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College Football Preview 2016-2017: 25. Washington Huskies

Quarterback, Sophomore
Jake Browning
25. Washington Huskies 

Conference: Pac-12 (North)
Location: Seattle, Washington
2015-2016 Record: 7-6 (4-5 Pac-12)
Bowl Result: Victory in Heart of Dallas Bowl
Breakout Player: LB Psalm Wooching
Heisman Hopeful: RB Myles Gaskin
X-Factor: QB Jake Browning
Recruiting Rundown  (via Rivals)

Year Two of the Chris Petersen era in Seattle was a shaky one. The Washington Huskies proved they could have their moments, like a 45-10 dismantling of rival Washington State in the Apple Cup. However, they struggled against the big boys of the Pac-12 and finished off 2015-2016 a rather pedestrian 7-6. While the Huskies are bound to be very young this season. there is plenty of talent at every position group, starting at the skill positions. If the young guys can grow up quick, Petersen's team has the chance to be a dark horse Pac-12 Champion and Playoff contender.

Backfield: Petersen has a breakout candidate at the team's most important position, in sophomore Jake Browning. Browning was thrown into the role last season and performed very well, with 2,955 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, he did show that there were parts of his game that definitely needed to improve. He had 10 interceptions along the way and was not a great decision-maker in his time with the Huskies. His arm strength and poise was extremely impressive, and he showed he could make plays with his legs as well. Now more comfortable in the offense and with a lot of help around them, it isn't crazy to believe Browning could take major steps this season. Veteran K.J. Carta-Samuels returns as a quality backup, after seeing limited action as a signal-caller a year ago. Big things are also expected of fellow sophomore Myles Gaskin, who is back at running back. Gaskin quietly put together a big year in 2015-2016, with 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gaskin doesn't offer much in the size department but he is blessed with fantastic speed and impressive vision. It may be hard for him to repeat his nearly six yards per carry that he did last season. but he has the chance to grow into a more complete back, growing as a pass-catcher and a blocker. Gaskin will be supported in the backfield by solid junior Lavon Coleman. Coleman is much stronger than Gaskin so it wouldn't be surprising to see him used in short-yardage situations. However, he doesn't possess Gaskin's speed or explosiveness and is a rather limited tailback. Expect the Huskies to also switch things up with either sophomore Jomon Dotson (18 carries last season), or any number of the newcomers they bring in at back.

Receivers: The search for a new No. 1 receiver is on Seattle after top target Jaydon Mickens exhausted his eligibility. Mickens was never dominant, but he was a reliable force who hauled in 58 catches for 692 yards and two scores a season ago. His speed and explosiveness opened up the offense, and Browning will be eager to find a new top weapon. One would assume the next logical option would be junior Dante Pettis, who finished third on the team in receiving in 2015. What Pettis lacks for in size, at 6'1" and very slim, he makes up for in exceptional route running and impressive speed. He had 30 receptions for 414 yards a year ago, but will have to continue to work on his catching and playmaking in the red zone. Fellow junior Brayden Lenius will be counted on to contribute in a much bigger way after showing flashes a year ago. Lenius brings more size to the equation, at 6'5", and should be more of a presence in the red zone (of his 26 catches last year, three went for scores). The biggest wild card of the entire position group is none other than junior John Ross. Ross is well known for his explosiveness, and he has shown plenty of potential in his short time with the Huskies. However, he missed all of last season with knee injuries. Considering he had already had work done on the knee, it was very worrying. Even so, the young receiver has looked healthy in spring and appears ready to show what he can do. He could very well be UW's deep threat this year, and open things up underneath. Sophomore Isaiah Renfro is a Los Angeles product who has plenty of potential as well, but will have to search for snaps in a crowded group. At tight end, Washington brings back plenty of experience and leadership. Senior Darrell Daniels was solid last season, with 19 catches. He won't be looked for too much in the passing game, but he can surprise some people. Sophomore Drew Sample saw a healthy dose of action last season, and will continue to gain snaps. Also sure to see some action is none other than Jeff Lindquist. Lindquist began his Huskies' career at quarterback, and saw action there in 2014 early on. He was later pushed out, but the Huskies have still tried to involve the veteran in the offense, whether it be carrying the ball or going out on routes. Considering he is 6'3" and 250 pounds, he offers plenty of versatility and it will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith utilizes the senior.

