The last time I wrote about the Dawgs, we were just getting into the early part of pre-season prognosticating. Website rankings and other media types were venturing out onto their ledges with predictions, and there were the Washington Huskies, smack dab in the sweet spot of critical darlinghood.
And let’s face it! We’re fucking adorable! We’re the cutest baby at a gathering of hormonal pregnant ladies; just try and not pinch our cheeks while letting out a collective AWWWW! You can’t resist!
Now, shit is getting real. The AP has us ranked 14th in the nation; the coaches have us 18th. Regardless, without having played a down of football, we’re a consensus Top 20 team in America. It’s not an achievement by any means, but it’s something nice to look at as we reflect upon how far we’ve come.
This time last year, the Huskies were picked to be among the dregs of the Pac-12. I had them pegged for 4 wins, and I think a lot of media types had the same. Obviously, the team out-played expectations, netting 6 regular season wins and a 7th in the bowl game. You have to wonder how things would’ve worked out in another universe where Sark’s alcoholism didn’t implode the Trojans, and where Luke Falk didn’t injure himself before the Apple Cup, but that’s neither here nor there, because aside from the Stanford game, the Huskies were IN all of their games. They battled! Sure, they gagged away a few winnable games, against the Bears, Utes, and especially the Sun Devils, but that’s part of the process. That’s breaking in a bunch of young players at key positions.
You can see by the way the Huskies finished out the 2015 season, though, that they were significantly better than when they started. Had the Huskies of December played in those games back in September, October, and early November, we’re probably talking about a 9-win or 10-win team.
Well, here we are. 2016. We’re short a few Sark-era guys, but for the most part we’re intact. It’s Year Three for Coach Pete, which means it’s the first year of his tenure where he’s playing more of His Kinda Guys than the previous regime’s. This is where all of those Top 25 recruiting classes come to fruition.
Sophomore quarterback & running back, with a full year’s experience, a full year’s health, and a full offseason’s worth of training in the program.
4 out of 5 returning offensive linemen – and quality linemen to boot. This is going to be, hands down, the best offensive line we’ve seen since the Rick Neuheisel era (all praise to Jim Lambright).
If there’s a knock, you could say the receiving corps was depleted with the losses of Jaydon Mickens and Joshua Perkins. But, with John Ross returning, the sky is really the limit for this entire offensive unit.
And that’s not even factoring into the equation a defense that could be Top 10 in the nation. A defensive line super stout against the run, a linebacking unit returning most of its starters, and a secondary that might be the best in the nation.
When you add it all up, tack on how well regarded Chris Petersen is as a coach, and how this might be one of the easiest schedules in major college football, and it’s not hard to count to double-digit wins, with an outside chance of contending for the entire Pac-12 North.
As it stands, Stanford is the consensus top-ranked Pac-12 team. But, they’re breaking in a new starting quarterback AND they’re facing an absolute murderer’s row in the first half of their schedule. They kick off at home against K-State, then it’s USC (20th), @ UCLA (16th), @ UW (14th), WSU (unranked, but pretty damn good), and @ Notre Dame (10th). Suffice it to say, when they finish that stretch 3-3, they won’t be ranked in the Top 10 anymore.
In the same range as Washington, we have UCLA – who many are picking as the best in the Pac-12 South. Well, fortunately for us, we won’t have to play them until the Pac-12 Championship Game. So, that’s a huge plus.
We do have to play USC, but we get them at home, in mid-November, after beating them down in L.A. last year. I’d say that’s another good sign for the good guys.
All told, our schedule features only 3 pre-season ranked teams: Stanford, USC, and Oregon. We get two of those games at home, and only have to travel to Eugene for the other. We all know Oregon is a paper tiger this year anyway. THE. STREAK. WILL. END. NOW.
The non-conference schedule is full of cupcakes, which is nice. Get off to an easy 3-0 start while we work the kinks out. Maybe one of those games is a little too close for comfort, allowing Coach Pete to get everyone focused without it actually costing us a game. That sets us up for what I’m going to call a scary trap game down in Arizona. The Wildcats are getting pegged to be near the bottom of the conference, around the .500 range, but I could easily see this game being overlooked, as the very next week we host Stanford, followed by a game down in Oregon.
If we somehow get past Arizona, I think we’ll be able to take out Stanford in a fired-up Friday night atmosphere. That will carry us through to Oregon – which, again, paper tigers – before a mid-October BYE week to reflect on our 6-0 start and our Top 10 placement in the rankings. At that point, people will be talking about the Huskies in the same breath as people talk about the College Football Playoff, and quite frankly, by that point, we might be the Pac-12’s last hope!
We come out of the BYE week with a home game against the Beavers, which again is a nice, soft landing, before probably the Game of the Year. On the road. At Utah.
Now, make no mistake, if I decide to pull it back here and be rational for a second, the Huskies could EASILY lose to any and all of our first three Pac-12 opponents. But, where’s the fun in that?
For the purposes of this prediction post, I’m saying the Huskies start out the season 7-0 and in the Top 10 in all of college football. And, I think it’s in Utah where our run of good fortune ends.
But, we’re set up nicely for a bounce-back game down in Cal, whose previous quarterback – you may recall – was recently drafted #1 overall by the Rams. That sets us up for back-to-back home games against the Trojans and Sun Devils. I’m not really impressed by either of those teams, and see no reason why the Huskies shouldn’t take care of business. That gets us to 10-1 and a showdown in Pullman in the Apple Cup.
If 10-1 doesn’t already win us the Pac-12 North, that will only be because the Washington State Cougars – with an equally as creampuffy non-conference schedule, as well as a Pac-12 schedule that sees them avoid Utah & USC – are 9-2 at the time.
THAT’S RIGHT! I’m predicting that the Apple Cup will decide the winner of the Pac-12 North!
And, I’m also predicting that the Huskies will win that game, beat the Bruins in the Pac-12 Championship Game, for the right to play in their first Rose Bowl since 2000.
The Huskies are back, baby! This season is going to be magical! Mark it!