The Washington Huskies Could Very Well Make The Rose Bowl

Saturday was as enjoyable a day of football as I’ve seen in quite some time. Everything sort of opened up for me and I had an opportunity to sit down and watch almost nonstop from about 3pm until 11pm (while taking a brief intermission to go out and buy a Christmas tree with my dad).

Now, obviously, it wasn’t perfect. But, Friday’s mini-slate of games had a lot to do with that, thanks to Cal blowing it against UCLA. The Huskies were iced out of the Pac-12 Championship Game when the Utes blew out the Buffaloes, but that game was over before it started. Colorado is one of the worst teams in all of football. They’re an embarrassment to the Power 5 conferences, and deserve to be relegated to a lower level until further notice.

It’s unfortunate, because the biggie improbably worked out, as Oregon State defeated Oregon in a thrilling matchup, where the Beaves overcame a 31-10 deficit late in the third quarter to prevail 38-34. In really dominating fashion, by just running all over the Ducks to the tune of 268 yards on 43 carries (that’s a 6.2 average for those following along at home), while their quarterback only completed 6 passes for 60 yards all game. I don’t know how you come back from being down 21 points by only running the ball, but this was straight out of the 1920’s. The Ducks didn’t do themselves any favors by making a lot of mistakes, and coaching their way out of any shot at the Rose Bowl by going for it deep in their own territory with a quarterback run that was doomed to fail.

There were other great outcomes throughout the day. 5th ranked LSU lost to a Texas A&M team that didn’t even qualify for a bowl game this year. USC handled a 15th ranked Notre Dame team by double digits. Michigan absolutely destroyed Ohio State on the road to lock in their spot in the playoffs (as probably a 2-seed).

It all led up to the Apple Cup at 7:30pm in Pullman. If the Huskies won, they would create a 3-way tie for second place in the Pac-12, with Utah and Oregon. With the tiebreaker system set in place, that gave Utah the nod to play USC in the conference championship. If the Huskies lost, it would’ve been a 2-way tie for second with just Utah and Oregon, with the Ducks having the head-to-head victory over the Utes. So, this was an opportunity for the Ducks to lose twice in the same day, which is why it was so great!

The Apple Cup was an intense scoring festival through the first half. The offenses sputtered a tiny bit through the first three possessions, with the Cougs improbably doinking in a 50-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. But, once the quarterbacks got used to the cold, they were gripping it and ripping it like nobody’s business. After those first three drives, there were a whopping SEVEN consecutive touchdown drives before the Cougs had to settle for a field goal just before halftime to only be down 28-27. If the clock wasn’t a factor, they’d still be out there trading TDs!

Somehow, the defense stepped up in the second half, limiting the Cougars to only 6 points (should have been 8 points, but quarterback Cameron Ward had the ball in the wrong hand as he ran for the front left pylon on the 2-point conversion – the first of two such instances where he failed to simply reach the football over the line to gain while running out of bounds – in one of the most baffling displays of low football IQ I’ve seen in a while), which was pretty necessary since the Huskies had a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers to keep things interesting. But, we got things on track after a brutal pick in the endzone, pulling away from a 35-33 lead to a 51-33 end result.

Interception aside, Michael Penix was a wizard out there, throwing for 485 yards and 3 TDs (on 25/43 passing), while adding 34 rushing yards and 2 TDs on the ground. His regular season with the Huskies looks like this:

  • 330/500 for 4,354 yards, 29 TDs, 7 INTs, and only 5 sacks in 12 games. He added 86 rushing yards and 4 TDs on the ground

This is, without question, the greatest season I’ve ever seen from a Husky quarterback. It might literally be the best season ever by a Husky quarterback; I’ll defer to the experts on that one. But, this is legitimate pro-level talent we’re watching! I can only imagine what it would’ve looked like to have Kalen DeBoer, Ryan Grubb, and Michael Penix together for four years. Penix still technically has a year of eligibility left, but I would be absolutely shocked if he opted to stick around for another season, especially given his injury history.

