The Husky Football Team Finished 2022 In The Top 10

The College Football Championships have come and gone, and now we’re left with the final rankings of the 2022 season. The Washington Huskies finished at 11-2 and ranked 8th in both the AP and Coaches polls. That’s pretty incredible, considering where we came from: a total disaster of a 4-win program who needed a complete coaching overhaul.

I would also argue it’s incredible based on where we were just six weeks into the season. At 4-2 – following back-to-back road losses to UCLA and the lowly Sun Devils – it looked like this season was going absolutely nowhere. Well, maybe not nowhere, but certainly more middle-of-the-pack in the Pac-12 than a top 10 program nationally. Then, we ripped off seven wins in a row to close out the year, including a hard-fought Alamo Bowl victory over Texas. Color me wildly impressed!

I should also point out that the Huskies were the highest-ranked Pac-12 school at the conclusion of the bowl season. That’s thanks to both USC and Utah losing their respective matchups to Tulane and Penn State, respectively. Hence why we sit sandwiched between those two schools in the rankings.

Are we better than Penn State? I’d like to think so, especially at this point in the season. The only non-playoff teams ranked ahead of us are Alabama (5), Tennessee (6) and the aforementioned Nittany Lions (7). I don’t know if we’d beat Bama, but I’d give us a fighting chance against all those schools.

I’ll plan to revisit this discussion later on, when the opening rankings come out. For now, ESPN has their own “way-too-early” rankings, which seem to be constucted for the sole purpose of infuriating me. I’m not going to bother running through all the schools, because who has the time? I’m just saying it’s idiotic that they automatically bump USC and Oregon ahead of us, leaving us outside the top 10 at number 11.

I don’t know what tea leaves they’re reading, or how this bodes for our prospects heading into the AP’s initial poll (whenever they get around to releasing it), but I’m going to be upset if we’re left outside the top 10, considering the talent we have – talent, by and large, that could’ve gone pro, but is all coming back – and the talent we’re bringing in. Along with a full offseason of continuity between coaching staff, quarterback, and hopefully all our receivers (here’s to Rome Odunze sticking around one more year).

But, then again, that kind of snubbing might just put the chip on our shoulder we need to get ahead in this world. In spite of all that, the nation is still going to disrespect us and not believe in us?! Bring it on! And let’s go kick some ass!

As for the rest of the Pac-12 in those way-too-early rankings, they have USC 7th, Oregon 9th, Utah 13th, Oregon State 17th, and UCLA just missing the cut. For the record, I think they have the Beavers too low. I’m also never surprised when the Cougs over-achieve. But, that’s still pretty cool that the Pac-12 figures to have so much representation in the Top 25. It looks like things are starting to turn around. It’s too bad – after 2023 – we won’t have USC or UCLA here to enjoy the fruits of all our hard work.

As far as realignment goes, I really hope we get SMU, or some other comparable Texas school to join the Pac-12. I’m ambivalent about San Diego State or whatever other California school joins our ranks. But, for recruiting alone, we need a footprint in Texas if we’re going to hope to stay relevant.

The Huskies Handled The Longhorns In The Alamo Bowl

Nothing felt right about the 8-4 Texas Longhorns being favored by 3 points over the 10-2 Washington Huskies. At best, you could call this a de facto home game for the Austin-based school – a mere 75 minutes away from the San Antonio-based bowl – but I would argue there was a significant talent discrepancy which was only overwhelmed by the gargantuan Want To discrepancy.

I couldn’t possibly keep track of all the perfectly healthy Texas players who opted to NOT play in this game, because they’re certain to be drafted into the NFL next year and would rather save their bodies than play in this meaningless game. We’re talking about really impactful players! I want to say not one but two of their best running backs sat out, and I think the broadcast mentioned a good pass rushing linebacker to boot? That would prove pivotal in this particular game; who knows, it might’ve actually meant the difference between the loss they ended up suffering, and a win they can only dream about.

I can count on zero hands the number of Huskies who opted out of this game, because that number is zero. I wouldn’t have faulted someone like Michael Penix from sitting this one out, but that was before he announced he was coming back for the 2023 season. The Dawgs were indeed as close to full strength as we’ve ever been, less a Cameron Davis injury late in bowl week practice that was only major enough to sit him in this game, but isn’t supposed to cost him next year. Losing our second-best running back isn’t really all that impactful in the grand scheme of things.

I believe a lot of money came in late on the Huskies, as the moneyline payout went down ever-so-slightly. A lot of east coast fucks probably took a bath on this one; that’s what you get for ignoring the Pac-12 this year!

Probably best not to throw stones, for those of us who hammered the over REALLY got snookered!

My big question heading into this one was: how good is Texas’ defense? That was probably my biggest concern. I figured they’d be good-enough moving the ball, and the Huskies are going to be in any game so long as Michael Penix is behind the center. But, if their defense gave us fits, how would we respond? I don’t know if the Huskies had played a truly great defense this year. Probably Oregon State was the best, and you saw how we barely eked out that one.

