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College Football Preview 2017-2018: 6. Washington Huskies

6. Washington Huskies

Petersen has built something in Seattle; a second straight Playoff berth is within reach

  • Location: Seattle, WA. 
  • Conference: Pac-12 (North)
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Chris Petersen (fourth year)
  • Last Years Record: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12)
  • Bowl Result: Loss in Peach Bowl


When Chris Petersen decided to make the jump to Washington after years of leading Boise State, many assumed it was only a matter of time before he had the Huskies competing for Pac-12 titles. It took just three years for Washington to reach that level, as 2016 was a breakout campaign: a Pac-12 title, 12 wins, and a Playoff berth. Despite losing 24-7 to Alabama in the Peach Bowl and then watching a ton of talent leave for the NFL, there is no denying UW's upward trajectory. They have more than enough to be one of the nation's best teams once more in 2017, and a schedule that is favorable enough to dream about an undefeated season.

Jake Browning
Offense: After taking over the Huskies' quarterback job late in 2015, Jake Browning had a breakout '16. The junior engineered a big-play offense that was as versatile and diverse as any in the entire nation. He finished off the year with 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns (while running for four more) and was in the Heisman conversation for much of the season. As he begins his second full year as starter, Browning will no doubt be among the nation's best quarterbacks, but must continue to improve when he gets pressured and play with poise. If those parts of his game can improve, there is no reason why the QB can't be in the Heisman race once more in 2017, particularly if he puts up those gaudy stats once more. At running back, Washington returns underrated junior Myles Gaskin. Most of the attention for Washington offensively was on that big-play passing attack, but Gaskin clearly played a huge role for this team as well, finishing off 2016 with 1,373 yards and 10 touchdowns. Standing at just 5'10", 190 pounds Gaskin won't bulldoze anybody but his elusiveness and speed are tough to match. He is still improving as an all-around back, getting better at blocking and catching the ball, but he should still have a big season. He will be joined in the backfield by senior Lavon Coleman and newcomer Salvon Ahmed. Coleman is a great change of pace from Gaskin, as the veteran is much more powerful and dangerous between the tackles. He quietly ran for 852 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, while averaging 7.5 yards per carry, giving the Huskies one of the best 1-2 punches at tailback in the entire country. Ahmed is one of the big gets of the 2017 recruiting class and has a bright future in Seattle. On the outside, Washington must move on from John Ross III, who led the Huskies in receiving with 1,150 yards and was a Biletnikoff Award finalist before being drafted ninth in this spring's NFL Draft. Ross' unbelievable speed and electrifying athleticism opened up so many things for the Husky offense so his absence will hurt. However, Washington has plenty of back at receiver, and finding a new No. 1 target for Browning should not be very difficult. Senior Dante Pettis is heading for a big year after managing 822 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Pettis obviously doesn't have Ross' speed but finds ways to get open and has fabulousa hands. Joining Pettis will be junior Chico McClatcher, who had 705 all-purpose yards on the season. Just 5'7", McClatcher won't be making catches against huge Pac-12 defenders too often, but Washington is creative with how they get him the ball, and he is absolutely lethal in the open field. Sophomores Aaron Fuller and Quinten Pounds will both be expected to play larger roles after showing flashes of potential a year ago. Tight end doesn't play a huge role in the UW offense but it is still a luxury to have a returning starter there, as junior Drew Sample is back (9 receptions, 106 yards in 2016). On the offensive line, the Huskies lose All-Pac-12 linemen in guard Jake Eldrenkamp. That will leave Washington searching for new leadership, but the unit should still be very good. Senior center Coleman Shelton is an absolute force up the middle, while junior left tackle Trey Adams is a star, and will be playing on Sundays very soon. At Eldrenkamp's absent left guard spot, senior Andrew Kirkland, who appeared in all 14 games last season, is the favorite to start.

