Looking Ahead To The Washington Huskies’ 2017 Football Schedule

The 2014 Huskies were largely a Sark-based team in Coach Pete’s first season; we enjoyed a Sark-esque record when all was said and done.  The 2015 Huskies were a real transition team, as more of Coach Pete’s players got on the field and the team as a whole became further acclimated to his way of doing things.  In a lot of ways, 2015 looked like a bit of a step back, but it was entirely necessary to get the program to where it was in 2016, which was a huge step forward.

I can’t say enough good things about the 2016 Huskies, it was the most fun I’ve had following this team since 2000, and was almost certainly the best Husky team I’ve ever seen (keeping in mind that I was never a fan of the university during the Don James glory years).  The 2016 Huskies were truly one of the best four football teams of the year and were rewarded as such with an invite to the College Football Playoff.  Sadly, we were turned away by the buzzsaw that was the Alabama Crimson Tide, which only goes to reinforce the fact that we need to build up this program to become that type of buzzsaw.

So, what do we have to look forward to in 2017?  Will the Huskies become that buzzsaw?  Probably a little early in the process to say yes, but I think more than anything you just want to see them continue to take steps forward.

You can look at what we lost and have sort of a Glass Half Empty outlook.  John Ross was drafted 9th overall.  Sure, we’ve still got Dante Pettis, who looks ready to ascend to the #1 receiver spot on this team, but he’s no John Ross.  That’s no knock against him, necessarily, because NOBODY is John Ross.  That kind of speed is once in a generation.  When you tack on Ross’ route running, versatility, and ability to make a catch in traffic, he was really the total package and may be the best receiver we’ve ever had in the program.  So, you can look at the wide receiver position and say, “Yeah, there’s a decline there compared to last year.”

Then, obviously, you’ve got Kevin King, Budda Baker, and Sidney Jones all snapped up before the end of the second round.  Our two starting cornerbacks and our starting safety, gone.  I know the Huskies recruited the secondary pretty well, with lots of highly-rated guys set to step into starting roles, but we just won’t know how good those players are until we see them in game action.

Go on and on down the list of guys we graduated.  Just a ton of talent walking out the door.  In many ways, 2017 will be yet another transitional season.  But, obviously different from how 2015 was a transitional year.  This isn’t going from one head coach to another; this is essentially an evaluation of Coach Pete’s ability to constantly refurbish the depth of this team on the fly.  Guys are going to graduate, guys are going to leave for the NFL after their Junior years; the mark of a truly great head coach is how he’s able to recruit guys who can jump in there and replace those former starters.  I’m talking about recruiting Freshmen who are good enough to play right away, as well as guys who grow into starting-calibre players within a year or two at the most.  It’s about always having the next wave of superstars champing at the bit.  It’s about allowing the linemen and other undersized guys to grow and mature in the program so eventually they can be impact players.  And so on and so forth.

Coach Sark and his team of recruiters were able to land some real whales for this school, but I don’t know if they were on the same level as Coach Pete and Co.  Sark seemed to be more interested in recruiting the glamour positions; Coach Pete seems to be more interested in building up all positions, eliminating as many weaknesses as possible.

In that respect, yes, the 2017 Huskies might have fewer studs than they did in 2016, but it’s entirely possible that the overall quality of the team is improved, from 1 to 90, or however many players you’re allowed to have in college.

All of this comes with the caveat that injury luck is always the most important factor with any sports team.

The offensive line should be a real strength for the Huskies, more than any other year I can remember.  The Huskies return the most experienced line in the conference, which should help our stud running backs – Coleman and Gaskin, among many of the younger guys looking to make names for themselves – as well as, obviously, our quarterback.

If there’s a questionmark, it’s Jake Browning.  Is he healthy?  Will he BE healthy when the season starts?  I’ll never question his ability to study and work on his craft, but given his relative lack of size, can he STAY healthy for the long haul?  He’s obviously a tough kid, playing on a shoulder that required surgery, but I don’t know if he’ll grow into a Heisman contender if he can’t stay on the field and at close to 100%.

If Browning isn’t healthy, how good are the guys behind him?  The Huskies have recruited some pretty highly-rated quarterbacks recently, but are they too raw to step in this early into their careers?  Will our season be totally derailed if Browning is limited?

Wide receiver is the position I’m most excited about.  Obviously, I love Pettis and Chico McClatcher.  But, I’ve also been hearing rumblings about some of these receivers who haven’t had a lot of playing time thus far.  Recent recruits ready to make their marks.  Should be interesting; hope they’ll get a lot of time to work with Browning on their timing and whatnot.

Along the D-Line, in spite of the loss of Elijah Qualls, there is still a significant amount of returning talent.  Indeed, this unit should prove to be the strongest of the entire defense, and will likely have to get home with even more regularity than they did in 2016 (which they did at a pretty high clip) to help compensate for potential challenges in the back end.

Taylor Rapp, at safety, figures to be a force, and maybe the defensive MVP in 2017.  We’ll need him to make that next step to superstar status if we want to maintain our defensive dominance in the Pac-12.  He looked every bit as good as anyone I’ve seen towards the end of last season, so I’m pretty confident he’ll get the job done.