Our top three receivers also, by consequence, had huge games. Rome Odunze led the way with 5 for 157 and a TD. Jalen McMillan had 6 for 150 and a TD. And Ja’Lynn Polk had 4 for 82 and a TD. On the year, here’s how they shake out:

  • Odunze – 70 for 1,088 and 7 TDs
  • McMillan – 71 for 1,040 and 8 TDs
  • Polk – 38 for 649 and 6 TDs

The Huskies haven’t stopped recruiting receivers at a high level since the likes of John Ross and Dante Pettis went pro, but they simply haven’t had a quarterback capable of getting the ball to their most talented weapons. Instead, we’ve been Tight End University in the interim, which is fine, but unless you’re cultivating the next Travis Kelce, your tight end shouldn’t be your best weapon on offense. It’s long overdue that we’re seeing our wideouts getting this kind of attention. As you can see, it opens things up tremendously for everyone else.

The running game gets overlooked in all this, but Wayne Taulapapa had another wildly efficient game, running it 13 times for 126 yards and a TD. Cameron Davis also had a fine day, rushing it 6 times for 55 yards. On the year, they weren’t ever the headline stars, but they accounted for a lot of our scoring:

  • Taulapapa – 126 carries for 779 yards and 10 TDs
  • Davis – 107 carries for 522 yards and 13 TDs

It’s definitely a pass-heavy attack, but the offensive scheme takes advantage of that by gashing teams in the run. I think it’s exactly the right kind of balance for today’s game, and I couldn’t be happier with how the offense performed this year. I guess it’s all downhill from here!

So, here’s where everything stands. On Friday at 5pm, USC plays 14th ranked Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game. At the moment USC is ranked 4th in the AP Poll (the official college football playoff rankings come out later today, I believe). The Top 4 in the AP Poll are Georgia, Michigan, undefeated TCU, and USC. TCU will play the 12th ranked Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday morning in the Big-12 Championship Game. Also in play we have a 1-loss Ohio State team playing for jack shit since they lost to Michigan. How this week’s rankings shake out will speak volumes. If USC is also ranked 4th in the college football playoffs, then I think it’s a foregone conclusion: win and they’re in. If Ohio State is still the 4th team, then all bets are off (though, in all likelihood, they’ll be in with a win, but you never know). I don’t think anyone believes that a 3-loss LSU team would make it, even if they beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, but let’s hope the Bulldogs take care of business just to be safe.

Anyway, if USC makes the college football playoffs, then that sets up the Huskies for a Rose Bowl berth. That would make the Utes a 3-loss team in conference (with 4 losses overall). Meanwhile, the Huskies and Ducks would both have 2 losses in conference (with Oregon having 3 losses overall), and the Huskies BEAT the Ducks. So, that should give us the edge.

Even if things go wonky on us, and USC has to “settle” for the Rose Bowl, there’s still an outside chance – as a 10-win team – that we might qualify for the Cotton Bowl, and be part of the big New Year’s 6. That’s fun! I’d be happy with that!

I’d be less happy if we are iced out completely, but that’s always a possibility as well. I would think – given our offensive firepower – that we’d be an attractive team to put into ANY bowl game.

Of course, a Rose Bowl showdown would be a rematch with Ohio State from the 2018 season, which was a tough-luck 28-23 defeat. Ohio State is always a scary team to play, but I’d still love the opportunity.

We’ll see what happens! Regardless, this season has surpassed my wildest expectations for the Huskies. I’m just tickled pink with how it all has gone so far.

Fun Husky Football Scenarios Heading Into The Apple Cup

The chances are remote, but the possibilities are endless for the Washington Huskies, heading into our regular season finale.

At 9-2, the Huskies have alread surpassed our wildest dreams for what this season could be. After a COVID-shortened 2020, and a disastrous 2021 that saw the university clean house, I think most of us had tempered expectations heading into 2022. I wouldn’t have predicted we’d be at the bottom – though I did see that bandied about in some circles – but it felt like a middle-of-the-road kind of year where maybe we’d get to 6-6 and play in a crappy bowl.

So, to have a remote possibility of actually making the Pac-12 Championship Game, and/or somehow making the Rose Bowl, is pretty thrilling!

To get here, I should mention the Huskies just throttled the Buffaloes last week, 54-7. That was after we shocked the world – winning in Oregon – to make all this possible. We’re officially 6-2 in conference, tied with Utah for third. USC is first, at 8-1, and have already clinched their spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. They also sit at 6th in the nation, with an outside chance of cracking the college football playoffs (more on that in a bit).

