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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #7 Washington

Following an appearance in the College Football Playoff, will Washington be able to return the to college football’s biggest stage?

The college football season is rapidly approaching and as the hunger for the upcoming season gets stronger, we’ve got something here at SQ that will hold your appetite for the time being. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out previews of the teams in our top-25. We last checked in with #8 Clemson. Today we continue our countdown with #7 Washington.

Team: Washington Huskies

Rank: 7

2016 Record: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12)

Finish in AP Poll: 4

Coach: Chris Petersen

Key Arrivals: TE Hunter Bryant, WR Terrell Bynum, CB Elijah Molden, OLB Ariel Ngata

Key Departures: DT Elijah Qualls, CB Sidney Jones, CB Kevin King, S Budda Baker, WR John Ross

Previewing the Washington Offense

The 2016 edition of the Washington Huskies’ offense was much more prolific than people anticipated, finishing eighth in the country by averaging just over 41 points per game. Among the standout performers from last year’s offense, only John Ross left for the NFL. Running back Myles Gaskin, wide receiver Dante Pettis, and most importantly quarterback Jake Browning all return to Seattle to improve upon last year’s appearance in the College Football Playoff. 

Washington’s offense was able to strike an incredible balance between running and throwing the ball last season, ranking 41st in the nation in rushing yards per game and 44th in the nation in passing yards per game. The rushing attack was led by Gaskin who ran for over 1,300 yards to go along with ten touchdowns. 

Backup Lavon Coleman contributed more than his fair share with over 850 yards and seven touchdowns on just over 100 carries. Three of the five starting offensive lineman that paved the way for the ground game last season will return including All Pac-12 lineman Trey Adams and Coleman Shelton. First team All Pac-12 guard Jake Eldrenkamp has moved on to the NFL and the Huskies will need to find a serviceable replacement. 

Replacing John Ross will be a tall task for the Huskies’ receiving corps. Ross had 81 receptions last year, nearly the same amount that Dante Pettis and Chico McClatcher (the team’s second and third leading pass catchers) combined for. Another vacated spot the Huskies will need to fill is at tight end after Darrell Daniels graduated. Drew Sample, who had a grand total of nine receptions last season will likely step up and try to fill the void. 

The Washington offense was truly a dual-threat offense last year, able to wear teams down on the ground but also strike quickly through the air. This season should be no different with Jake Browning and Co. ready to pick up where they left off.

Previewing the Washington Defense 

Like the Washington offense, the Huskies’ defense finished eighth in the country in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 17.7 points per game. However, unlike the offense, the defense will have some very big holes to fill. Notably, three quarters of a starting secondary that was so airtight last season need replacing after cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King and safety Budda Baker all left for the NFL. Taking over the safety roles will be Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh who split time pretty evenly at the other safety position opposite Baker last season, and both of whom are more than capable of continuing to shut down opposing offenses. 

While last year the Washington defense was filled with playmakers at all three levels, this season, it’s pretty clear the strength of the defense lies in the middle of the field with inside linebackers Keishawn Bierria and Azeem Victor. Bierria and Victor combined for 136 tackles, eight sacks, six fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles last season, and will be relied upon even more this season to captain the defense. In the trenches, big man Vita Vea will again be key for the Huskies, especially with the departure of Elijah Qualls. At 6‘5” 340lbs, Vea repeatedly commands a double team, allowing others around him to finish off plays.

While no one expects a major drop-off from the Huskies’ defense, it will be hard for them to maintain their suffocating defense for another season. In the Pac-12 where so many teams have lethal passing attacks, it will be vital for Washington to solidify their starting secondary in the early weeks of the season.

Three Key Games

Sept. 23 at Colorado: To put it lightly, Washington has a cupcake of a non-conference schedule. They start off at Rutgers (2-10 in 2016), then host Montana (6-5 in 2016) and Fresno State (1-11 in 2016). The first game that will even be a close contest is the fourth game of the season against Colorado. This game is a rematch of last season’s Pac-12 Championship game which Washington won handily 41-10. However this season, Washington has to travel to Boulder, at altitude, where the Buffaloes were undefeated in 2016. Last season, Washington had a similarly easy first three games and then in the fourth game, against Pac-12 cellar dweller Arizona, had to escape in overtime. This season, if they play just as poorly in their fourth game, chances are they will be leaving Colorado with a loss. 

Nov. 10 at Stanford: In what could be the biggest game of the Pac-12 season outside of the Pac-12 Championship game, Washington travels to the Farm for a game that many expect will determine the Pac-12 North crown. Stanford will be out for revenge following a 44-6 pasting last season. This game marks the beginning of a tough final stretch for Washington where they go on to face Utah and Washington State to close out the season, so a win here is crucial.

Nov. 25 vs. Washington State: The Apple Cup game hadn’t been played for more than pride, and well, the actual Apple Cup, in years before last season it determined the winner of the Pac-12 North. While it is highly unlikely that circumstances repeat each other this year, Washington will need to avoid defeat in a matchup that is always intense and unpredictable. Washington won comfortably last season 45-17, but Luke Falk is still under center up in Pullman, and the Cougars will be pulling out all the stops to beat their bitter rivals in his last season.

Final Analysis

Washington really did have an insanely talented football team last year. Unfortunately for them, they ran into the buzzsaw that is Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinal and there was nothing that they could really do. Realistically, this year’s team will be better on the offensive side of the ball, but they took a couple of significant hits on the defensive side of the ball.

The Huskies are still a very strong team, right on par with USC for best team in the Pac-12. Unfortunately, Washington still has to contend with Stanford for the Pac-12 North title and even if they make it to the Pac-12 Championship game, will likely have to beat USC if they want to sniff the College Football Playoff. My final prediction for this Washington Huskies team is a 10-2 finish and an appearance in the Rose Bowl by way of USC going to the College Football Playoff. 

Edited by Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

Who did Washington's only 2016 regular season loss come against?
Created 8/17/17
  1. USC
  2. Oregon
  3. UCLA
  4. Utah

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