Bottom line is, the 2017 Huskies will be very good.  Where they end up will largely depend on the schedule they play.

Last year, the Huskies were continuously killed for their weak schedule.  It was the primary reason why people felt they had legitimate arguments against them making the College Football Playoff.  I never bought into that, and if you’re like me – and wanted to throw your remote through the television every time some national pundit knocked the Huskies for this – GET READY FOR MORE OF THE SAME.  Because, holy Jesus, does the 2017 schedule look like the creamiest cream puff wrapped in a cloud of cotton candy.

For the second year in a row, we kick off our season against Rutgers.  It was a Home & Home series that was scheduled way back when Rutgers had a good football team, and you can’t very well just chop them off the schedule without facing a huge penalty.  So, here we are.  This time, on the road, which I suppose makes the game marginally more difficult, but my guess is Rutgers is once again going to be one of the worst teams in the Big 10.

The Huskies round out their non-conference schedule with home games against Montana (an FBS school) and Fresno State (who had all of 1 win in 2016).  The Huskies could sit Browning for all three of those games and still easily walk away 3-0.

Every year, every Pac-12 school plays 9 conference games.  I don’t know if this still sets us apart or not (I believe the SEC only plays 8 conference games, but they might be moving up to 9 or at least talking about it), but I think it’s a great argument when it comes to comparing our schools to those conferences who play 8 or less.  I mean, let’s face it, every conference has their duds.  And you can talk about Washington’s weak non-conference schedule all you want, but every power school schedules their share of powderpuffs.  Regardless of how good or bad your in-conference opponent is, it’s still an in-conference opponent, and those games are more difficult and ultimately mean more.

Anyway, this year, the Huskies catch 5 home conference games and 4 road conference games (it alternates every year).  Their conference schedule kicks off with 2 road games, though – at Colorado and at Oregon State – which means we get 5 of our final 7 games at home.  Colorado should be a lot worse than they were last year, as the 2016 Buffaloes were very senior-heavy, and I highly doubt they recruit nearly as well as we do, so I can’t imagine the guys they’ve got coming up through the ranks are going to be as good as the guys they had last year.  Oregon State is still in rebuilding mode (as they are seemingly every year), so I can’t imagine it’ll take much of an effort to get to 5-0 with this schedule.

Then, there’s a home game against Cal, who is working in a new head coach and ostensibly a new offensive system, so I can’t imagine that’s going to be a very close game.  We follow that up with a road game against ASU, who I’m pretty sure we haven’t beaten on their home turf in over a decade.  They were pretty sorry last year, and figure to be better this year; this could be a sneaky-tough game for the Huskies (who will have played 3 of 4 on the road when they’re finished with this one).  I could see the Huskies winning this one in ugly fashion to get to 7-0.

That leads us to the real heart of the 2017 schedule.  This year, we avoid USC and Arizona.  By all accounts, USC is poised to be the top ranked Pac-12 team, at least going into the season.  They might have the next #1 overall draft pick at the quarterback position in Sam Darnold, which is moderately terrifying.  Obviously, that means even our conference schedule sees a huge downgrade in the eyes of the national pundits, by virtue of not playing the so-called best team in the Pac-12.  And, say what you want about Arizona, but they’ve notoriously been a tricky team for us to play most years, and they return one of the more experienced offensive lines to boot.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see them as a “surprise” team in the conference.

Getting back to the heart of the schedule, we follow up all those road games (and a BYE week tacked onto the end of it) with back-to-back home contests against UCLA and Oregon.  UCLA is up there with Utah among the second tier teams in the Pac-12 South.  They strike me as very much of an unknown, as they seem to recruit well every year, but ultimately produce poor results on the field.  I’m sure they’ll give the Huskies everything they can, and I’d be seriously disappointed if we lost this one.  Ditto Oregon, although they’re in something of a rebuild mode as well (albeit, starting with a much stronger base than OSU).  I just think Washington has more talent than Oregon, period.  As such, I see no reason why we won’t be 9-0 heading into what will likely be the most important game of the regular season.

At Stanford, Friday, November 10th, at 7:30pm on Fox Sports 1.  The Cardinal fell from their perch as one of the top teams in the conference last year, and they obviously lost a lot of talent to graduation/the NFL Draft, so they’ll be breaking in a lot of key positions heading into 2017.  They have a real bugger of a schedule through their own first 9 games of the season, with road games against USC, Utah, and Washington State, as well as home games against UCLA and Oregon.  So, when I call this game on November 10th the “most important”, I really mean it’s the most important to the Washington Huskies, as it’s the one true landmine in an otherwise reasonable slate of football games.

I fully anticipate Stanford to have anywhere from 1-3 losses by the time they host the Huskies, but this is also a well-coached football team, who recruits like gangbusters.  What does that mean?  Well, even if they’re not competing for a Rose Bowl berth (which, for the record, I’m not necessarily taking off the table, as it’s entirely possible they are up there fighting for the Pac-12 North yet again), this is still a team that notoriously gets better as the season goes along.  When you play Stanford, I think you’d much rather face them early in the season.  Facing them in mid-November is sort of my worst nightmare, particularly with a schedule like this, where there doesn’t appear to be many tough games leading into this one.  On paper, I think the Huskies are better than the Cardinal, but with this game being on the road, against a quality team, anything can happen.  Let’s face it, I never would’ve thought the Huskies could’ve lost at home to USC last year, and look at what happened.

There’s a very reasonable chance that the game against Stanford is our last chance to make a big positive impression on the College Football Playoff Committee.  Hell, it might be our ONLY chance, but that’s neither here nor there.  After that, we wrap up the season with home games against Utah and Washington State.  I think everyone is really sleeping on these two teams.  Utah is always tough and really makes you earn every win against them.  They could easily upset a team like USC and find themselves in the thick of things by the time they come to Seattle.  And, as for the Cougs, they’ve definitely been written off after last year, losing two bullshit games early in the season, followed by their final three games (including the Holiday Bowl).  While I agree that the Huskies very much SHOULD beat the Cougars, it’s still the Apple Cup, and weird things can always crop up.  The Cougs obviously have Falk back, and if he can stay healthy, he’ll always give them a chance to win.  And, their defense has always been underrated while over-producing under Mike Leach.  So, you know, while these last two games aren’t necessarily as flashy as the road game against Stanford, we could still be talking about a couple of ranked teams when all is said and done.

The bottom line is, this is a 12-game schedule in which the Huskies could very easily run the table.  There will obviously be challenges along the way, but I’ll just say that it wouldn’t necessarily be a shock to the system like it was last year.  Odds are, the Huskies will likely lose 1 game.  I’d say the odds are equal that they’d lose 2 games as they are to the Huskies winning them all, if that makes any sense.  1 loss SHOULD mean that the Huskies play in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  And, assuming the Huskies face the Trojans in that game, we’re looking at a game that would not only get us into the Rose Bowl, but would get us back to the College Football Playoff.

I’ll say this, just to get it out of the way:  any combination of scenarios where the Huskies finish with 1 loss, and that 1 loss is in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Huskies absolutely will not make the College Football Playoff – even if the Pac-12 South champion has more losses, and ultimately gets passed over as well.  I’m a firm believer that the only way the Huskies are able to compensate for that schedule is if they beat an awesome team in the conference title game, a la last year.  And even then, who knows?

A lot of this depends on what happens in the other conferences.  What happens if there are two 1-loss teams in the SEC?  Or an undefeated team and a 1-loss Alabama team?  On top of whatever the Big 10 throws in there, Clemson, and the Oklahoma schools.

One thing the Huskies really have going for them is that they should start the season highly ranked.  Top 10 or Top 15 at the worst.  Now, imagine that team running the table through the regular season, then beating USC in the conference championship game!  We might get to pick where we play in the College Football Playoff!

All of that is a long way off, of course.  But, it’s still fun to think about as this baseball season drags on.  I very much need football back in my life.

A Bunch More Huskies Are In The NFL Now

I’m on record as saying the Seahawks would be fortunate to have as many Huskies on their team as possible.  I’m also on record as a huge know-nothing homer, so maybe they’re best not to listen to me.  Anyway, with the 2017 NFL Draft in our rearview, here’s a breakdown on where all of our beloved Huskies will be calling home, at least for Training Camp, if not for many years beyond.

John Ross got us started by the Cincinnati Bengals picking him 9th overall in the first round.  If the Seahawks couldn’t have him, I’m glad to see him in the AFC.  Quite frankly, too many AFC teams would drop the ball on this, forcing a lot of Huskies into direct competition with the Seahawks.  This is an awesome fit, though, for the Bengals.  He gets to play opposite A.J. Green and will open up a lot for his partner in crime by opposing defenses game-planning against his speed.  This could really further Green’s career, as he’s prone to foot injuries and will likely be slowed further due to age.  Green could become a top possession receiver with Ross blowing out coverages over the top.

No more Huskies taken until the second round, where three guys were selected with the top 11 picks on Day 2.  Kevin King went to Green Bay, two spots above where Seattle picked.  Obviously, he wasn’t a top priority for the Seahawks, otherwise they would’ve made more of an effort to pick him at 26 or again at 31 when they traded down.  It’s pretty clear, in hindsight, that the Seahawks had Malik McDowell targeted all along, and King was more of a backup pick.  I hope this doesn’t bite them in the ass, as I could easily see King being a Pro Bowl player for years to come, while McDowell feels like more of a longshot (with, admittedly, a higher upside if he reaches his full potential).

Then, to make matters worse, one pick after the Seahawks took McDowell, the Arizona Cardinals moved up to nab Budda Baker.  Great, so we get to play against Budda twice a year.  They are going to LOVE him in Arizona.  I think I’m more jealous of this pick than even the King one, as after Ross, Budda was a close second as far as my favorite Huskies are concerned.  That guy just has a nose for the ball, a nose for making a big play, and a nose for beating the shit out of guys.  What that means for his long-term health is another issue, but I wouldn’t have let that stop me from taking him high in this draft.