Here are the scenarios, as they stand:

Oregon plays at Oregon State tomorrow at 12:30pm. If the Ducks win, they advance to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Oregon State is 21st overall, so they’re no pushovers. But, the odds are pretty heavily in favor of the Ducks taking care of business.

Should the Ducks lose, that opens up a cavalcade of possibilities! Most importantly, Washington would advance if they beat Wazzu and UCLA loses at Cal this afternoon. Should the Bruins prevail, the Huskies can still make it with a win and a Utah loss at the hapless Buffaloes. So, that’s why it’s a remote possibility. The Ducks are favored, the Bruins are heavily favored, and the Utes are a shoo-in. My hunch is all three of those teams win and it’s USC at Oregon in the title game.

The Utes could still make it with a victory if the Beavers beat the Ducks, the Huskies beat the Cougars, and the Bruins beat the Golden Bears, which actually isn’t crazy, and is the second-likeliest scenario.

I, as a Husky fan, expect to be bummed out when all is said and done, but not making the Pac-12 Championship Game isn’t the end of the world. Assuming Oregon makes it, and if USC defeats the Ducks to take the conference, there’s a very good chance that the Trojans make the top four and advance to the college football playoffs. At which point, the Huskies – by virtue of having beaten the Ducks – could be selected to represent the Rose Bowl as the second-best team in the Pac-12. That’s a helluva consolation prize! And, arguably, would be an easier path to the Rose Bowl (since there’s no chance whatsoever – even if we beat USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game – that we’d make the college football playoffs).

So, that’s something! If all else fails, though, we’re still a Husky football team looking to get to 10 wins in the regular season, which hasn’t happened since 2016-2018 of the Chris Petersen era. Which is why Kalen DeBoer earned himself a contract extension. He gets two extra years added to his deal – now through the 2028 season – with a $1 million raise added immediately (escalating $100K every year).

The money and everything is pretty meaningless, given that if he keeps doing well, he’ll keep getting extensions and raises. If he does poorly, he’ll be fired. And, if another team wants to buy him out and poach him away, they’ll pay whatever it takes if he proves he’s worth it. But, it’s cool for him to have this happen, and it’s cool for us as fans because that means the Huskies are playing well.

I’m excited – regardless of the post-season outcome – for the Apple Cup this weekend. The Cougs have been hot of late – winners of three in a row – after losing 4 of 5. All of their losses so far have come to ranked teams (Oregon, USC, Oregon State, Utah). The Cougs beat a ranked Wisconsin team early in the year, but at 6-5 the Badgers have sorely disappointed. Nevertheless, I think the Cougs are better than we expected, and could surprise us if we’re not careful. They’ve played most everyone tough – even in their losses – so I would expect this one to be close to the bitter end. I’ve got the Huskies by 3.

The Huskies Ruined The Ducks’ Playoff Chances!

I think I’m the Bad Luck Guy. There’s generally a common denominator with regards to the outcomes of important Husky football games. My friends and I like to gather together for the big ones. Huge opponents from another power five conference, bowl games, and the annual Oregon game. I can’t say that every time I miss one of these gatherings, the Huskies win, because that’s not true. But, what I can say is that the Huskies have ONLY won when I’ve had some serious FOMO, because I was doing other things. I’m sure my friends were gathered around the TV, screaming their heads off. Meanwhile, I was following along on the ESPN Gamecast while sitting in my seats at the Jane’s Addiction/Smashing Pumpkins concert at Climate Pledge Arena.

So, I don’t know what happened, exactly. I know this game didn’t look anything like my vision!

The only way the Huskies were ever going to prevail was to win in a shootout. I’d say a score of 37-34 qualifies, even if it didn’t look that way through the first half. The Huskies somehow nursed a 13-10 advantage at the break, which seems flukey as all get-out. We settled for two field goals that prevented us from really blowing things wide open. But, we also forced a timely turnover and lucked into a missed Oregon field goal.

