Washington was hit hard by NFL departures, but the Huskies have plenty of talent on the roster as they look to not just only defend their Pac-12 title, but get back to the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Jake Browning and a potent one-two punch at running back will lead the way on offense, but new targets need to emerge for the passing game. The defense lost three standouts in the secondary alone, but the linebacking corps should be strong and there’s a NFL-caliber tackle to anchor the front line. Chris Petersen led UW back to national prominence and there’s no reason to think these Huskies are just going to disappear in 2017.
Previewing Washington Football’s Offense for 2017
The Huskies should have no trouble moving the ball and running up points. They have quarterback stability in Jake Browning, a two-year returning starter and still just a junior. He directed the league’s highest-scoring offense (41.8 ppg), threw a league-record-tying 43 touchdown passes and was selected conference Offensive Player of the Year. He comes off shoulder surgery that limited him in spring practice, but it shouldn’t keep him from making another run at a Heisman Trophy after finishing sixth.
The Huskies are loaded at tailback with the league’s best one-two punch in junior Myles Gaskin and senior Lavon Coleman, who combined for 2,200 yards last season. Gaskin, the returning first-team All-Pac-12 pick, uses an uncanny blend of balance and speed to get his yards; Coleman is a power runner who bulled his way to a school-record 7.5 yards per carry.
The Huskies’ veteran line is poised for a breakout season. The centerpiece is 6'8", 320-pound junior left tackle Trey Adams, who has the NFL written all over him and carries such a lean frame he resembles a gigantic tight end. Huge and mobile, he was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and enters his third season as a starter. Senior center Coleman Shelton, a second-team All-Pac-12 pick, enters his fourth season as a starter and is a highly dependable player — he’s started at all five line positions.
If there’s a question mark on offense, it’s at wide receiver. The Huskies have a good one in senior Dante Pettis, who had 53 receptions and 15 scores last season, but a reliable second option needs to step forward.
Previewing Washington Football’s Defense for 2017
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Vita Vea, a 6'5", 334-pound junior defensive tackle, was projected as a second-round NFL Draft pick but decided he wasn’t ready. He might be the only one who felt that way. While starting just five games last season, Vea made enough of an impression that he was named second-team All-Pac-12. He will team with junior defensive tackle Greg Gaines, deceptively good at stopping the run, to form another stout front wall.
The strength of the Huskies’ defense shifts from the secondary to the middle row. Three starting linebackers return, notably senior inside linebacker Azeem Victor, a highly aggressive player who was named first-team All-Pac-12 even after missing four-plus games with a broken leg. Victor will start for a third consecutive season alongside fellow senior inside linebacker Keishawn Bierria, a second-team All-Pac-12 pick.
The secondary lost three highly decorated players. The Huskies return a budding star in sophomore free safety Taylor Rapp, but their biggest challenge will be to find two new cornerbacks, which could determine this team’s ultimate fate.
Previewing Washington Football’s Specialists for 2017
Senior Tristan Vizcaino returns as both a dependable starter and untested newcomer. As the regular punter, he averaged 40.7 yards, dropping 15 kicks inside the 20. He takes over the placekicking with only a lone successful extra point to his name. The shifty Pettis remains one of the nation’s most feared punt returners, scoring a school-record five times in his career.
After a College Football Playoff appearance, coach Chris Petersen returns 13 starters, including the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year in Browning and a middle linebacker in Victor who might be the league’s best defensive player.
Petersen continues to recruit well. He has another soft non-conference slate and doesn’t have USC on the league schedule. If UW can restock the secondary and keep the momentum going, the Huskies will be a serious contender — both in the Pac-12 and nationally — again.
NATIONAL RANKING: 4
PAC-12 NORTH PREDICTION: 1
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