This offseason might have taken an older generation of Pac-12 football fan back. Not since around the turn of the millennium has Washington football been welcomed into a new campaign with the kind of hype awaiting the Huskies in 2016.
Chris Petersen's third season in Seattle opens with Washington ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 — one spot behind its place in Athlon Sports’ poll.
A bevy of returning starters on both sides of the ball, one of the most impressive defenses in the Pac-12 and young, talented playmakers on offense fueled the praise burning almost universally for this Husky squad. The difference between that kind of fire and one that warms a hot seat is marginal, however. Had the Huskies not beaten rival Washington State just to gain bowl eligibility, nor topped Southern Miss in the postseason to finish above .500, the narrative this offseason might have been very different.
As tight end Darrell Daniels said, the Huskies "haven't done anything yet."
They'll get the opportunity to validate the praise soon enough.
So will Washington live up to all the preseason hype or fall short? Here is what some Athlon writers and contributors think of the Huskies’ win/loss potential in 2016.
Washington Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
I won't toot my own horn, but only because I never joined the school band. I secured my spot on the 2016 Washington Huskies "hype train," as defensive back Kevin King called it in July, early in the 2015 season.
The hype train seems to be barreling out of control at this point. Nothing I loved about this team several months ago changed. The defense is still one of the best in the conference, featuring a top-flight secondary of King, Sidney Jones and Budda Baker. Myles Gaskin was a revelation as a freshman running back, and should contend for the Pac-12 rushing crown as a sophomore. Quarterback Jake Browning is only scratching the surface on his lofty potential.
Meanwhile, one of the best conductors in the game, Chris Petersen, is guiding this steaming engine.
While I anticipate Washington's best season since it reached the Rose Bowl in 2000, I am not quite prepared to declare it top Dawg in the Pac-12 North. A nine-win regular season with a great shot at 10 victories in the postseason would be considered a great step in the program's ongoing climb back to the pinnacle, if not for the wild hype prevalent this offseason.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Chris Petersen has Washington poised for a breakthrough year in 2016. The Huskies return 17 starters from a team that finished 7-6 but lost three of those games by a touchdown or less — not bad for a program with a true freshman (Jake Browning) at quarterback and a revamped front seven on defense. With Browning and sophomore running back Myles Gaskin back and a full offseason to work as the starters, the offense should take a big step forward. Browning needs more help from his receivers, and the return of John Ross from injury will add a big-play option to that position group. The defense led the Pac-12 in fewest points allowed per game (18.8) in 2015, and this unit could be even better this fall. All-America candidates Sidney Jones (CB) and Budda Baker (safety) anchor the defense, with junior Elijah Qualls (DT) and Azeem Victor (LB) leading the way in the front seven. On paper, the Pac-12 doesn’t have an elite team or a College Football Playoff contender. A three-loss team could win the division on either side. Washington may not challenge for a Playoff spot, but with Stanford and Oregon entering 2016 with their own share of question marks, the timing (and personnel) is right for the Huskies to win their first North Division title.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
Washington might just be the program everybody agrees is the preseason team that has drawn the most hype after only a so-so 2015 but, in this case, there's a pretty good reason why. While Chris Petersen has typically drawn attention for great offenses (and the Huskies should have a very good one with RB Myles Gaskin and QB Jake Browning), it's the defense that truly can help the team win the Pac-12 North and make it to the Rose Bowl. It's not just guys like playmaker Budda Baker either, this UW defense is deep. When/if the Huskies lose a game, the naysayers will bring up all the preseason hype but this is a team that is built to turn in an excellent 2016 season and maybe even a bit more.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
A ton of hype is surrounding Washington entering the season. It seems a bit crazy at first glance for a program that last won 10 or more games in a season in 2000. The Huskies seemed poised to finally make a breakthrough this season. Washington returns 17 starters — making the Huskies the most experienced Pac-12 team entering the 2016 season.
Defense will be Washington's strong point again this fall. The Huskies led the Pac-12 in scoring defense a year ago, allowing just 18.8 points per contest. They also led the league in total defense (351.8 ypg). With leading tackler Azeem Victor back to anchor the linebackers and Sidney Jones and Budda Baker headlining the secondary, Washington won't surrender many points.
Offensively, Washington has one of the best quarterback-running back tandems in the whole league. Jake Browning threw for 2,955 yards and 16 touchdowns in his debut season and should be even more productive now that he's comfortable in the offense. Myles Gaskin was a revelation in the backfield, churning out 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns in just six starts.
The pieces are in place for Washington to take a step forward and make a realistic run at winning the Pac-12 North.
Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)
Chris Petersen is an outstanding head coach. In his first two seasons at Washington, the program has improved its recruiting on a national level, become one of the stingier Pac-12 defenses, and generally look closer to returning to the Rose Bowl days of the Huskies’ glory years. They have yet to find a way to put it all together and get over the hump.
The Huskies should jump out to a 4-0 start, but they run into the Stanford and Oregon buzz saw on back-to-back weeks. The Huskies then go on a bye before traveling to the Bay Area to take on the Cal Bears, another very winnable game. Then the Huskies get a very hungry and determined USC team, but they get that at home. I tend to favor USC here, but the Washington has had the Trojans’ number in the past. From there, UW should run circles around Arizona State before finally finishing off Wazzu for their seemingly annual Apple Cup beatdown of the Cougars in one of the nation’s most awesomely named rivalries.