We continue our Rant Sports College Football Top 100 previews today with a stop in the great northwest as the Washington Huskies come in at No. 34 on the list.
At the beginning of each season it seems like the Huskies are one of the trendy picks to be a sleeper team in the Pac 12 and make a run at a conference championship. But it also seems that every year Washington is one of the disappointments that do not live up to their preseason hype. While the Huskies may have another talented team in 2013, returning 16 starters from last year, they do not have the surrounding hype like usual and that can be a good thing for Steve Sarkisian’s group.
Key Player: Following a breakout sophomore campaign, quarterback Keith Price was primed to become one of the top signal-callers last season but he failed to live up to expectations. His disappointing junior season was not all his fault- Price dealt with an extremely injury-ravaged offensive line that halted much of the progress he was expected to make- but that should not be an excuse this year as all signs point to improved play upfront. It’s no secret that Price will need to regain his sophomore form in order for the Huskies to have a successful season.
Offense: The aforementioned Price is primed to bounce back from a disappointing season due to several promising factors. Washington is moving towards a more up-tempo, no-huddle system and that plays right into Price’s strengths. The fast-paced style will give him even more control over the offense while keeping the opposing defenses off-balance. On top of that Price has his two favorite receiving targets back for another season in WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Their play dropped off a bit last season as a product of Price’s struggles but, along with their QB, they are ready to regain their 2011 form in which they combined for 146 receptions for 1,728 yards and 13 touchdowns.
At running back last year Washington’s misfortune turned into a blessing in disguise. After Jesse Callier went down with a knee injury in their season opener Bishop Sankey took his place and emerged into a star. Sankey entered the fold as an unproven back but made the most of the situation and broke out for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns. The junior cemented himself as one of the top backs in the conference and he should build off of that success in 2013.
Both Price’s and Sankey’s success in 2013 will be determined by how much progress the offensive line made from a tough 2012 campaign. Yes there were injuries but those setbacks provided the opportunity for younger guys to earn valuable playing experience. Four starters return this season, all of which were forced into action last season and are now battle-tested, so they should use that to their advantage this year.
Defense: Although the Huskies are returning plenty of experience up front, the defensive line is probably Washington’s weakest position. For example DE Josh Shirley has shown the ability to be a talented pass-rusher but he struggles mightily against the run. That seems to be the case for the majority of the D-line as they have talent in some aspects of the game but aren’t fully rounded and seem to disappear against some of the more talented teams. However, there is plenty of potential and it helps that they will have some consistency in the play-calling as defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox enters his second season at the helm.
At linebacker there is plenty to be excited about. There’s plenty of potential and enough talent to consider the Huskies group one of the best in the conference. All three starters from last season return with Travis Freeney and Shaq Thompson at outsider backer while John Timu anchors the middle. Timu has the potential to be the breakout star amongst this unit as he’s entering his third full season at the position after switching from quarterback. Timu made steady progress in his first two seasons this could be his year to step up and become one of their best defenders. With that said, he still may be overshadowed by the immense talent flanking him on the outside in the form of Thompson. The sophomore probably has the most athletic ability out of the three and could become an All-American by year’s end.
Two new starters will highlight the secondary, a unit that was the Pac 12′s second best group against the pass last season. Strong safety Sean Parker and cornerback Marcus Peters return with Parker being the leader of the group. The questions for Wilcox to answer lie with the other two open positions. Senior Greg Ducre seems to be the guy at the other corner position while the free safety position seems to be up in the air. Wilcox can rely on senior Will Shamburger to fill the void or he could roll the dice and start redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver.
Schedule: Per usual, the Huskies are playing a tougher non-conference schedule than most other teams around the country. They open with a rematch of their bowl game as they host Boise State in the newly remodeled Husky Stadium. Then they play a “neutral” site game against Illinois in Chicago meaning it’s pretty much a home game for the Illini. After that they have a brutal start to their conference slate as they host Arizona, travel to Stanford and then come back home to take on conference favorite Oregon. If they can somehow come away from their first six games above .500 they have the potential to finish with eight wins, something they haven’t done in 11 years.