Huskies look to repeat as conference champions for the first time since the 1990-92 three-peat
Chris Petersen's hire as Washington head coach brought with it expectations of the Huskies returning to the top of the college football heap. Washington ranked among the most prominent programs of the early 1990s, winning three straight Pac-10 championships in that time, including a national championship in ‘91. Petersen did not need long to get the program back to that point.
In Year 3, Washington went 12-1 en route to its first conference title since the Pac's expansion to 12. The Huskies were dominant with 10 double-digit victories, including the Pac-12 Championship Game against Colorado. That dominance translated into a College Football Playoff berth.
Washington will try to make it two straight conference crowns in 2017, and this time, extend its playoff stay. Do not be surprised if it comes to fruition.
Despite losing some big-time playmakers like John Ross, Budda Baker, Kevin King and Elijah Qualls to the NFL, the Huskies are not bereft of talent on either side of the ball.
Is Washington still the team to beat in the Pac-12 North? Athlon Sports polled several writers to get their take on Huskies’ realistic 2017 win/loss projection.
Washington Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
What do you get when you combine one of the best coaches in recent college football history – a perennial overachiever who competed with the sport's best despite a recruiting handicap at Boise State – with a bevy of NFL-caliber talent? The answer is a national championship-contending program, which is exactly what Washington is developing into under Chris Petersen.
It's perhaps easy to lose sight of just how good Washington was in 2016, in part because Alabama pulled away in the second half of their College Football Playoff contest. USC's win in Seattle late in the regular season also turned the spotlight away from the Huskies in the Pac-12. Despite those losses, Washington was ranked in top eight nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
Maintaining that same output on the defensive end may be a challenge, with the secondary undergoing considerable turnover. Still, the front seven is one of the best in the nation. Offensively, the Huskies could end up being even better than a season ago. The line is experienced all the way across; the backfield features two capable stars in Lavon Coleman and Myles Gaskin; Dante Pettis ranks among college football's best receivers; and QB Jake Browning is back healthy after a late-season shoulder issue.
Washington's non-conference schedule is less than inspiring, which could set the Huskies up for disappointment in a championship game rematch to open Pac-12 play at Colorado. Beyond that and a Friday night contest at Stanford in November, it's difficult to see the Dawgs getting much pushback during the regular season. The one possible upset to keep an eye on is an Oct. 14 trip to Arizona State. As last year's overtime escape from Arizona demonstrated, Washington teams struggle in the desert – and UW is winless in Tempe since the early 2000s.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even with a few personnel losses to address, Chris Petersen’s team is poised for another run at the Pac-12 title and College Football Playoff. That’s largely due to the return of quarterback Jake Browning and a standout defense with six returning starters. However, the schedule also provides plenty of breathing room for the Huskies. Washington plays only two teams projected to finish in the top 25 by Athlon Sports, and contests against Oregon, Utah, Washington State and UCLA come in Seattle. The Nov. 10 matchup on a short week against Stanford is the toughest game on the 2017 slate. Even if the Huskies fall short once in the regular season, a victory over the Pac-12 South champion (likely USC) and a 12-1 record would be enough to earn a playoff spot.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
It wouldn’t surprise me if Washington entered December firmly in contention for a playoff spot and conference title but with a team that isn’t quite as good as last year’s squad. Most of that has to do with the defense regressing just a tad from 2016’s stellar unit but make no mistake, this is still a juggernaut in the Pac-12 North. QB Jake Browning should be healthy and among the best in the country and people will continue to overlook RB Myles Gaskin at their own peril. Chris Petersen clearly has the Huskies positioned as the best in the North division and the schedule sets up extremely well with UCLA, Oregon and Utah all having to come to Seattle. The trip to the Farm will be tough and there’s not quite as high of a ceiling as USC but Washington just might be the team to beat in the Pac-12.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
There are a lot of reasons to like Washington this season, with Jake Browning back and Chris Petersen’s squad returning a good number of starters. The schedule also, seemingly, plays some favors by avoiding USC, but don’t be shocked if the Huskies take a stumble heading into the bye week in Tempe. Playing on the road against Stanford will not be easy either, and could be where any hope Washington has of returning to the College Football Playoff is snapped. Washington will still be a playoff contender but don’t expect the Huskies to blow away Stanford and Oregon as they did last season. Winning the Pac-12 North should be a bit more of a challenge this fall.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
It's tough to see Washington taking any sort of step back this season. The Huskies did lose a significant amount of talent to the NFL ranks from their Pac-12 championship squad. Still, they return enough key playmakers on both sides of the ball to keep them secure atop the Pac-12 North.
As long as Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin are running the show on offense, Washington will have no trouble scoring points. Browning threw for 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in his second year in the program. Gaskin ranked third in the Pac-12 in total rushing yards as a sophomore with 1,373 and 10 touchdowns. Washington has a veteran offensive line, led by junior left tackle Trey Adams, that will make it simple for Browning and Gaskin to pick other teams apart.
Few teams could match what the Huskies did on defense a year ago and the same should hold true again this fall. Washington led the Pac-12 both in scoring (17.7 ppg) and total (316.9 ypg) defense in 2016. Linebackers Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria anchor a defense that should make life miserable for opponents once again. Washington needs to reload in the secondary, but is set in the front seven.
The bottom line is that Washington is no one-year wonder. It's going to be a chore for another Pac-12 North team to replace the Huskies as the top dog in 2017.