The third quarter was nonstop touchdowns, five in all between the two teams. At this point, defense was non-existent, and it looked like that would be the case for the rest of the game. Which is what made Penix’s goalline interception so dire. It was 1st & Goal from the 1, you just can’t have a pick there. Oregon took the ball at that spot and almost put the game away. 20 plays, 91 yards, and over 10 minutes of 4th quarter game clock transpired. But, thankfully, we were able to hold them to a field goal, limiting our deficit to 7 points (34-27).

We got the ball back with just under 4 minutes left, with fans thinking about a potential Husky touchdown and Go For Two situation. It didn’t come to that, as on our third play of the drive – 3rd & 7 – Penix dialed up a 62 yard touchdown to Taj Davis to tie it back up.

Somehow, holding Oregon to a field goal on that 20-play drive woke up the defense, as we held the Ducks to a 4 & Out (going for it on their own 34 yard line on 4th & 1, and losing a yard on the play). It was unfortunate we weren’t able to ice the game right there, but we did net the go-ahead field goal from Peyton Henry with 51 seconds left.

I don’t know WHAT the fuck happened on the final drive of the game. All I saw was we had them on a 4th & 14 play, which they converted for 19 yards. Then, they threw another pass to get to midfield with 6 seconds left. Then, there was some “illegal touch-pass” that happened on a play that would have put them in field goal range, causing the play to be waived off and leaving them with an untimed down. Presumably, there was a hail mary that fell incomplete to seal it.

What a whale of a game! What an incredible ending!

There’s been a lot of chatter about what needs to happen for the Huskies to make the Pac-12 championship game. What’s unfortunate is that in years past, all we’d need is for the Ducks to lose one more. Then, we’d have the tie-breaker edge and go on to play the winner of the Pac-12 South. But, with this Top Two Teams/No Divisions nonsense, there’s officially A LOT that needs to go right for the Huskies to make it.

I keep thinking back to how many years where the Pac-12 North would’ve had the top two records, but it feels like this was implemented to help the Pac-12 South teams take control, and I don’t understand why I think this way.

Anyway, I think our shot ended when we blew it down in the desert against ASU. It was true then, and it pretty much remains true today.

In all likelihood, this won’t even prevent the Ducks from making the Pac-12 Championship Game. But, we eliminated them as a contender for the national title, and that’s something at least. Furthermore, we beat the fucking Ducks! What more do you need?!

That was our Super Bowl, and we came through victorious. I wish I could’ve been there to see it.

Michael Penix – aside from that one turnover – was magnificent. 408 yards and 2 TDs. We also managed – as a team – to rush for 114 yards (5.2 average) and a couple more TDs. But, I’ll say this, give me Peyton Henry as the hero of the game. He famously missed a kick in Oregon a few years ago, so this was a nice redemption story. But, more importantly, he’s been fucking nails this year. 15 of 17 (including 4/5 from 40+) and perfect on PATs. I don’t have much faith in college kickers – from ANY distance – so it’s nice to have someone we can rely on in big moments. It took him a while to get there, but Peyton Henry is a very good college kicker. I don’t know what that means for his pro prospects, but good for him either way.

Now, we play the hapless Buffaloes of Colorado before going on the road in the Apple Cup. Two more wins should get us to 10-2 on the regular season, which is pretty fucking amazing for Kalen DeBoer’s first year here. What an under-the-radar hire that might pay legitimate dividends down the line! This isn’t just a guy on a hot streak with someone else’s players. This is a guy who brought in a top tier quarterback, and totally revamped this offense into one of the best in the game!

Now, we just need to tighten the screws on this defense and we’ll be set.

I’m Intrigued By The 2022 Husky Football Season

I can’t call this a proper season preview, because I really know next-to-nothing about this team as it stands right now.

I also can’t really say why I’m intrigued by the upcoming football season, other than the usual excitement that comes with a new year. We’re all on the same level and there’s limitless possibilities. Once the games start, obviously we’ll have a better idea; my excitement or intrigue or whatever could dissipate as early as week 1. But, there are reasons for optimism that leave me thinking this team should be better than it was in 2021. So, you know, maybe I won’t be let down until week 3 or 4.

For starters, it doesn’t appear that this coaching staff is out of its league when it comes to recruiting. There have been a number of impressive “gets” – from faraway lands like Louisiana, for instance – that show me we could be in good hands.

But, even in the short term, I fundamentally believe this coaching staff will do more with Jimmy Lake’s players than Jimmy Lake & Co. ever could. This is a proper head coach, with a legitimate background in offensive production. And the players who remain left over from the previous regime were drastically underperforming their potential. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kalen DeBoer and his staff will right the ship in a hurry.

I’m also greatly encouraged by the number of high-rated defensive recruits we’re bringing in. Part of that may be residual Jimmy Lake positivity, because say what you will about him as a head coach, but he could coach up the DB room like nobody’s business. With our recent history of high profile success in getting our secondary players into the NFL – as high draft picks, no less – the University of Washington has taken the mantel of DB-U. But, obviously, Lake isn’t here anymore, so the defensive coaches we have now must be worth their weight in salt, at least from a recruiting perspective. If that carries over into coaching on the field – and we manage to see little-to-no drop-off in defensive production in the actual games – then I think that bodes very well for a dramatic turnaround in our overall fortunes from a win/loss standpoint.

One of the biggest areas with room for improvement is the quarterback position, and I think there’s a lot to like with the Huskies, even if they may not compare super-favorably on a national stage, or even among conference foes. Michael Penix Jr. seems to have the inside track as the starter, since he transferred over here from Indiana, where he has experience in the DeBoer scheme. Then, there’s the incumbent starter, Dylan Morris, who’s had a couple of up-and-down seasons, but nevertheless has a lot of potential to be harnessed by a coaching staff who knows what the fuck they’re doing offensively (I really can’t say enough shitty things about Jimmy Lake & Co. when it comes to the Husky offense shitting the fucking bed). If Kalen DeBoer can turn Jake Haener into a top-tier college quarterback, then there’s no reason why he couldn’t do the same with Morris. And, to top it all off, those two guys have a 5-star Sam Huard breathing down their necks. It appears there’s a legit 3-way quarterback competition going on, and the winner of that should be all the better for what he’ll have to go through in winning the job.

I’ll also say that the schedule is pretty damned reasonable. No USC or Utah makes our road in the Pac-12 (for now) that much easier. All of our non-conference games are at home (including the first leg of a home-and-home series with Michigan State). The rest of the home games are all very winnable, with Stanford being the toughest (the others being Arizona, Oregon State, and Colorado).

Obviously, the toughest game on our slate is at Oregon; that’s always a nightmare. Though, we get that game in mid-November, which will hopefully give our team time to gel (I kinda doubt it’ll matter though). There are also back-to-back games at UCLA and ASU that will really test our resolve. The other road games are at Cal and Wazzu for the Apple Cup (on a Saturday this year, for the first time in what feels like forever).

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, though. There are lots of holdovers on the O-Line, but that was a unit that largely underperformed last year (and I believe we kept the offensive line coach, who ends up being one of the few – if only – holdovers on the coaching staff). Maybe the scheme will help clean things up in protection; I guess that’s gotta be our hope.

I would say the wide receiver group is largely unproven at this level; they kinda scare me, if I’m being honest. I have no doubt the talent potential is there, but will they produce when the games start? Can we count on them in big moments to come up with big catches? There’s been so much turnover, the only names I remember are Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze, Taj Davis (vaguely), and Giles Jackson & Ja’Lynn Polk (who are both transfers who haven’t done much of anything in a Husky uniform). For a team who hasn’t had a true standout receiver since the John Ross/Dante Pettis days, I’d like to see some of these highly-rated guys start panning out.

Then, there’s the front seven on defense, which is hopefully going to be the ZTF Show. But, who’s going to ascend around our stud pass rusher? Especially when you figure this is probably our last year with ZTF, and there’s an outside chance that any sort of significant-ish injury might lead him to leave prematurely to get ready for the NFL Draft.

There aren’t many other front seven guys who are ringing any bells with me. Edefuan Ulofoshio is returning from injury and won’t play until midseason or later. We all hope Sav’ell Smalls takes a big step in his development. That’s kind of it as far as the front seven is concerned; I look forward to learning who’s good and who’s not. But, if they play collectively as bad as they were last year – getting gashed on the reg in the run game, while getting nothing done with the pass rush – then it won’t matter how much better we are offensively. If we can’t stop the likes of Oregon, UCLA, and the like, we’re gonna be screwed.