Offensive Line: One of the underrated strengths of this football team could be this offensive line, which returns four high quality starters. Center Siosifa Tufunga may move on, but the Huskies should still get great push for Gaskin and Browning. The unit as a whole should be led by sophomore Trey Adams. Adams was the first UW offensive linemen to start as a true freshman since 2012, and didn't disappoint. At 6'8" and 270 pounds the young tackle towers over opponents but still possesses excellent mobility. Joining Adams, likely on the left side of the line, will be guard Jake Eldenkramp, a steady senior. The veteran is a good athlete who should help lead the charge and open up lanes for Gaskin to work with. Rounding out the returners are a pair of juniors, Coleman Shelton and Andrew Kirkland. Both possess the versatility to play either tackle or guard, with Shelton likely lining up at guard and Kirkland handling right tackle duties. Both possess solid experience and should be able to handle the rigors of the sport over the course of the season. There isn't a clear candidate to take over center duties from Tufunga, but a number of young pieces should be ready to step up. Four-star recruit Luke Wattenberg should battle for snaps from the get-go. The California product brings plenty of potential to the equation. Guys like sophomore Kaleb McGary and numerous other veterans should step up and provide plenty of depth.

Defensive Line: The Huskies' defensive line was in an interesting transition last season, as they moved on from NFL prospects Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha. They lacked Shelton's run stopping in the middle, and Kikaha's dominant pass rushing ability. This isn't an extremely great unit right now, but they have a number of players that can rise to the occasion and possess plenty of potential. Expect the leader of the unit to be junior Elijah Qualls, who will spend most of his time on the interior. Qualls showed he was solid on run support, but also showed he had tremendous athleticism, running through opposing offensive linemen. He had 4.5 sacks, a number that should rise this year. Joining him will be veteran Joe Mathis, who could also spend plenty of time at outside linebacker this season. Mathis, a senior, had plenty of moments a year ago where he looked like he could dominate. He had 6 total tackles for loss with two sacks last season, but he has the explosiveness off the edge to raise that stat. It will be interesting to see how Washington plans on utilizing him in different ways defensively. Beyond those two is a solid sophomore in Greg Gaines, who could spend time at defensive tackle or play on the edge. Gaines proved himself in run support last season with 28 tackles in rather limited action. However, he doesn't bring much else to the equation and is growing into a better pass rusher. Another sophomore, Vita Vea, is also going to be pushing for action at any available spot. Vea was also pretty productive throughout last season despite being a rotational guy. He had three tackles for loss and showed short flashes of brilliance. Overall, Washington has great depth and decent athleticism throughout the unit, meaning they could be very improved against the run, which is huge in a division that includes Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman. It will be interesting to see if any of their freshman get any action, likely at defensive end. Amandre Williams is a pipeline pickup that offers terrific athleticism and a very high ceiling. Texas product Levi Onwuzurike has the look of an NFL player, but is still rated as a three-star recruit. He could certainly be one of the many gems that are sure to pop up in the 2016 recruiting class.

