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Washington Football: 2018 Huskies Preview and Prediction

Myles Gaskin, Washington Football

Myles Gaskin, Washington Football

Washington returns most of its starters from a 10-win team that came up one victory shy of a shot at back-to-back Pac-12 titles. The Huskies lost a couple of key players to the NFL but Chris Petersen's team is loaded on both sides of the ball. The offense could be one of the most explosive attacks in the nation especially if a game-breaker emerges among the pass catchers. The defense should remain stout headlined by a rock-solid secondary. Washington will have the opportunity right out of the gate to show that it's a team that's a legitimate threat to get into the College Football Playoff.

Previewing Washington Football's Offense for 2018

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Oregon State Football/Pac-12 Magazine

The Huskies return seven starters on offense and feature everything except a proven deep threat at receiver. Fill that vacancy, and this team could score at will.

Quarterback Jake Browning, a 39-game starter, has put together an impressive career yet comes off a confounding junior campaign. He went from Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 to honorable mention all-league pick last year. His touchdown passes dropped markedly from 43 to 19 as he lost all but one of his top receivers to injury. To stretch the field and bring Browning's numbers back up, Washington needs senior Chico McClatcher to bounce back from a broken ankle in a big way, or for prized recruit Marquis Spiker to make early inroads, or both. Likewise, the Huskies could benefit from a full recovery by sophomore tight end Hunter Bryant, a budding star and Browning's go-to receiver before he suffered a knee injury.

Senior Myles Gaskin has 4,055 career rushing yards and is on the verge of becoming Washington's all-time leader. His combination of balance and quickness creates problems for opposing defenses.

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The strength of the offense lies up front: The line is huge and seasoned. Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary are bookend tackles and NFL prospects. The 6'7", 318-pound McGary, a 33-game starter on the right side, was selected first-team All-Pac-12 in 2017. The 6'8", 327-pound Adams was an all-conference pick in 2016 but missed the final six games last season with a knee injury. He uses his nimble feet to open up sizable holes and could be a first-round NFL pick.

Previewing Washington Football's Defense for 2018

The Huskies return six players who started at least six games to a secondary that has no equal in the Pac-12. Junior free safety Taylor Rapp, a two-year regular, is a returning first-team All-Pac-12 selection with a knack for making the big play. He lines up opposite senior strong safety JoJo McIntosh, a second-team all-conference choice and a fierce hitter.

Washington lost the dominant Vita Vea to the pros but still should be fearsome up front. Greg Gaines is the reason. The 33-game starter at nose tackle is one of the more underrated players in the conference, adept at getting leverage and disruptive enough to log 14 tackles for a loss in his career.

The Huskies could use a playmaker at linebacker. Starters return in senior inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, a short, disciplined player who led the team in tackles with 84, and senior Tevis Bartlett, a steady performer who was tops with 12 tackles for a loss on the outside and has moved inside. Freshman Ale Kaho, a five-star recruit, likely will play right away.

Previewing Washington Football's Specialists for 2018

If there's a weakness to this Washington team, it's with the placekicking. Van Soderberg couldn't hang onto the job during his first season, suffering from a case of nerves, but he'll get another shot to settle in. He has one career field goal made. The punter position, however, is in great shape with junior Joel Whitford.

Final Analysis

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Washington

In Year 5 of the Chris Petersen era, the meticulous Washington coach will trot out a rarefied group that boasts 16 returning starters from a team that won 10 games. The Huskies take a backseat to no team when it comes to game experience. They're positioned to run with college football's elite again this season, and expectations are through the roof in Seattle. All Petersen's club needs to do now is stay relatively healthy - and win.