Finally, there were A LOT of Husky defensive backs who went to the NFL last year. Who steps up behind those guys? If we’re going to hold onto the title of DB-U, we need to spot those guys in a hurry and put them in positions to succeed.

Of course, the huge overarching caveat to everything is the fact that – as always – we need to temper our expectations. There’s a reason why the Huskies are largely expected to finish anywhere from the middle of the pack, all the way to the very bottom of the conference. Sure, there are surprise teams every year, but how often do those teams make the leap from middle of the pack to the very top? Seems unlikely. But, that’s why there’s intrigue! We don’t know yet how these players are going to respond to the new regime. A quality coaching staff can make all the difference, especially in the college game.

But, we’ve seen it go the other way all too often. Growing pains in learning a new system. And, in this case, there’s a new system on both sides of the ball. You almost have to bank on there being extra losses built in just for that reason alone. Maybe the new regime is stuck with guys they wouldn’t have normally recruited, because you literally can’t turn over the entire roster from scratch in one offseason.

There’s also some fear built in, because we’ve seen what happens when this team picks wrong in a quarterback battle. Jake Haener is a prime example. We opted to go with one year of Jacob Eason because we believed at the time he gave us the biggest upside to getting back to the college football playoffs. That turned out to be a miserable mistake (one that I was certainly wrong about at the time, as were a lot of Husky fans). What if we go with Penix and lose one or both of Morris and/or Huard (who go on to success elsewhere)? What if we go with Morris and he continues to make terrible decisions with the football? What if we go with Huard, but he’s just not the 5-star guy we all thought he was? There’s a lot riding on this! The repercussions could be massive, and there’s no guarantee that this coaching staff will be able to get the most out of who they choose. Nor is there a guarantee they’ll be able to restock the QB room next year if we have multiple defections.

So, I’m not going into this season with sky-high hopes. I’m just waiting to be pleasantly surprised. I’m open and receptive to winning football, but I need the team to cooperate. Considering the shitshow we’re likely to see out of the Seahawks, it would be nice if we had ONE good football team in the Seattle area.

Husky Football Is Making More Coaching Hires

I figured it was probably important to talk about the new offensive coordinator, since the last couple were so horrible. Ryan Grubb is taking over for John Donovan, also coming over from Fresno State, to keep things going with head coach Kalen DeBoer.

This was something we all saw coming, since they’ve coached together for much of their respective careers. What’s not to like? Grubb runs DeBoer’s scheme, and together they should work in tandem to get this offense humming again. That is, assuming DeBoer’s scheme is worth a damn. That, of course, remains to be seen.

Naturally, the Fresno State offense with Grubb calling plays was wildly successful this past season. I don’t think we would’ve gone poaching in that general direction if that wasn’t the case. Again, it’s comforting – at the very least – to be hiring someone who is coming off of a successful tenure. You’d think that would just go without saying, but as I’ve lambasted the Huskies for time and time again, neither John Donovan nor Bush Hamdan have ever had success as an offensive coordinator or a play-caller.

Courtney Morgan was also hired, to be Director of Player Personnel, a position I didn’t even know existed in college sports. He’s another guy who worked under DeBoer in 2020, but had the same job with Michigan this past season (his alma mater), so that’s interesting given Michigan’s success making the playoffs this year.

What does the Director of Player Personnel do? Apparently, they just recruit. So, that’s cool, the Huskies certainly need help in that area. It sounds like Morgan is good at what he does; this is being touted as quite the get for Washington, to not only draw him away from his alma mater, but to draw him TO a program that is clearly in rebuilding mode (and, at least from a national perspective, to be a step down as far as a football program is concerned, given the name recognition and recency bias of the Michigan Wolverines’ success in making this year’s final four).

He’s a “west coast guy”, which is how it’s being explained away. But, he was able to step into Michigan’s program and make an immediate impact, so here’s hoping he can do the same here. Recruiting always suffers the most in the immediate aftermath of a major coaching change in a program (we’ve already seen at least one high profile player decommit from the 2022 class), so if Morgan can stop some of the bleeding, that would be huge.

