The defending Pac-12 champions could win their third conference title in four years
One of the more under-appreciated developments in the last half-decade of college football is the work Chris Petersen and his staff have done returning Washington to the pinnacle of the Pac-12. The Huskies head into 2019 winners of two of the last three conference championships, with appearances in three consecutive New Year's Six games. The 2016 team made the College Football Playoff, and both the '17 and '18 squads came a combined five possessions away from going to three straight playoffs.
The coming season also marks the greatest test for Petersen and Co. since the coach took Washington football down to its foundation and rebuilt. The 2015 campaign began a careful construction, which produced the last three years' success. Key figures from that era — four-year starters like Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and Ben Burr-Kirven — are gone. Here's when we begin to see if Washington is built for the long haul.
Victories on the recruiting trail suggest so. The Huskies are not lacking for talent, though some of it is unproven. Washington may well be primed for its third Pac-12 title under Petersen, and perhaps a return to the playoff, but that depends largely on the play of Georgia transfer quarterback Jacob Eason, and the development of a mostly new-look secondary.
Should those players deliver, a 12-0 regular season isn't out of the question. The schedule is mostly manageable, and the coaching staff is one of the best in the sport. Athlon asked a few editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Washington in 2019.
Washington Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I'm not completely sure where the losses are going to come from, but I feel this is a 10-2 team for Washington in 2019. Essentially, I picked a couple of upsets (at Arizona, at Stanford), but think the Huskies will trip up twice somewhere on the slate. Chris Petersen has to replace several key cogs off last year's standout defense, but the next wave of stars are set to emerge, ensuring this unit won’t slip too far on the stat sheet. Jake Browning capped a solid four-year career with a Pac-12 title last season, but Georgia transfer Jacob Eason (assuming he wins the job) brings a stronger arm to the field, allowing the Huskies to push the ball more for big plays in the passing game. Petersen's offense features one of the nation's top offensive lines, while Salvon Ahmed is ready to step up and replace Myles Gaskin at running back. With Oregon, Utah and Washington State coming to Seattle this fall, the path to the Pac-12 North runs through Washington.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Washington appears to be the class of the Pac-12 but must prove that it can reload on defense (only two starters are back) and that Jacob Eason is ready to take over at quarterback after sitting out last year. I envision a similar season to last year — a 7-2 record in league play (with both losses coming on the road). Why Stanford and Arizona? Both teams have dynamic quarterbacks who could make life a bit difficult for the Huskies on defense. Washington is more talented than both of these teams, but it was also more talented than Cal last year, and the Huskies lost 12–10 in Berkeley. The two most difficult games are at home, and I envision UW beating both Oregon and Utah in Seattle.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
As a follower of college football whose interest was forged in the 1990s, I grew up assuming Washington always was and always would be a powerhouse. Perhaps that's why the memory of Miami crushing the Huskies in November 2001, 65-7, was so jarring. That outcome, 11 months removed from Washington winning the Rose Bowl Game, marked an unofficial start to a rapid decline. When the Huskies finished 0-12 in 2008, it was the conclusion of a slide that lasted almost two full recruiting lifecycles.
This is relevant because 2008's Rotten Apple Cup is the midway point between the 2001 Miami blowout, and the '15 Huskies hammering rival Washington State, 45-10, to gain bowl eligibility. That 2015 team needed a final-week win to go to the postseason, but it was evident in that campaign Chris Petersen was building the program up for long-term success. Three seasons later, Washington's defending the Pac-12 title, and could well be considered the favorite in 2019.
Of the three preseason favorites — joining Oregon and Utah — Washington has the most favorable schedule. That's due in part to drawing both teams at home. The Huskies must weather one difficult stretch, with that Oregon game amid a string of games that includes back-to-back road dates at Stanford and Arizona; the latter destination has given the Huskies fits historically, and Washington has not won on The Farm since 2007. Otherwise, it's the most manageable of the perceived contender slates.
Should the Huskies remain healthy, and Jacob Eason deliver up to his potential, getting a spot in the College Football Playoff is a realistic goal for this Washington team.