It was an up-and-down debut for head coach Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies as they went 8-6 last season. Petersen and the staff had to tear down everything for the most part and build back up from scratch to get the remnants of the Steve Sarkisian era out of the program.
On the surface, this season will be a rebuilding one if Washington has a repeat performance at the quarterback position, as Cyler Miles was atrocious and the veteran offensive line underachieved. The goals for Washington in 2015 are simple: stabilize once and for all the core principles of the program being sound at quarterback, dominate the line of scrimmage with a physicality and nastiness that will cause headaches for opponents, and get enough wins to become bowl eligible.
Washington’s Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Who Will Win the Quarterback Battle?
The most critical position in all of college football has the most uncertainty for the Huskies. Look for a three-way battle between Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman KJ Carta-Samuels, who was the Scout Team Player of the Year, and highly touted true freshman Jake Browning. Ideally, you don’t play Browning unless you absolutely have to or he flat out wins the job and becomes coach Petersen’s next Kellen Moore. Bottom line, the quarterback position will still be below average at best, which will sadly be a step up from the debacle that was Miles in 2014.
2. Can the Offensive Line Start to Reestablish a Physical Presence?
This will be the ultimate test case of addition by subtraction in 2015. The Huskies will be replacing four starters on the offensive line, which in a normal year would be cause for alarm. The situation with the line is a little more alarming considering the uncertainty at quarterback. But, the upside is strength coach Tim Socha and offensive line coach Chris Strausser will have time under their belts to develop this group physically and technique-wise that it should give the line a chance to overachieve. The lack of quality offensive line play at Washington has been appalling. Also, the fact it has been since 2000 that the Huskies have had a Morris Trophy Award winner for the best lineman in the Pac-12 (Chad Ward), is all you need to know as to why the Huskies haven’t been to a Rose Bowl since January 1, 2001.
3. Who Will Step Up at Wide Receiver?
With the loss of John Ross for the season due to a leg injury, there will be wide-open competition for other guys to step up and make plays. Jaydon Mickens is going to have to have a big bounce-back season, as he should get plenty of opportunity to catch easy passes from whoever wins the quarterback job. If Mickens can’t step up look for Dante Pettis to be called upon to make plays like a No. 1 receiver. Also, you should see a fair amount of two-tight end sets to create opportunities in the passing game with senior tight end Joshua Perkins being the primary target.
4. How Will the Huskies Generate a Pass Rush?
With the loss of Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson and Hauoli Kikaha to the NFL there is going to be ample opportunity for young guys to step in and get quality playing time on defense right away. Sophomore defensive tackle Elijah Qualls and defensive end Will Dissly are going to have to have carry the weight up front. Travis Feeney is going to have to anchor the linebacker corps. It is going to take a total team effort to try and even come close to replace the 44 lost sacks from a year ago, but if the Huskies can consistently get some pressure on the quarterback even without registering sacks they will stay competitive in games.
5. Will the Secondary Step Up and Carry the Defense?
This unit was very young a season ago but did get better as things went along and returns the most experience on the defense. Budda Baker will be looking to continue his development in eventually becoming a shutdown type of defensive back that you don’t throw on. Sidney Jones had a solid freshman season and will be looking to take a big step forward in 2015. This secondary should give Washington encouragement in regard to the ability of this staff to develop players and help them get better, something that defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake did an excellent job in laying the foundation for last season.
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball.