not just once in a while, but on every single down.  Many question whether he has the drive to become the next in a long line of elite Husky defensive tackles, and count me among them.  I’ve seen him out there, seemingly going through the motions, far too often to have much more than wavering confidence.

One interesting note on the recent depth chart is Cory Littleton taking the defensive end spot over Josh Shirley.  If that’s a way of saying that Shirley isn’t so much an every-down end as much as a pass-rushing specialist, then I agree.  If that’s a way of saying that Littleton is actually on par as a pass-rusher with Shirley, then I’m pretty fucking happy.  Because we know what Shirley is capable of as a rusher, and we have a good idea of what he could develop into if he puts his mind to it.  And, if Littleton is on par with that, while also being an asset in the run game, then that’s a little scary.

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There’s a lot of reason for optimism for this team.  We’re at a point where it’s all Sark’s guys, and those guys have the kind of talent we haven’t seen in over a decade.  Get ready, Husky fans, because 2013 is the year it all starts getting fun again.  Fewer embarrassing blow-outs, more thrilling last-minute finishes.  And, with an improved kicking game, I actually might not have that much to bitch about (oh, who am I kidding?).

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