Vita Vea
Defense: When an offense is as dangerous and fun to watch as Washingtons was last season, it's natural for that to get most of the attention. But, Washington's strength last season was actually their defense, which allowed just 17.7 points per game, which was tops in the Pac-12 and eighth nationally. They further proved they were legit by completely shutting down Alabama for much of their Peach Bowl duel, then sending off a number of stars to the next level. Some of those losses to the NFL will almost certainly sting, but Petersen's under appreciated recruiting and excellent development should ensure the Huskies are still very stout on the defensive end. The defensive line returns two important pieces to the D, in juniors Greg Gaines and Vita Vea. Gaines, who can flip from tackle to end nearly every play in Washington's unique front seven, is one of the team's top pass rushers, and managed eight tackles for loss last season. Meanwhile, Vea earned All-Conference honors last season after finishing with five sacks and 39 tackles. Vea moves very well for his massive size (6'5", 345 pounds) and just finds a way to make an impact. There is also a decent amount of depth on the D-Line as guys like Jaylen Johnson and Shane Bowman will be key rotational pieces for this defense. The linebacker corps should be a huge strength, as nearly everybody is back with the exception of physical Psalm Wooching (five sacks in '16). The most important returnee has to be senior middle linebacker Azeem Victor, who was lost for the season after ten starts. Victor still finished near the top of the team in tackles with 67, and the defense clearly struggled without him. His return makes them much more versatile across their entire front seven, because he can do so many things. Senior Keishawn Bierria is also a huge piece back, as he was second on the team with 70 tackles, earning All-Conference honors along the way. Bierria isn't a tremendous pass rusher but the chaos he causes off the edge is still key to the defense. The other outside linebacker spot is overseeing a stiff competition for the starting job. Junior Trevis Bartlett had 26 tackles and four sacks last season, and brings a fabulous feel for the game to the table. He's competing with sophomore D.J. Beavers and raw sophomore Kyler Manu for the job. The secondary was absolutely gutted by the NFL Draft this spring, and there are sure to be plenty of growing pains for the unit in 2017. Cornerback Sidney Jones was a guy they could put on any receiver and he'd perform, and would have been a first-round pick if not for an unfortunately timed injury. Budda Baker did it all for this secondary, and led Washington in tackles. Kevin King was a big, physical cornerback who was always getting in passing routes, with 13 pass breakups. Those three departures are all going to be tough to recover from, but that doesn't mean there is nobody back there. Junior JoJo McIntosh is vastly underrated, as the safety had 67 tackles a season ago and has a nose for the football. Sophomore Taylor Rapp is viewed by many as a breakout candidate as he makes the move from nickelback to a safety spot. Rapp had 53 tackles and four interceptions last season, and brings incredible range. He earned Freshman All-American honors in 2016, and should only get better with more time. Replacing King and Jones at cornerback will not be easy, but redshirt freshman Byron Murphy really impressed coaches over this spring and has loads of potential. Sophomore Austin Joyner, junior Jordan Miller and true freshman Elijah Molden are also going to be expected to fight for snaps at the position.

Special Teams: Washington will be breaking in a new kicker, as Cameron Van Winkle graduates. However, they should be well acquainted with the new starter, as punter Tristian Vizcaino is expected to handle the placekicking duties as well. In the return game, UW will miss Ross, but Pettis had two touchdowns as a punt returner in '16, and should be dangerous once more.

Washington's breakthrough last season was surprising in many ways, but it was certainly no fluke. Petersen has elevated the talent level quite a bit in just the three seasons he has been here, and he has identified a quarterback that can clearly take him where he wants to go in Browning. Much of the things that helped guide this team to last year's conference title, such as their dangerous aerial attack, versatile running game and physical defense. Also working for them is a very easy schedule (toughest non-conference is at 2-10 Rutgers) and a confidence surrounding the entire program. If the Huskies can mitigate some of the concerns that have arose with their recent NFL departures, there is no reason to think they can't make a second straight Playoff berth and stay on top of the Pac-12.

Player to Watch
Byron Murphy, CB
Losing Sidney Jones and Kevin King will obviously be incredibly tough for Washington, but those losses can hurt a lot less if possible breakout candidate Byron Murphy has a big season. Murphy was the scout team's Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 during his redshirt campaign and followed it up with a great spring. It will be a stark transition going from the scout team to Pac-12 offenses but Murphy has the talent to handle it.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 7-6 (5-4 Pac-12)*
2013: 9-4 (5-4 Pac-12)*
2014: 8-6 (4-5 Pac-12)*
2015: 7-6 (4-5 Pac-12)*
2016: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12)*

*= Bowl appearance

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