Courtney Morgan has also been with four different programs in the last four years, so it’s fair to wonder what exactly he wants from his college football career. I would say it’s a safe bet he won’t be here long, but we’re getting him at a time when we arguably need him the most, so I’m happy about that. Maybe DeBoer is promising him advancement within his staff? Maybe he’s simply making more money here? Or, maybe it’s just a stepping stone to get him back on the west coast, and back in the Pac-12, where he can eventually jump to Oregon or USC, before making his way to the southeast. Who knows?

I’m fairly encouraged by the coaching hires so far. I’m not blown away, I’m not losing my mind over here. But, so far, I don’t see any setbacks; it all looks like improvement – however incremental – compared to what we had in the 2021 season.

I’m honestly more excited to see Oregon’s coaching world torn asunder with Mario Cristobal going to Miami of all places!

The Huskies Hired Kalen DeBoer To Be Their Next Head Football Coach

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I wasn’t thrilled to have Jimmy Lake be our successor to Chris Petersen. I’ll even admit there were times when he was still here when I had hoped Coach Pete would step aside to allow Lake to take over, rather than risk losing him to another program. So, yeah, I was pretty stoked when it was announced he’d take over after Petersen’s retirement! I figured: what better way to continue the roll of success we’ve seen at Washington, dating back to 2014? Really, dating back to 2013, after Coach Sark helped turn things around after 2008’s winless nadir.

Things, clearly, didn’t go according to plan with Jimmy Lake. Really, it’s hard to see how things could’ve gone any worse. A global pandemic decimated our 2020 season; an outbreak from said pandemic resulted in our missing out on an opportunity to play for the Pac-12 championship, or even a bowl game that season; a number of players transferred out of the program (possibly as a result of the pandemic reducing Lake’s effectiveness as a recruiter); and then the 2021 season happened, where the Huskies were 4-5 under Lake before plummeting to 4-8 after his dismissal. As we all know, the offense severely underperformed – to the point that the offensive coordinator lost his job days before Lake lost his – and Lake himself became embroiled in controversy over getting too physical with one of his own players (a trend that may or may not date back to 2019, when he was still the defensive coordinator).

It’s fair to question where things might’ve gone differently had COVID-19 never happened. We figured we knew two things about Lake prior to his ascension to the head coach job: he’s a helluva defensive backs coach and a helluva recruiter. It’s probably fair to also say he’s a helluva defensive coordinator, but I think a lot of that is predicated on how well our secondary has played since he got here. There were instances of this defense being frustratingly inconsistent in crunch time and against the run when we needed them to step up the most. But, that’s neither here nor there.

What transpired is the simple fact that Lake might not be a good head coach. He’s certainly not a good judge of who should be an offensive coordinator, that much is clear with the hire of John Donovan, and the constant support he gave him. I don’t think Lake is a good judge of what offense should be at the college level. The Huskies were wildly conservative, and clearly didn’t have the personnel to support a run-first, pro-style offense. Bubble screens and Wildcat formations can die a quick and painful death, as far as I’m concerned. It’s also not clear that Lake is a good motivator of men; I get the sense that his schtick can wear thin with some people.

Regardless, his firing boiled down to the Huskies not playing well on the football field. Chris Petersen was able to mold lesser recruits into stars and eventual NFL players; Lake’s players regressed and underperformed, even though by the time he was promoted we were regularly bringing in higher-level recruits in Coach Pete’s final years.

I mean, how do you have the kind of consistency along the offensive line that we were able to bring back for the 2021 season, and not be able to do ANYTHING on offense, neither rushing nor protecting our quarterbacks?

This brings us to Kalen DeBoer, the erstwhile Fresno State head coach.

It’s fair to look at this hire – compared to what USC was able to do in bringing in Lincoln Riley, compared to what LSU was able to do in wooing away Brian Kelly from Notre Dame of all places – and come away underwhelmed. After all, there are reports we tried to hire Matt Campbell away from Iowa State (offering him upwards of $7 million per year) and were rebuffed (which is unfortunate, because what he’s done for the Cyclones is truly remarkable). You never want to hear that. You never want to hear that your school is unable to bring in a big name. If it’s because we didn’t offer him enough money, then that sucks because you don’t want your school to be perceived as tightwads. But, if it’s because he just didn’t want to come to Washington because he didn’t believe in the program and our ability to win it all, then that’s far worse. I tend to believe it’s the latter; I don’t have any faith in Washington winning it all because I don’t believe the Pac-12 as a conference is set up for success in the major college sports of football and men’s basketball (for any number of reasons I won’t bore you with here).