Then, with the 43rd overall selection, the Eagles took Sidney Jones, who had the achilles injury (and thus MIGHT start the season out on the PUP list), but figures to be a long-term lockdown corner for many years to come.  Part of me hoped he would’ve dropped a little further, with the Seahawks either landing him at 58, or packaging 58 with another pick to move up into the low 50s or high 40s, but alas, at 43, that’s probably a lot more than the Seahawks were willing to move.  Also, aside from the injury issue this year, my main concern with Jones is that he primarily played the Richard Sherman side of the field, so how would he take to playing opposite?  I’m pretty sure he would’ve been fine, but you never know.

From there, a pretty long gap without another Husky taken.  As time went on, and Friday moved into Saturday, more and more people were questioning the decision of Elijah Qualls coming out a year early.  He eventually fell all the way to pick # 214, also belonging to the Eagles.  I attribute a little bit of this to being wary after Danny Shelton really hasn’t done much of anything of impact with the Cleveland Browns since he was picked in the first round.  Either way, I think they got a great guy at a tremendous value.  He tops out as a Sam Adams type player if he can put it all together.  Either way, the Eagles didn’t risk much by using a late 6th round pick.

That’s it for the Husky draft picks.  Not too shabby, though.  Five guys, four of them on defense.  I’d expect this to be a trend going forward as Chris Petersen keeps reloading this team with top talent.

In the undrafted sector, tight end Darrell Daniels signed with the Colts.  Even without knowing their situation at tight end, he would seem like a longshot.  He’ll really, I would think, have to make his hay by improving his blocking a great deal, as I think he’s a sneaky good offensive weapon down field.

Jake Eldrenkamp, left guard who really developed into a nice interior lineman by his senior season, signed with the L.A. Rams.  He’s got good size and athleticism and it wouldn’t shock me to see him get stashed on the practice squad for them and maybe make a bigger impact in his second season, if everything breaks right.

Perhaps the biggest shock of this whole thing is Deontae Cooper, the oft-injured running back and HUGE fan favorite, who ended up transferring to San Jose State in his final season in 2016 (part Fresh Start, part being blocked out by the younger UW running backs), I guess is getting an invite to Training Camp with the Oakland Raiders?  I’m not sure, exactly, what the deal is, as news is pretty spotty.

Safety Brandon Beaver (who I totally forgot was a senior last year) is getting a shot with Budda Baker’s Arizona Cardinals, so that’ll be interesting.  Beaver had some nice impact plays last year, but obviously would be considered a pretty big longshot.

Joe Mathis, defensive end, who missed out on the back-half of his final Husky season due to a foot injury, also went undrafted, much to the chagrin of everyone who saw how impactful he was for the Dawgs.  He signed with the Houston Texans, to either be an end or an outside linebacker.  Either way, I think they’ve got a good one on their hands.  That is a STEAL, especially for a team looking for a cheap way to add some pass rush depth.  I hope he really knocks their socks off in Training Camp, because I could see him – over the rest of the undrafted Huskies – having the biggest impact right away.

What I’d Like To See The Seahawks Do In The 2017 NFL Draft

I’m not a draftnik by any means.  I don’t do mock drafts, because I don’t know enough about the vast majority of college football outside of the University of Washington, and because they’re a collosal waste of time.  I like to write about other sports when nothing’s happening in the NFL, so I don’t know what I would do if I had to write about the NFL all year round.

But, you know, some information does manage to slip through into my brain from time to time.  I have a vague, general idea of some of the best players in the draft this year and where they might end up going.  I’m also keenly aware of the Seattle Seahawks and their needs in the aftermath of the first round of the free agency signing period (the second round is between the draft and the start of the regular season, and it’s much less interesting, with guys getting training camp tryouts more than anything else).  I know where the Seahawks pick, so I have a pretty good idea of who will be available and who won’t be.  And, I’ve got a decent idea of where this draft is strongest and weakest.

The Seahawks pick 26th out of 32 in the first round.  They have a second round pick in roughly the same spot, and three third rounders.  No fourths or fifths; one sixth and one seventh, for a total of 7 draft picks.  Knowing the Seahawks, they’d like to have more than 7 picks in this draft, so it’s entirely plausible that the Seahawks end up trading down on one or more occasions, to perhaps pick up an extra 2nd or 3rd rounder, or maybe fill in that extensive gap between their last 3rd rounder and their 6th rounder.

So, if I had to guess, I’d say the Seahawks don’t actually make a selection at 26.  I say that because they’ve traded down in the first round multiple times before.  I say that because there’s REALLY no consensus among rookie quarterbacks coming out this year, meaning it’s not too likely a quarterback is taken in any of the top five picks, but it’s entirely possible that many multiple quarterbacks are taken between 6-32, as I get the feeling different teams have different QBs rated as their highest and would love nothing more than to prove the rest of the NFL wrong, that they know better.  As such, there’s a pretty good chance we see a team willing to trade up from the early 2nd round and move into Seattle’s spot.  Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, and the Jets all pick pretty early in the 2nd round, for instance.  The lower the Seahawks go down the ladder, the more in draft capital they’re likely to pick up.