Linebackers: Washington was also going through a transition in their linebacker corps, as they said goodbye to another NFL rookie Shaq Thompson. Thompson was unbelievably versatile, as he could help but safety but also had a bright future as a linebacker. Junior Azeem Victor surpassed expectations with his play last season. The versatile linebacker led the team with 95 tackles and showed terrific range, covering plays from sideline to sideline. He should be looked at as a leader of the defense, and a guy the young guys should look up to, on and off the field. Another important returnee is junior Keishawn Bierria, who can rush the passer very well. Berria can make some great plays off the edge, although he is a little bit undersized. He had 3.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and 77 total tackles. Although those stats are very from mind-blowing, as young junior he is still growing into what he could be as a linebacker for this team. Those two give the Huskies a solid pairing that should be able to make plenty of plays and rush the passer on occasion. The other two linebacker spots in their 3-4 defense are question marks. A player that should be expected to make major steps this season is sophomore Tevis Bartlett, a hard-working 'backer out of Wyoming. Bartlett saw very little action a year ago but has showed plenty of potential in the spring and should certainly be battling for more snaps. The "Buck" linebacker slot is another question mark that will need to be addressed. A player that could rise to that spot is senior Psalm Wooching. Wooching has moved from spot to spot throughout his time with UW. He came in as a powerful running back, was moved to fullback and now is looking to make an impact as a linebacker. He showed plenty of tenacity and power as a back, and he will hope to translate that to success on the defensive side. He could play any linebacker spot, but the Huskies will most likely use him at "Buck". Now a senior, it is time for Wooching to grab his potential, which he certainly could. If he doesn't names like Will Dissly or a number of freshman. Dissly could get looks at defensive end (he certainly has the size), an outside linebacker spot, or possibly even as a tight end, although it will hard for him to gain many snaps offensively.

Sidney Jones
Secondary: Overall, this Washington team is solid really across the board. They will need some receivers and defensive linemen to step up, but they really don't have any glaring holes. Even with all that talent, no unit compares to this secondary. It is headed by a possible All-American candidate Budda Baker, who is sure to make his name heard this season. Baker is a natural safety who arrived as a hyped freshman a few years ago in Seattle. He had 49 tackles and two interceptions but also showed his natural coverage ability with seven pass deflections. Baker possesses enough versatility to even get starts at linebacker (like Shaq Thompson) and more. He has always been talented, but now it is time for him to fill out the stat sheet. Along with Baker will be highly underrated junior Sidney Jones, who was an All-Pac-12 performer last season and really broke out. Jones was a shutdown at corner a year ago, and also proved to have terrific playmaking ability. Jones had four interceptions a year ago and even brought one to the house. He should continue to improve as a playmaker and form a great combo in the defensive backfield with Baker. Joining Jones will be senior Kevin King, who will start opposite him at corner. King isn't quite the proven player that Jones is, but he doesn't get picked on either. King is extremely long, at 6'3" with long arms that allow him to make some pretty amazing plays. The final secondary spot is safety along with Baker. Ezekiel Turner is a very talented safety that is sure to see action this season. Another junior, the safety has tremendous athleticism and can do it all. Also sure to see action is Darren Gardenhire, a veteran who saw action last year at cornerback but could also contribute at safety if Turner doesn't lock down the spot. A couple young freshmen could also look to contribute at a number of slots. Kentrell Love is one of the highest rated prospects of the class, as a four-star prospect from California. Joining Love will be Isaiah Gilchrist, a player with an extremely ceiling from inside the state. Overall, teams will find no comfort throwing against Washington. Jones and King are both very good, and Baker can roam in the back, making great plays.

Special Teams: Cameron Van Winkle is sure to lock down the starting kicker spot this season after a very good 2015. He hit on 16-20 on field goals and was perfect on extra points, knocking down 49/49. There is not one clear player that will lock down punter duties.

Talent has not been an issue over the past two years in Washington under Chris Petersen. They have had plenty of NFL prospects and great players (Shelton, Thompson, Kikaha and Mickens) but haved consistency at quarterback and have played very down to some of the Pac-12 powers. They finally have stability at QB with Browning running the show, and Myles Gaskin could be dominant at back. The defense has the chance to be very good, and the schedule is favorable, getting two tough opponents, Washington State and Oregon at home and facing a Boise State team in their opener that is breaking in plenty of new faces. Last year's domination of Washington State showed just how good this UW team could be. If they get consistency this is a team that could very well challenge for the Pac-12 North and even be a sneaky Playoff threat.

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