It never occurred to me that the Husky defense might step up in a big way! Granted, their top receiver Xavier Worthy was KILLING them with drops – including what would’ve been a breakaway touchdown in the second half – but I saw some improved coverage, I saw a drastic decrease in yards after contact/yards after reception with stout tackling, and I saw a good amount of quarterback pressure to keep him off-the-mark on just enough throws to limit them to 6/15 on third downs (2/3 on fourth downs).

That added up to a ragged-as-hell first half. The Huskies finished the game 11/20 on third downs (2/3 on fourth downs), but a lot of that came in the second half. We were limited to a 13-3 lead at the break, with a number of poor throws, costly drops, and baffling referee decisions sprinkled in. There was one long third down would-be conversion we should’ve had – where their guy CLEAR AS FUCKING DAY grabbed our receiver’s jersey in a blatant pass interference move to prevent a huge gain, only to get a no-call from these blind as bats fucking refs. And the Rome Odunze butter fingers moment in the endzone sure looked like it might loom large just before the break, costing us 4 points in the process.

What really saved us and kept us afloat was the production of running back Wayne Taulapapa, who had the only touchdown of the first half on a 42-yard scamper down the left sideline. He ended the game with 108 yards on only 14 carries, and was really gashing them throughout. Richard Newton took on backup duties and had a workmanlike 44 yards on 11 carries.

Both teams came out to play some offense in the second half. The Longhorns marched right down the field to make it 13-10, but the Huskies finally woke up as well. Things were looking dicey as it appeared we might go 3 & Out and shift momentum completely, but we converted a 4th & 1 on our own 34 yard line with a Penix sneak (where it looked like we might just take the delay of game penalty and punt, after not getting them to jump offsides). That propelled us to convert that drive into a nifty touchdown pass to Taj Davis, and we were off to the races from there.

After forcing them to punt, we marched right down the field again to make it 27-10, thanks to an incredible shoe-string catch by Jalen McMillan. Those two touchdown drives were 13 plays and 14 plays, respectively. 75 yards and 90 yards, respectively. 5:47 and 6:57, respectively. Just taking the absolute wind out of their sails. Sure, the Longhorns followed up that second touchdown with one of their own – to make it 27-17 – but by then we were in the meaty part of the fourth quarter, and content to sit on the ball and convert third downs, move the chains, and drain clock. Our subsequent drive ended on downs, but it was still another 13 plays and 5:29 off the clock. Texas got the ball back with just over 4 minutes remaining and needed over half of that just to go 55 yards on 10 plays to convert a field goal to make it 27-20. With 1:40 remaining, we bled their final two time outs, and ran it down to 25 seconds, where they took over on their own 16 yard line, unable to do anything.

That’s precision. That’s execution. That’s a methodical, veteran victory over a marquee football team in the NCAA landscape, against our former head coach (Sark) and our former defensive coordinator (Pete Kwiatkowski). When you think of Kalen DeBoer, you think of awesome passing attack and high-flying offense. But, what you also get is a complete head coach who pushes the right buttons, is aggressive when this team needs him to be, and is smart and conservative when it means our victory is all but certain.

That last drive is a perfect example. How many coaches out there would’ve thrown on one of those downs – especially after we were stuffed on the first play – in order to salt the game away and make a name for himself? Or, take the drive(s) before that. How many up-tempo offenses would’ve caved? Would have given the ball back to Texas with too much time left on the clock? The drive where we gave it up on downs was quietly one of the most critical of the entire game! We took five and a half minutes from them! That’s what great teams do: amass a double-digit lead, then you fucking sit on them and bleed them dry! Don’t give them any opportunity to weasel their way back in the game. FINISH THEM.

We’ve seen the Huskies win a lot of different ways this year, en route to an 11-2 finish. We’ve seen huge blowouts, we’ve seen back-and-forth scoring festivals, we’ve seen tough and gritty low-scoring nailbiters. I think that’s what impresses me most about this team: its adaptability. If we just got a LITTLE bit more out of our defense, we could really do something with this squad.

Without taking anything away – because an 11-win season in the Pac-12 is always impressive – I will say there’s a lot of unknown, but also a lot to look forward to. We beat the Oregon schools, which was impressive, but we lost to UCLA (I refuse to even bring up the other shit school we lost to) and we didn’t even play the Utes or Trojans (our Pac-12 Championship Game representatives). It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t slide into a New Year’s Six bowl, because I’d REALLY like to see what this team could do against the best of the best. I would not put the Texas Longhorns in that tier, for many reasons.

Next year, we don’t have that luxury. Next year, we do play the Utes and Trojans (USC on the road). We avoid Colorado (in full-on rebuild mode with Deion Sanders at the helm) and UCLA (unclear if their quarterback is returning, or if they’ll be worth a damn at all). When you factor in a non-conference road game against Michigan State, there will be every opportunity to prove ourselves.

