Countdown to 2014 – No. 5 – Washington
Note … This is the eighth in a series of previews for the 2014 season, ranking CU’s opponents from the easiest to most difficult.
It’s not supposed to work this way at Washington.
Washington is supposed to be a destination stop on the coaching carousel, not a weigh station.
A decade after watching former CU head coach Rick Neuheisel leave the Husky program, only to reappear in Los Angeles as the UCLA head coach, Washington fans this fall will be seeing a familiar face once again roaming the sidelines of a southern California rival.
Steve Sarkisian, who left Washington for USC after five seasons in Seattle, has been replaced by Boise State head coach Chris Petersen. Sarkisian went 34-29 in his five years with the Huskies, and was not necessarily seen as a savior due to his record … but the overall record is deceiving. Taking over a team which had gone 0-12 the year before his arrival, Sarkisian built up a decent, if not overpowering, team at Washington.
Sarkisian went 5-7 in his first season in 2009, then posted three consecutive 7-6 records before putting together a 9-4 campaign last fall. Sarkisian may have left behind some hurt feelings when he left, but he did not leave the cupboard bare for his successor.
Husky fans are excited about the history of winning Petersen is bringing to Washington, and are hopeful Petersen can match his success at Boise State (92-12 in eight seasons after taking over for Dan Hawkins) in Seattle.
Husky fans are also hopeful that Petersen won’t head off to a warmer climate if he does prove successful.
Washington got off to a fast 4-0 start to the 2013 season, including an impressive 38-6 over Chris Petersen’s Boise State team. The Huskies rose to No. 15 in the nation, and were looking for even greater national attention when Washington travelled to Palo Alto to take on No. 5 Stanford in early October.
A 31-28 loss to the Cardinal on the road was hardly anything to get upset about, with Washington actually dominating Stanford in total yardage, 489 yard to 284.
The following week, however, Washington was embarrassed – again – by Oregon. The 45-24 loss to the No. 2 Ducks was bad enough, but it was also Washington’s 10th-straight loss to Oregon, a team which Washington considers to be its main rival (sorry, Washington State fans).
The Huskies then made it three losses in a row after a 53-24 blowout loss to Arizona State, dropping Washington from the national polls.
Cleansing home wins against Pac-12 cellar-dwellers California and Colorado helped erase some of the bad memories, but then the Huskies lost, 41-31, to No. 13 UCLA. The loss gave Washington a 3-4 Pac-12 record, and gave Husky fans reason to believe that a fourth-straight 7-6 season was in the offing.
The Huskies responded, though, with wins over Oregon State and Washington State to finish the regular season with an 8-4 overall record, a record which went to 9-4 (and a No. 25 final ranking in the polls) after a 31-16 win over BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
The good news on offense for Chris Petersen as he takes over as the Washington head coach is that he has little to worry about when it comes to his offensive line. All five starters return, and four of them are seniors (in the “it figures” department, next year, when Washington will have to completely rebuild its offensive line, CU will not be on the schedule, as the Buffs drop Washington for the 2015 and 2016 seasons).
An issue does remain, though, as to who will be the starting quarterback. Cyler Miles – from Denver – is the assumed starter, but legal troubles this spring kept him out of spring practices (and earned him a season-opening game suspension). Sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams will try and impress the coaches in Miles’ absence.
Star running back Bishop Sankey is gone, but he has an able replacement in sophomore Dwayne Washington (who had a 52-yard touchdown run against the Buffs last fall). Washington does have a good set of wide receivers, led by Kasen Williams (1,726 career receiving yards) and Jaydon Mickens, who had 65 receptions for 688 yards and five touchdowns last fall.
Like the offense, the defensive line for Washington is its strongest unit. Like the offensive line, all of the defensive line starters return, with three of the four being seniors. Hau’oli Kikaha returns, he of the 13 sacks last season (good enough for second-team All-Pac-12 in 2013).
The linebacker unit is also deep and talented. Senior Shaq Thompson, who had 78 tackles last season, returns, as does four-year starter John Timu.
The danger area for the Huskies this fall will be the secondary. Only one starter returns, cornerback Marcus Peters (though he is a good one, with five interceptions last fall). Untested underclassmen will be called upon to fill the remaining positions, with Chris Petersen perhaps having to rely upon true freshmen this fall to fill one or more starting position.
Opening the 2013 season on the road against Hawai’i, Washington will be playing 13 games this fall, including four non-conference games.
It would be a surprise if Washington isn’t 4-0 in those non-conference games.
After starting against Hawai’i (a likely victory, even without Cyler Miles at quarterback), the Huskies get three straight non-conference games at home, taking on 1-AA Eastern Washington, Illinois, and 1-A newcomer Georgia State. Yes, the Illini were competitive against the Huskies last fall (34-24), but that game was played in Chicago, not Seattle, and yes, Eastern Washington will likely come into Seattle as the No. 1 team in the nation (in 1-AA), but Washington should still survive it’s non-conference slate with a 4-0 record.
Then the schedule gets interesting.
Three of Washington’s four losses last year were to Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State, and the Huskies will face those same three teams in the same order this fall, with only a breather game against California sandwiched in between Stanford and Oregon to make life a little easier.
The last game of that stretch comes at home against Arizona State, the same Sun Devil team which humbled the Huskies, 53-24, last season. It will be payback time for the Washington players, getting Arizona State at home in the only home game for the Huskies in the month of October.
Then, on November 1st, Washington travels to Colorado. As with the Cal game, the game against the Buffs is a sandwich game for the Huskies. Washington takes on Cal between games with Stanford and Oregon, while taking on CU in games between Arizona State and UCLA.
If Washington can survive a rough October, then a date with UCLA in Seattle on November 8th could be huge for the Huskies’ chances at a major bowl or even a conference championship.
It would be easy for the Huskies to look past the Buffs and forward to their home game against the Bruins … and that might be the Buffs’ best hope at an upset.
On paper, it doesn’t look good for Colorado.
The strength of the Washington team is its offensive and defensive lines … areas of seemingly perennial weakness in Boulder.
Still, there is always reason for hope.
If Cyler Miles struggles at quarterback; and
If Washington fails to put together a consistent passing attack; and
If the Huskies’ secondary remains an exploitable unit well into the 2014 season; and
If Colorado has its act together, and is still competitive come November …
Then, the Washington game could be that signature upset Buff fans have been longing for ever since Colorado joined the Pac-12 three seasons ago.
But it would be hard to predict an upset as things stand right now …