Since his arrival before the 2014 season, Chris Petersen's restored winning expectations and exciting within the Washington football program.
The Huskies embark on 2019 winners of two of the last three Pac-12 championships, and in '16, were the league's last member to participate in the College Football Playoff. Washington's come close to returning in each of the past two seasons; might 2019 mark another breakthrough?
Quarterback Jacob Eason gaining eligibility, recruiting success over the last few years, and the standard established under Petersen makes the coming campaign a promising one for Washington's pursuit of a national championship.
Three Reasons Washington Will Reach the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. An outstanding offensive line
Washington's hyped 2018 season took a huge hit before Week 1 when preseason All-American Trey Adams was sidelined due to back surgery. Last year's loss became a gain for 2019, however, as Adams returns to the fold from a redshirt season. The talented left tackle joins center Nick Harris, a breakout star a season ago, to give the Huskies five experienced starters across the front line.
The Huskies' physical style of play begins with dominance on the line, and few opponents on Washington's schedule can match what Petersen has on his front. Add outstanding pass-catching tight end Hunter Bryant — an equally adept blocker who rejoined the lineup from injury in November — and this unit is one of the best in the nation.
2. Dominating defense
In each of the last three seasons, Washington's defense ranked eighth or better nationally in points allowed. That's a claim that not even Clemson nor Alabama can make.
There's some key turnover on the defense, but one key presence Washington retained goes a long way in maintaining the program's recent standard of excellence: co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. Lake and Pete Kwiatkowski have overseen groups that flourished employing styles that evolved commensurate with the available talent.
Despite turnover, talent's no issue. Lake's also been critical in landing some premier playmakers to fill the holes on defense.
3. A friendly schedule
The Pac-12 preseason media poll slotted three teams with essentially equal odds to win the championship. Washington joins Oregon and Utah, both of which come to Husky Stadium in 2019. The Pac-12 Championship rematch with Utah, in particular, works well for Washington, which comes off a bye week.
The Utah game concludes a critical, one-month stretch that should make or break Washington's playoff hopes. The early-season slate isn't a slam dunk — the Huskies travel to BYU one week before hosting a wild card USC team — but getting through the first month sets up a critical stretch. Washington goes to Stanford and Arizona in back-to-back weeks before Oregon, bye, Utah.
Three Reasons Washington Will Not Reach the College Football Playoff in 2019
1. Offensive question marks
Prodigal son Jacob Eason is back in his home state and poised as the likely successor to the four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning. He comes with five-star recruiting credentials and first-round NFL draft potential, but he's going on almost two years without meaningful game competition.
If Eason does not live up to his billing, Washington could face the same offensive inconsistency that doomed the Huskies in their pursuit of a playoff berth the last two seasons. Browning never quite bounced back with the same gravitas he had prior to a late 2016 shoulder injury, and it was a recurring issue in close losses.
Running back Myles Gaskin was a cornerstone of the program's resurgence this past four years. He's gone with a bevy of Washington and Pac-12 records; a backfield committee of Salvon Ahmed, Kamari Pleasant and Sean McGrew will do their best t replace him.
2. A step back in the secondary?
Washington's secondary last season, when at full strength, was the best in college football. Two bonafide superstars from that unit are gone, with Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy (MVPs of each of Washington's Pac-12 Championship Game wins) both now in the NFL. Although not in the secondary, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven was as integral to Washington's nation-leading pass defense as he was in stopping the run.
The secondary certainly isn't lacking for potential, with Brandon McKinney and Elijah Molden among those on deck. Production isn't guaranteed from potential, however. The group has a high standard to meet to keep the Huskies in the hunt for the playoff.
3. Dog fight in the North
Heading into the season, one could make a viable case for five of the Pac-12 North's six teams winning the division. Oregon's a slight preseason favorite; Stanford contends virtually every year under David Shaw; Washington State came a snowy Apple Cup away from winning the division a season ago; and Cal's salty defense that upended Washington in 2018 will only be better in '19.
With the loaded division and the Pac-12's much-debated nine-game conference schedule, Washington's slate is the most friendly of the Pac-12 contenders — but it's still loaded with landmines. The 2017 and '18 seasons speak to that treachery.
Washington currently sits amid its best stretch since Don James had the Huskies contending for national championships, but the frustrating part for Dawgs faithful is how achingly close the program's come to being even more successful.
Were it not for 24 points — the total margin of defeat in the Huskies' five regular-season losses in 2017 and '18 — Washington would head into this season a three-time defending Pac-12 champion. No program's run off three consecutive conference titles since the end of USC's dynasty in the 2000s. What's more, those 24 points are all that separated Washington from two more College Football Playoff appearances, and zero.
This season kicks off with the least preseason hype for a Huskies team since the 2016 campaign, when Washington made the national semifinals. This season isn't a direct parallel; there's more turnover in the coming season than that breakout team faced. Still, the recruiting success Chris Petersen and his staff have had positions Washington to reload adequately. Of the three Pac-12 preseason front-runners, Washington's schedule and experience are the most conducive to a playoff run.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 12
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 11-2 (7-2 Pac-12)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 9.5