As a Washington fan, you kinda have to look at the situation for what it is. Washington is one of the top three or four programs in the Pac-12. But, what does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Being top three or four in the Pac-12 probably equates to being in the top 30 or 40 in all of college football; you can’t like those odds when the programs who are truly in the Top 10 are so far and away more advantaged than everyone below them combined. Matt Campbell isn’t the difference between where we are now and a national championship; nothing short of Dabo Swinney or Nick Saban would be able to turn Washington into a national powerhouse.

That means we have to settle for lowered expectations. Being one of the top three or four programs in the Pac-12 means we need to be competing for a conference championship every single year, period. Washington is worthy of that much. And there’s reason for optimism that Kalen DeBoer could be the guy to take us back to those heights.

I’m going to spend a lot of brainpower comparing DeBoer to our previous two offensive coordinators, because he’s an offensive-minded coach. Unlike Bush Hamdan and John Donovan – who were both miserable retreads who’ve never succeeded at the college level – Kalen DeBoer has improved the offenses he’s taken over at every stop on his coaching journey. He was tremendously successful at the lower levels of college football, with Sioux Falls, leading them to multiple national championships. He then became a coordinator with Fresno State and saw immediate improvement there; he did the same thing for Indiana in 2019, in the same capacity; and when he returned to Fresno State as their head coach, he continued their turnaround, leading them to a 9-3 record this past season (with, I might add, Jake Haener at quarterback, who transferred out of Washington after the 2018 season). This all speaks to a head coach on the rise.

It’s also not lost on me that he actually HAS head coaching experience, which is more than we could say for Jimmy Lake when he was hired. We’ll have to wait and see, but my hunch is that DeBoer will have these Huskies playing much better through sheer coaching ability. What’s uncertain is: how many of these Huskies will want to stick around? And, what will future Husky recruiting classes look like?

I don’t know what DeBoer’s reputation is as a recruiter. Considering everything I’ve read about him so far hasn’t featured that as any great asset, I’m assuming he’s just okay. Of course, he’s never had the kind of resources that he’ll have with Washington, so a lot of that is unknown as well. My guess on this point is that he’ll be worse than Jimmy Lake, at least at first. And, he’s going to have to coach his ass off the first few years to lead Washington to the kind of success where he’ll be able to start bringing in the higher-rated recruits.

Which leads me to the age-old question: what’s more important, recruiting or actual coaching? Obviously, you need both; Lake was perceived to be an excellent recruiter, but it turns out he wasn’t much of a coach, and the Huskies cratered accordingly. DeBoer is perceived to be an excellent coach, but if all he can bring in are nobodies, then it won’t matter how good of a coach he is if he doesn’t have the talent to even hang with the teams of the lowly Pac-12. If we’re doomed to repeat another endless string of losses to the Oregon Ducks, his time here won’t be long.

As with anything new, it’s impossible to judge this move without seeing any results. We can speculate all we want, but we can’t say anything with any certainty until we see how the Huskies play on the field next year. Even that might be too soon; a more fair assessment probably couldn’t be rendered for 3-5 years, to give him enough time to build the culture, bring in a few recruiting classes, and see how he does with “his guys”.

All I can really talk about his how I feel, given the knowledge I have at my disposal. I’m cautiously excited. I’m probably less excited than I was a couple years ago, when Lake was tabbed to take over, but that was coming off of a run of success we haven’t seen around these parts in decades. Coming off of a down year, with all the question marks surrounding our current roster and our incoming freshmen next year, I think it’s fair to be underwhelmed with this move. That doesn’t mean I don’t expect immediate improvement. I think the 2022 Huskies should be, at minimum, a bowl-eligible squad. A record of 6-6 isn’t too much to ask. Where we go from there is up to DeBoer, and who he ultimately decides to bring on as his assistant coaches. I’ve read people talking about how he needs to bring in excellent recruiters; I think that’s a great (if obvious) idea. We’ll see how it goes!