To wrap up this part of the post, would I be in favor of the Seahawks trading down?  Why not?  However, if it prevents us from getting certain guys I want, I’m going to be a little upset.

So, who are some of the guys projected to go to Seattle?  Well, I’m sure among many, many others, I’ve been seeing the following names a lot:

  • Cam Robinson OT
  • Garett Bolles OT
  • Forrest Lamp G
  • Kevin King CB
  • Obi Melifonwu S

I could probably go on and on if I wanted to really do some research, but I’ll tell you what I think about these guys.  Even though offensive line was an abject disaster last year, I’m not super high on taking a lineman in the first round.  When I hear things like, “This is the worst draft ever for offensive linemen,” I cringe.  All those people saying that could be dead wrong, and there could be any number of quality linemen who develop from this class, but it seems like a longshot to me.  Taking an offensive lineman at 26 (or wherever the Seahawks land with their first pick of the draft) is going to have the feel of a reach to me.  The Seahawks drafting for need over value, taking whatever lineman is the best available just because.  If the Seahawks are going to take yet another offensive lineman with their first pick, it better be a guy who is a quality starter from Day 1, and quite frankly their track record stinks in this area.

  • Ifedi, last year, was a starter from Day 1, but not a good one
  • Britt (their 2nd selection in the 2014 draft) wasn’t good until year 3
  • Carpenter (2011) wasn’t the right tackle we were promised, eventually settling into a so-so left guard
  • Moffitt (also 2011) was never good, is out of the league now
  • Okung (2010) the only quality lineman, but had his own issues (was also a #6 overall draft pick and the second left tackle taken in the draft)

The Seahawks and Plug & Play O-Linemen don’t really mesh.  It either takes time for them to develop into decent players, if they ever develop at all.

So, what are we supposed to do if we take one of these tackles like Robinson or Bolles, if they’re still around?  Well, you have to play them, of course!  You have to get value out of your top picks, meaning you need to feature them early and often to get your money’s worth!  Considering it looks like Ifedi is being moved over to right tackle, and considering the Seahawks signed Luke Joeckel, and considering they still highly regard George Fant, I mean, what do we do here with this embarrassment of debts?  (that’s the opposite of Embarrassment of Riches, right?)  Besides that, do either of them play left tackle, which is actually the position we need to be filling with a competent player?  I have my doubts.

Plus, I don’t even think O-Line is the most pressing need right now.  I think the Seahawks did all they did in free agency so they WOULDN’T have to settle on taking an O-Lineman with their first draft pick.  They NEED to replenish their secondary, and I think they do that here.  I hope they do that here.  I NEED THEM TO DO THAT HERE!

I’ve had it in my head, pretty much since the combine, that we can get the band back together – so to speak – with regards to the UW secondary.  I absolutely LOVE Kevin King’s potential for growth, and I also think he’d be ready to start from Day 1 opposite Richard Sherman.  And, in a couple years, when Sherman opts to move on to another team, I love Kevin King’s potential to take over that spot and flourish for many years to come.  I’m also well aware that, since the combine, his stock has skyrocketed, and as a result he may get selected before the Seahawks could even sniff at a chance of trading up for him.  Like, maybe even in the Top 20.  In which case, if that happens, so be it, and I wish him a long and fruitful career (except when he plays the Seahawks).

I also need to understand that there are many other cornerbacks and safeties out there that the Seahawks could conceivably covet (like that Melifonwu guy out of UConn), that could be as good or even better than Kevin King.  I just think I’m going to be REALLY upset if King is still there and the Seahawks pick someone else over him, that’s all.

As a dark horse, who no one is really talking about when they talk about the Seahawks, is Budda Baker.  Like I said, I’m REALLY high on the Washington Huskies’ secondary, and I think I want as many of them as possible to play for Seattle.  I know Baker’s essentially blocked at the safety position by Earl Thomas, and I know they just signed Bradley McDougald as a prominent backup safety they hope to incorporate into the defense; but I’ve also seen what this team looks like without Kam Chancellor, and without Earl Thomas (though, thankfully, not without both at the same time, which I fear would be the death of me), and I honestly believe you can’t have enough talent at that position, when you’re playing a Pete Carroll defense.  With Baker backing up Earl, you don’t have NEARLY the dropoff you had last year when Earl went down.  But, even if Earl and Kam don’t miss a single important snap the entire season, that doesn’t mean you wasted your selection on Baker.  Budda can play cornerback too!  Line him up outside and move Lane inside, or keep Lane outside and let Budda play nickel, either way I think you’re going to have tremendous production from him, and a fabulous stopgap until DeShawn Shead can come back from injury.

Not for nothing, but I haven’t even mentioned Sidney Jones here.  With his achilles tendon injury, his draft stock fell pretty hard.  If he were to fall to the Seahawks in the second round, I think I might lose my shit, though I think that’s a longshot.  Nevertheless, coming away with Baker and Jones in this draft might make it all worthwhile in mine eyes.

