COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Steve Sarkisian, 26-25 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Kiesau | DEF. COORDINATOR: Justin Wilcox
Washington needs a big season from quarterback Keith Price.
A badly worn Husky Stadium has been torn down and put back together in majestic fashion. Washington’s next restoration project is senior quarterback Keith Price. Entering coach Steve Sarkisian’s fifth year in Seattle, the Huskies have new digs, 16 starters returning and a toned-down schedule. They have a chance to regain long-lost prominence. Much depends on whether the Huskies can get Price — who regressed from a sensational sophomore showing to a decidedly mediocre junior campaign — back on track.
With so much weighing on the coming season, Washington has gone to drastic means to revamp Price. A new quarterbacks coach (former Huskies QB Marques Tuiasosopo) was brought in to tutor him; a no-huddle, up-tempo offense was installed in an effort to jump start his considerable playmaking ability; and Sarkisian sat him down in the offseason and tried to offer more of his quarterback expertise.
At running back, a potentially disastrous situation turned out far better than anyone could have hoped when starting tailback Jesse Callier tore up a knee in last season’s opener without getting a carry. Bishop Sankey, an unproven backup, took over and rushed for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns, readily establishing himself as one of the Pac-12’s better backs. The Huskies will have both juniors available.
Here’s why Price’s 2012 struggles were so confounding: In wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, he had one of college football’s most effective young pass-catching combos. As sophomores, Williams hauled in 77 passes for 878 yards and six scores, and Seferian-Jenkins caught 69 passes for 850 yards and seven TDs.
Four offensive line starters return in junior left tackle Micah Hatchie, sophomore left guard Dexter Charles, junior right guard Mike Criste and junior right tackle Ben Riva, all of whom were forced into action as young players and are now battle-tested.
The Huskies return plenty of experience across their front wall, but D-line might be the team’s weakest position area. End Josh Shirley is an accomplished pass-rusher but has struggled against the run. End Andrew Hudson and tackle Danny Shelton can get into opposing backfields, but they disappear at times against the better teams.
The Huskies got a lot faster at linebacker last season when newly hired defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox teamed three former safeties together in John Timu, Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson. Collectively, these three linebackers came up with seven interceptions and eight sacks. Thompson is a potential All-American.
The secondary will get the biggest makeover with two new starters. Back are senior strong safety Sean Parker and sophomore cornerback Marcus Peters. Parker is a big hitter and the leader of this group. Peters, inconsistent at times, will assume the role as top cover corner. Joining them in the lineup are senior free safety Will Shamburger and senior cornerback Greg Ducre, on-and-off starters throughout their careers.
Dependable senior Travis Coons was an exhaustive, do-everything kicker, handling field goals (9-of-14), extra points (perfect on 39 tries), punting (39.8 yards per kick) and kickoffs, but he may have to relinquish the latter duty. The Huskies want to get incoming freshman placekicker Cameron Van Winkle, described as having a big-league leg, immediately in the mix in some manner.
With a more imposing Husky Stadium, a new era of Washington football excellence is expected. The Huskies have nearly everyone back, but they need Price at the top of his game.
Anything short of eight or nine wins and more serious title contention will be disappointing for a program eager to return to the national conversation.