What we haven’t seen in a while is a Husky team with sky-high expectations. We’ll be major players in the non-conference rankings! We might be as high as the Top 10, we might be snubbed with a slot in the teens, but we’ll be in there somewhere. I think 2017 was the last time we headed into the season in the Top 10; we made it as high as #5 (with our 6-0 start) before losing to the fucking team that shall not be fucking named.

While we all loved those Coach Pete teams – we got to play in our first-ever playoff game, which I attended in Atlanta against Alabama! – there were faults with that offense in big games. So far, I’ve seen none of those issues under Kalen DeBoer and Michael Penix’s leadership. This offense is ready to play with everyone, and I can’t wait to see what we look like next year. Full season AND full offseason under our belts? Watch out, college football!

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.

The Huskies Remain Undefeated Thanks To A Lethal Offense

There’s always at least a modicum of reason for concern when it comes to a college football matchup. So, when I say I was a little worried about this Stanford game, just know that I’m going to be at least a little worried about all the games the rest of the way. College football is wonky as hell! Strange shit can happen at any time.

But, it tends to happen more often in those 7:30pm starts. Pac-12 After Dark or whatever. It’s a thing. Usually, it’s more of a thing in October and November, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be a thing in the last weekend in September.

Turns out, my concern was unnecessary. We jumped out to a 17-7 halftime lead, bolstered that to a 30-7 lead heading into the final quarter, before easing off the gas a little bit with our 40-22 final score.

Michael “Big Penix Energy” Penix was on his game once again (22/37 for 309 and 2 TDs), but we really got the running game going in this one. Wayne Taulapapa … is a name I just typed out for the first time in my life. Anyway, Taulapapa carried it 13 times for 120 yards and a TD. I know we pride ourselves on our running backs around these parts, but it feels like we haven’t had anyone with any sort of juice since Myles Gaskin. It’s been pretty fallow at this position for a few years now, which I think fully explains our dramatic downturn (and our dramatic revival this year).

Every week, it seems like a new receiver steps up and has a HUGE game. This week, the merry-go-round went with Rome Odunze (8 for 161 and a TD).

What’s crazy is that this game could’ve been so much more of a blowout. We settled for four field goals, and managed to hit them all. I haven’t talked in glowing terms about a Husky kicker in I don’t know how long (maybe ever?), but Peyton Henry (Jinx Alert!) has been perfect on the season. Granted, only one of them has been beyond 40 yards, but you take what you can get from field goal kickers in college. This is his fifth year here and I don’t know how many more he has left in him (what with COVID eligibility and everything), but if he can keep it up, it would be huge.

It’s a shame it’s taken me this long to get to the defense, because they were on point (especially through three quarters). They had 8 sacks, and were absolutely swarming Stanford’s quarterback! It ultimately translated into a couple of fumbles lost as well as a pick. That’s a significant improvement for that side of the ball, that we’ve been longing to see.

This week, we have a Friday night matchup down in UCLA. Our first road game of the season. Not to be the boy who cried wolf or anything, but I’m concerned!

Is that concern justified? We’ll see. The Bruins are also 4-0. But, they played three cupcakes and then Colorado last week (so, four cupcakes then). And they were very nearly upset by one of them, barely eking by South Alabama.

But, clearly, they have a lot of talent. And, even though it’ll still be September when this game is played, it’s another 7:30pm start. Ours is the first game of a murderer’s row for them, as they go on to face the Utes at home and the Ducks on the road. This might be their best chance for a victory.

It also, not for nothing, might be the game they lose the hardest.

I’ll tell you this much: I wouldn’t want to go up against the Huskies right now. This offense looks fucking dynamite! I’ve talked about how lucky we are that we avoided Utah and USC this year, but maybe they’re lucky they avoided us!

The thing is, I don’t know what a Husky loss is going to look like. Is it an abnormal struggle on offense to score points? Does Penix put the ball in harm’s way one too many times? Do we have random bad fumble luck? Are we settling for too many field goals when we should be punching them in for touchdowns?

Or, is our defense a true Achilles’ heel, and we’ve papered over a lot of their deficiencies by getting out to these huge leads every week? What happens when we can’t score early and often? I think that’s it. I think that’ll be our big bug-a-boo. At that point, it’ll be a matter of the offense being down by a single score late and needing to do some things in a hostile environment. Is this that week?

We’re favored by 3. I think that line has considerably moved in Washington’s direction over the last day (didn’t it start at UCLA being favored by 1?). I dunno. There’s a reason why Vegas saw this game as one where UCLA should be ahead of us. The only reason it’s moving so much is because the public is overwhelmingly betting on the Huskies. That REALLY scares me. How much can you trust the public, really? I trust Vegas. I mean, I don’t trust them, but I think they’re generally smarter about these things.

I would stay away from the Huskies. As a Husky fan? Just sit back and enjoy the ride. You don’t want to be caught up in a tense game and also have money at stake. That’s not a great way to head into the weekend.

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.