There’s also talk of the Seahawks going with a pass rusher with their first pick, but I dunno.  I just don’t know who’s going to be available.  They have Avril, Bennett, and Frank Clark in the fold already.  In the big pass rushing package, you can slide Bennett inside and play all three of those guys at once, but you still need another interior pass rusher to pair with him, and the very best ones of that group tend to be picked super high (I see you Solomon Thomas, and I hope to holy hell that the 49ers don’t pick you #2 overall).  If you could guarantee me the Seahawks find some diamond in the rough, I suppose I’d be for it, but there aren’t a ton of rookie pass rushers who make huge impacts AS rookies.

More than anything else, I want a guy who can come in and start right away, but I also want a guy who will have a big positive impact right away.  Seems unlikely at any of the line positions (either offense or defense), seems unlikely at wide receiver or running back, and in my opinion going after a linebacker (with Wagner and Wright never leaving the field) would be beyond irresponsible, given the holes this team needs to fill.  The only thing worse would be if the Seahawks went quarterback with their first pick, at which point I might throw my remote through the television.

The only logical choice is to use that first pick on the secondary.  So that’s what I’d like to see the Seahawks do in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Sincerely,

TL;DR

A Murderer’s Row Of Outgoing Huskies & Some Other Peach Bowl Thoughts

The big news of the week is the four underclassmen who are declaring for the NFL draft.

  • John Ross – WR
  • Budda Baker – S
  • Sidney Jones – CB
  • Elijah Qualls – DT

We more or less all saw this coming a hundred miles away, so it’s not like it’s a shock or anything.  And, really, it shouldn’t be a source of frustration; these kids balled out for the Huskies and have achieved all there is to achieve (for the most part).  I don’t begrudge them taking their talents to The League.  Nevertheless, can we take just a moment to fantasize about what next year’s team would’ve looked like with these guys returning as seniors?

Ahh, that’s the stuff.  It could’ve been massive, but in a way it’s exciting to see the guys coming up behind them.  Sure, they could be worse, but what if they’re better?

This is on top of the guys who were Seniors and have thus run out of eligibility:

  • Kevin King – CB
  • Joe Mathis – LB
  • Psalm Wooching – DE
  • Jake Eldrenkamp – OL
  • Jeff Lindquist – TE (erstwhile QB)
  • Brandon Beaver – DB
  • Darrell Daniels – TE
  • Cameron Van Winkle – K
  • Shane Brostek – OL

Some pretty big names on this list, but in going down the roster, it’s heartening to see the large pile of Freshmen and Sophomores.  The hope being that Coach Pete and Co. mold these guys into the next great Husky football teams in coming seasons.

And, quite frankly, the number of star players returning really dwarfts those leaving, and that’s not even counting all the red shirts and incoming Freshmen we’ll have this fall.  Assuming there aren’t too many high-profile transfers, the Huskies will still be great next year and for years to come.

Tip of the cap to the guys leaving though.  I know there was a bit of snark in my previous Husky post this week, but I’ll always have the fondest of memories for John Ross.  I haven’t sat down and really put in the thought, but I have to think he goes down as one of my top 3 favorite Huskies of all time, up there with Tui and Reggie.  I can’t wait to see Ross in the NFL and will be rooting hard for him to be great.

Same deal with the secondary guys.  Budda?  Are you kidding?  My God is he going to be fantastic at the next level!  I would give absolutely anything for him to fall to the Seahawks in the first round.  Sidney Jones was always a comforting presence there, locking down one side of the field.  He should have no problem proving his greatness at the next level.  And Kevin King had, without question, the greatest interception I’ve ever seen in my life against ASU.  Like I said before, it’s going to be TOUGH to replace these guys.  The secondary will be the unit to watch in the early going, to see who steps up.

Qualls, Mathis, and Wooching round out the guys I’m prepared to talk about today.  Big number 11 was a force on the interior, and was a big reason why the beef along the D-Line was able to be as effective as it was.  Joe Mathis was definitely missed when he went down with injury and was lost for the season.  We certainly could’ve used his leadership and athleticism against Bama.  And Wooching, with increased playing time due to Azeem Victor going down, really stepped up and filled some of the pass rushing void, allowing this defense to really not lose a whole lot down the stretch.

The 2016 Huskies will always be something special in my book.  Now, let’s hope 2017’s version blows them out of the water!

***

Just a few random thoughts about the Peach Bowl that I left out of my previous Husky post on Tuesday.

I remember sitting there as the game went along, seeing botched Husky drive after botched Husky drive, silently pleading for this team to start taking some shots down the field.  I mean, that was the key going in, right?  You’re not going to run on Alabama; your only shot is to do what Ole’ Miss did, which is throw deep and throw often and hope for the best.  The fact that we couldn’t complete anything longer than 20 yards all day was a real point of bitterness on my end.  I mean, what the shit?!  I know their pass rush was pretty good, but there were times Jake had PLENTY of time to throw!

