That title is kinda ridiculous, when you think about it, because I have a feeling expectations are all over the map on this team. I’m sure there are some who will see a team minus Jake Locker, minus a couple of quality linebackers in Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa, and they’ll say, “This team is going nowhere but the bottom of the Pac-12.” And, I’m sure there are sycophants out there who will point to all the talent at skill positions and say, “This is a team that can contend for the Rose Bowl!”
I’m not going to go quite that far, but I do think we have a chance to win anywhere from 6 to 8 games, depending on how things shake out.
I’m not gonna lie to you, losing Jake Locker is a step back. But, I don’t know how BIG a step back this will be. Keith Price has the luxury of having started a game against the Number 1 team in college football (on the road!). He’s been put through the trial of an offseason competition with Nick Montana and come out on top. He’s got the wheels of a quality running quarterback – maybe not as fast or as powerful as Locker, but then again, who is? What we’ve yet to find out about Keith Price is: can he drive us down field in a 2-minute offense using solely (or primarily) his arm? Because Locker was great at that. Maybe he had to improvise a little bit, but he would almost always get the job done.
But, when you think about it, this SHOULD be a team that leans heavily on the run. When were we at our best last season? When all thoughts of a Heisman Trophy went out the window and we decided it was best for this team to pound the ball. QB draws and Chris Polk. A LOT of Chris Polk. I would expect more of the same this year. Polk will be our horse, we still have Jesse Callier, and I’m pretty sure we have a freshman coming in who might end up being more talented than both!
The studs don’t stop there, though. We have receivers out the ying-yang, starting with incoming beast Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end. Our other superstar freshman – receiver Kasen Williams – should also demand some heavy playing time. Coming back, we have D’Andre Goodwin and Jermaine Kearse, and I’m sure a few other guys who are primed to step up into the spotlight (or, in the case of James Johnson, BACK into the spotlight).
If we’re going to be a running team, what are we going to do with all this talent at receiver?
Well, I’m sure they’re not going to be neglected – I’m sure we’ll be able to feature them heavily in our first two non-conference games – but when it gets down to crunch time, when we need a couple yards to convert on third down, I have no doubt it’ll be a steady dose of the running back off tackle.
A lot of people, when they look at this year’s Husky team, will point to the defense as a huge question mark. After all, we lost our two best players to the draft. And that was from a defense that wasn’t all that great to begin with!
Well, if you give any creedence whatsoever to spring practices, then you’ll have confidence in our defensive line, because apparently it was a non-stop killing machine! Josh Shirley – transfer from UCLA – can get after the quarterback like nobody’s business. Now, can he do that in a real game? That’ll be the question. One guy we know can wreak havoc is Alameda Ta’amu. He’ll be a senior, the unquestioned leader of that line, and should make running the ball against us a non-factor.
As far as our linebacking is concerned, it seems like every year we lose an all-world linebacker, only to have the next guy in line step up and make an impact. This year should be no different as long as Cort Dennison is around. He moves up to become the leader of the defense, and I have no doubt he’ll be able to keep the other linebackers in check.
My main concern is the secondary. I just don’t think we have the talent to prevent the good teams from moving the ball up and down the field (that Stanford game should prove to be a God-damned massacre once again). Hopefully, if our D-Line is as good as advertised, the other teams’ quarterbacks won’t have enough time to launch ball after ball down field.
My other big concern is our schedule. It’s not necessarily a bear because of our non-conference foes – although, Eastern Washington and Hawaii are no slouches – but because the Pac-12 (as usual) is fucking loaded at the top. Oregon, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State will all be awesome (according to what I’ve read, anyway). We play all of those teams (except Oregon) on the road; so that’s cool.
First thing’s first: we have to go into Nebraska 2-0. Losing to either EWU or Hawaii is not an option. I actually like the way this shakes out, to tell you the truth. We start out with a team in a lower college division (albeit the BEST team in that lower division), then we take a step up to a mid-major type university, then we take the big leap to the Big-10.
Now, in my fantasy world, I’m not saying we’re DEFINITELY going to march into Nebraska and make them our bitches like we did in the Holiday Bowl. But, I don’t see why we COULDN’T do that.
What we MUST do is win a minimum of 6 games at home. This year, we have a 7-game home schedule. Something tells me we won’t topple the Ducks; so that means we have to beat: EWU, Hawaii, Cal, Colorado, Arizona, and WSU. Win those: go to a bowl.
On the road, like I said before, it’s pretty nasty. @ Nebraska, @ Utah, @ Stanford, @ USC, @ Oregon State. I don’t like ANY of those games! I think IF we’re going to win a game, it’s going to be either Nebraska or Utah. I can’t imagine we strike gold a third consecutive year against USC, not with Barkley running the show and likely looking at Heisman contention.
I dunno, I could be wrong. Maybe these teams I fear won’t be worth a damn by the time we face ’em. If we can find a way to steal a couple of those road games, while still maintaining our 6 wins at home, I would say 8-4 is better than most people expect. Either way, just GOING to a bowl could shatter a lot of expectations for how this Pac-12 is going to shake out. I believe they’re going to do it. And, for the record, I believe the Dawgs are going to steal at least one road game.
If I had my druthers, I’d make it the Stanford game and really shock the world.