A team built to compete for the national championship takes its first steps in the spring
Coming off the program's first conference championship since 2000 and an appearance in the College Football Playoff, the Washington Huskies' ‘17 season can fairly be deemed a disappointment.
Washington won 10 games and played in a New Year's Six game, the Fiesta Bowl, but the Huskies fell short of repeating as Pac-12 champs. A stunning defeat at Arizona State and late-season loss to Stanford relegated Washington to second place in the North division, and out of the College Football Playoff conversation. All that translates to a 2018 pack of Huskies likely to be playing with chips on their shoulders.
Combine that motivation with the rock-solid foundation head coach Chris Petersen has laid in Seattle, add an experienced and talented roster, and Washington has the pieces for a national championship run in the coming campaign.
Salvon Ahmed, RB
Among the first clear indicators that the 2018 Washington Huskies meant business came with running back Myles Gaskin announcing his intent to return for one more season. Gaskin's been the Huskies' every-down back since 2015, and last year broke out as a bona fide star with 21 touchdowns and 1,380 yards. However, a balanced rushing attack will separate Washington from other teams both in the Pac-12 and nationally.
Despite the departure of capable No. 2 option Lavon Coleman, the lofty potential of explosive Ahmed ensures Washington can attack with or without the ball in Gaskin's hands.
Ryan Bowman, LB
In 2017 Bowman just started to scratch the surface on his lofty potential and did so as a freshman. The Bowman's 9.5 tackles for a loss ranked second among all Huskies, and he produced a team-best 5.5 sacks.
As a sophomore, look for Bowman to take his production to another level. He should flourish as a leader among a deep, talented and experienced front seven, and set the tone for the swarming defensive style coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski prefers.
Jake Browning, QB
Widely considered a Heisman Trophy contender before a late-season shoulder injury in 2016, Browning never quite returned to those same heights in ‘17. He enters his fourth season as Washington's starting quarterback with much to prove -- both as the face of Washington's resurgence, and as an NFL prospect.
Browning was consistent in 2017, but his yardage dipped slightly and touchdowns dropped dramatically. The return of wide receivers Chico McClatcher and Quinten Pounds from injury, as well as left tackle Trey Adams, should bolster Browning's production heading into his senior season.
Levi Onwuzurike, DL
A former four-star prospect out of Texas, Onwuzurike came to Washington with some high expectations. Look for him to begin meeting those expectations in the coming season. Onwuzurike has the tools to be an elite pass rusher for the Huskies as he gets more opportunities.
Onwuzurike is a handful for opposing blockers -- literally – checking in at 6-foot-3 and about 290 pounds. He has the explosiveness to come off the edge, but the size and strength to complement massive veteran Greg Gaines on the interior.
Benning Potoa'e, LB
Potoa'e saw an uptick in opportunities in the latter half of Washington's 2017 season, and the talented linebacker delivered. He recorded six tackles in the Fiesta Bowl, a season high, and collected two of his three sacks in the final month of the regular season.
That positive momentum should carry over into the spring for Potoa'e, a breakout star candidate in Washington's stacked front seven.