But, you know, upon further reflection, that’s probably easier said than done.  If it was so easy to throw deep on Bama, everyone would’ve done it and they probably would’ve lost a game by now.  Even though I was in attendance, I didn’t get a good look at the coverage down field; my attention was predominantly focused on the lines.  I mean, how can you not?  That Bama D-Line is spectacular!  I remember one time in particular, it was 2nd & 3, where it looked like the perfect time for the Husky offense to take a shot, but someone was on Jake’s ass almost immediately and he had to throw it away.  I feel like that happened more times than we realized.  I’m sure the Huskies WANTED to throw deep, but it’s not like you can do that all the time.  You have to pick your spots.  And, my hunch is, more often than not, in those spots you’d find a Bama lineman or linebacker in the backfield harassing our guy.

On top of that, it was pretty apparent that Alabama didn’t have any respect for our running game.  It seemed like all day they went with a 6-man box, just DARING us to run the ball.  Of course, when we did, we still couldn’t, because their 6-man box is way better than anything we could throw at them.  I’ll say this, I was dreading any instance of Myles Gaskin touching the ball.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a solid running back with great vision and patience.  But, you’re not going to get very far being patient against that Bama D-Line.  This was proven by Gaskin having a rushing long of 10 yards, while averaging 3.4 yards on 10 carries.  I would’ve much rather seen Lavon Coleman get the lion’s share of the carries doled out to our running backs.  Not necessarily because I think he’s the superior back, but I think his style lends itself more to potentially breaking one against them.  Now, obviously, on 7 carries he only got 16 yards, with a long rush of only 5 yards, so it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if he had another 10 touches.  But, still, I like a guy who’s quick to decide and hits the hole hard against a line like that.  Because, let’s face it, if the Huskies were able to open ANY holes in the running game, those holes weren’t destined to remain open for very long.

Ultimately, when you combine the fact that Alabama mostly kept six in the box, and rarely blitzed, it allowed them to keep their safeties back and eliminated most – if not all – deep passing attempts.  I will say that, after the pick six, right before halftime, I saw John Ross streaking up the middle of the field, having gotten behind the defense.  Had Jake Browning seen the same, we could’ve stolen a touchdown right back and made the second half a lot more interesting.  But, who knows, he was probably trying to dodge another defender who aimed to take his head off.  It was pretty discouraging to see us almost never attempt a pass in the middle of the field when the game was in doubt.  Again, I don’t know if the defense dictated that, or the game plan, but an offense full of short passes to the sidelines isn’t going to get it done against any defense.

I’ll just close out with a little something on Jake Browning.  I think it’s pretty clear he took a big step forward from his Freshman year to this year.  I feel like he’s getting a lot of flak from fans, who think he “doesn’t show up” in big games.  Let’s just take a step back here and remember he started from the very first game as a true Freshman last year.  So, he was essentially thrown into the fire, and did pretty well for himself.  He was damn near a completely different quarterback by season’s end.  That put him into his Sophomore year this year, where as I noted above, he took a big step forward.  The team succeeded accordingly and we cracked the College Football playoffs!  He even found himself, for a while there, in the national discussion for the Heisman Trophy!  Granted, it was a bit of a down year for the Heisman; I don’t know anyone who thinks Lamar Jackson is literally the best player in college football in 2016 (this probably should’ve been the year it went to a lineman or something).

In 2017, you have to figure Jake will be in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy from Day 1.  He’s coming off of a 12-win season and a playoff berth, the pressure will be ungodly.  So, I’ll be most interested in seeing how he responds.  He’ll be an upper-classman, he’ll have two years’ worth of experience in this system, and you figure he’ll be poised for one more big step forward in his progression.  At this point, he’s got the experience, he’s mastered being a leader for this team, now it’s time to refine and fine tune his game to be an elite college quarterback.  With a target on his back, and all of the Huskies’ backs as conference champions, nothing will come easy for this team in 2017.

How they respond to being in the long shadow of the 2016 Huskies will go a long way towards dictating whether we’ll be even better next year, or regress towards the mean.

Huskies Defeat Cal On The Back Of A Mid-Game 38-Point Run

This was a disjointed affair through the first 21 minutes of the game.  Our offense looked both inept and world-beating; our defense looked both dominant and susceptible to the big play; and our special teams:  the less said about them, the better.  The Huskies had a 21-13 lead after the first quarter, and with 9 minutes left in the first half, were clinging to a 21-20 advantage.  My worst nightmares were being realized.  Going into this game, my only fear was Cal pushing this game into shootout territory and keeping it close throughout thanks to our offense not being on top of its game.

I don’t know how you score 21 points in the first quarter and still feel like your offense is spotty, but it was.  A couple of 3 & Outs deep in our own territory, followed by a couple of the most miserable punts you’re ever going to see, gave Cal good field position on our side of the 50.  We essentially spotted them 6 points on a couple of field goals, and it certainly could’ve been a lot worse.  Beyond that, our three scores were on two bombs to John Ross and a trick play where Dante Pettis threw a TD to Darrell Daniels.  None of these were sustained drives, and we had no semblance of a running game early (against the worst rushing defense in college football).  Cal was only a couple of tweaks in their secondary away from making a game of this!

