Have you seen this? Have you heard about this?
I honestly don’t know what to make of this. I never did bother to do a season-end recap of last year’s team, mostly because of being out of it during the Christmas holiday week, plus being in the midst of Seahawks playoff hysteria. I’m not a smart, thoughtful man, and sometimes my Husky coverage suffers accordingly.
For the 6th straight season, the Huskies finished pretty middling in the conference (either 5-4 or 4-5, with 2015 being a 4-5 season) and unlocked a middling bowl game achievement in the process thanks to taking care of business in the non-conference games. 6-6 meant the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Southern Miss, who we handled easily.
Without much in the way of defections to the NFL – when we saw four players from our defense alone go in the first two rounds a year ago – there’s a lot of hope in Huskyville for 2016.
For starters, you have to look at the schedule. The non-conference slate is as cushy as it comes: all at home, with the “toughest” being a Rutgers team that was 4-8 a year ago. We follow that up with a 4-8 Idaho team, before closing out against the pride of the FCS, Portland State.
The Huskies kick off their Pac-12 schedule on the road against Arizona, coming off of a down year. The rest of the road schedule includes Oregon (breaking in a new starting quarterback), Utah (seemingly always tough), Cal (minus the top quarterback in this year’s NFL Draft), and then Wazzu for the Apple Cup (a team also getting a lot of pre-season buzz). At home, we get Stanford, Oregon State, USC, and Arizona State (we avoid UCLA and Colorado this year). I, obviously, have no idea how good those teams are going to be. One would think Stanford will be strong as usual, and USC is always a tough one. Catching ASU at home seems to be best for all involved (since I can’t remember how many years it’s been since we won on their home turf), and Oregon State is Oregon State; you’d think that would be an easy one.
All in all, in spite of having five road conference games and only four at home, you have to like the way it shapes up.
For the real reason why the Huskies are the chic pick, look no further than our returning starters (7 on offense, 8 on defense). We made it through the full year with Jake Browning as a True Freshman, and will hopefully be rewarded with a significant bump in his performance (which was starting to really improve as the season went on last year). That, coupled with Myles Gaskin returning as The Man at running back, and John Ross returning from an injured year off (and looking just as fast as ever) at wide receiver, and you could see a big jump in explosive plays on offense. When you factor in most of our studs on defense (Budda Baker and Co. in the secondary, particularly) are back, we really shouldn’t miss a beat on that side of the ball.
What does all that mean? Well, in what’s looking like a possible down year in the Pac-12 North (Stanford, Cal, and Oregon all breaking in new QBs), this could be Washington’s time to shine! Or, you know, Wazzu’s (who also returns a bunch of players from a year ago, where they won 9 games – including impressive wins over Oregon and UCLA on the road – before losing their quarterback ahead of the Apple Cup and getting routed by the Huskies); but who wants to think about the best chance the Huskies have had in YEARS to play for the conference title, only to lose out to the fucking Cougs?
Either way, there’s a lot of love for the Dawgs. ESPN ranked us 17th in the nation recently, and now Athlon Sports has us at 11th! There’s a pretty general consensus that the Huskies will land somewhere in the Top 25 by the time September rolls around, and that’s a pretty rare statement ’round these parts over the last decade-plus.
Which is about right when you think about it. We’ll be in Chris Petersen’s third year as the head guy, we’ll be finding more and more of his recruits in major roles going forward, so now we can really assess the man’s ability as a recruiter and coach. The time is now! All the pieces are in place! If we’re not playing for the Pac-12 North title in the Apple Cup this year, if we’re fucking 7-6 again for the umpteenth time when all is said and done, there are going to be a lot of upset Dawg fans this time next year.