The program's first conference championship in almost two decades and a berth in the College Football Playoff capped off the Washington Huskies' 2016 season. With a bevy of returners from that lineup in 2017, the Huskies looked poise to begin a new era of dominance, reminiscent of Washington's run atop the former Pac-10 in the 1990s.
Washington fell short of expectations, losing the Pac-12 North to Stanford. But with the infrastructure head coach Chris Petersen has built in his four seasons with the Huskies, combined with a stellar group of players at key positions, Washington looks primed for another run at both the conference and national championships in 2018.
1. Dynamic duo on offense
In his second season at Washington, Petersen made the bold choice of turning over the starting quarterback job and primary backfield duties to freshmen Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin (above, right). Despite flashes of NFL potential from Browning, and three great seasons for Gaskin as the workhorse of Washington's talented offense, the two will play out all four years of their eligibility together.
Gaskin spurned the NFL draft in a late decision made just prior to January's deadline. He's coming off a 2017 in which he rushed for 1,380 yards and scored 21 touchdowns — two more than Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love. Browning's production in 2017 dipped from '16, but the veteran should bounce back with other experienced Huskies like offensive tackle Trey Adams around him.
2. New batch of stars on defense
The Washington defense has featured some of the absolute best players in the Pac-12 for a few years now, and the 2018 roster should be no exception. While playmakers Vita Vea and Keishawn Bierria are bound for the NFL, Petersen and staff's recruiting efforts have Washington stocked with more than enough replacements to handle departures.
Among the young Huskies who made an impact in 2017, Amandre Williams, Benning Potoa'e and Elijah Molden should be primed to break out as all-conference contenders. That's in addition to the return of proven stars like Taylor Rapp and Ryan Bowman.
After two seasons as the best scoring defense in the Pac-12, the 2018 Huskies may be the absolute best group yet from top to bottom.
3. Trench warfare
While Petersen's Boise State teams were ballyhooed for their trick plays and high-scoring point totals — two qualities Washington has emulated at times in the past four seasons — the true definition of their success came from their dominance in the trenches.
Likewise, Washington football's currently built to flourish by winning on the lines. Adams' decision not to enter the draft provides the anchor to a veteran offensive line, with four starters back from 2017. The defensive line is well stocked, with another veteran who opted to pass on the NFL for the time being, Greg Gaines, back to lead the way.