But, when Cal pulled to within 1 point, the Huskies finally turned on the jets.  38-unanswered extended our lead to 59-20 before the Bears finally got a late garbage time touchdown.  We followed that up with a lengthy run for a score with our backups in the game, and there was your final, 66-27.

In the end, we finished with 287 rushing yards on a whopping 44 carries, with both Gaskin and Coleman going for scores.  Browning had a great game, going 19/28 for 378 yards and 6 TDs against 0 INTs.  On the Heisman front, it looks like too-little, too-late, but in the Husky record books, we’re talking about a guy who – in 9 games – has already broken the single-season record for TD passes (34, over Keith Price’s 33).  He needs just 10 more to break the all-time Pac-12 record, held by Jared Goff (43).  He’s still pretty far off of the pace for the single-season Husky record for yards held by Cody Pickett (4,458 in 2002), but that’s what happens when you don’t play in the 4th quarter of most of your games because you’re blowing teams out too much.  But, assuming all goes according to plan, Browning should be alone in 4th place on the all-time Husky passing yards list, on pace to absolutely shatter the record if he stays in school all four years.

The aforementioned John Ross had himself quite the night, with 208 yards receiving on only 6 receptions, 3 of them for touchdowns.  Pettis, in addition to throwing for a touchdown, caught 3 others en route to an 8-catch, 104 yard evening.

The stars were out in full force on both sides of the ball.  The Huskies nabbed 3 picks, 2 of them going to Sidney Jones.  The line only managed 1 sack, but even though they were depleted, they were able to harass Cal’s quarterback with regularity most of the night.

I’d say, if the playoff selection committee went to bed after the first quarter, they wouldn’t have been all that impressed with the Huskies.  Considering the game didn’t start until after 10:30pm eastern, I’d say those odds are pretty good.  But, on the whole, a 66-27 drubbing has to look pretty good.

If I had to bet the family farm, I’d wager the Committee will have Ohio State in the top 4, with the Huskies on the outside looking in once again.  If, however, they wise up and put Washington in at #4, as long as we win out, I don’t think there’s any chance of us ever falling out of the top 4 between now and the end of the year.  Tomorrow could be big.  I’ll have more on the issue on Wednesday, once everything has sunk in.

Next up, the Huskies host USC at 4:30pm on Saturday.  Thanks to a bunch of early-season losses, the Trojans haven’t been on my radar, so my last impression of this team is throttling them down in L.A. last year, followed by the dramatic fall from grace for Sark.  Those Trojans would somehow rebound to climb into the Pac-12 Championship Game (because the Pac-12 South is the God damned worst), only to lose to Stanford before rounding out their season with a bowl loss to Wisconsin.

This year, USC came into the season ranked 20th, and was immediately humbled by Alabama.  The Trojans would lose 3 of their first 4, including games to Stanford and Utah, before turning things around and winning 5 in a row, including handing Colorado their only conference loss.  A big part of that turnaround is attributed to the Trojans dumping former Husky recruit Max Browne in favor of Freshman Sam Darnold.  Darnold looks like the real deal, and a perfect fit with all-world receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (who is somehow still a Junior, but will hopefully be declaring for the draft after this year).

I would also argue that part of their turnaround has to do with the schedule easing up.  It’s probably no coincidence that their conference losses were on the road (the Alabama game was played in Texas, but still probably more of a road atmosphere).  In their 5-game winning streak, 4 of these games have been at home (including the victory over Colorado).  The other wins, against the Arizona schools, Cal, and Oregon, are about as soft of a landing as you can get.  I don’t know if any of those teams have a defense that’s worth a damn.

ESPN College Gameday is coming back to Montlake for the first time since 2013, when we were ranked #16 and hosted the #2 Oregon Ducks.  That game turned out to be a disaster for all involved (unless you’re a Ducks fan, in which case, yes, I will have fries with that).  This time, the tables have turned though.  USC isn’t ranked, though they’re 26th in both the AP & Coaches polls.  People are touting the Trojans as the biggest test we’ll have faced all year.  I’d say that honor still belongs with the underrated Utah Utes, but this is what happens when one of the L.A. schools goes on a 5-game winning streak.  Everyone loses their minds and starts writing checks their asses can’t cash.

The fact of the matter is, yes, we’re talking about a hot USC team.  If the national rankings happen to be in love with that school, it’s all the better for the Washington Huskies.  Anything that boosts our national profile is good for our chances.  By the same token, it will have been 3 full weeks since our last home game.  It will have been a whopping 6 full weeks since the Husky fans have had an opportunity to get jacked up about a significant opponent (the Stanford game, on September 30th).  This is our last opportunity to get all lathered up on a national stage.  The next game is at home, but against a pretty hapless ASU team; then, we have the Apple Cup on the road.  My point is:  I expect Husky Stadium to be as loud and raucous as I’ve ever seen it.

GOD I CAN’T WAIT FOR SATURDAY!!!