Overview: The Washington Huskies have been on the rise ever since Steve Sarkisian took over the reigns a few seasons ago and UW fans are counting on the Huskies taking another leap back into the national spotlight in 2012. The offense lost some integral pieces to graduation, but still returns even more talent, while the defense changed their coach, their style and their philosophy after last years’ Alamo Bowl, in which the Huskies scored a mind melting 56 points in a 67-56 loss to Baylor.
But there is a catch. The early schedule does not match up well for the Dawgs, as 4 of the first 6 games are going to be against top 25 teams, and three of those could be top 5 worthy at some point during the season. San Diego State should test the Huskies at Century Link to open up the season, but the real test begins at LSU in week 2 and doesn’t really drop off much till a month later. Of those difficult tests, LSU and Oregon will be on the road, while USC and Stanford will visit Seahawks Stadium while Husky Stadium is being completely rebuilt. After that is where the Huskies will likely find their best football, but there are still some interesting tests against Utah in Seattle and away games at Cal and WSU to end the year. Other games include Arizona, Portland State, Oregon State and Colorado.
Talent, talent, talent (at least offensively): Keith Price is back to continue his assault on the UW record books and he has plenty of talent around him. Also returning are super sophomores WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, along with a bevy of highly thought of running backs. Williams in particular will get a chance to showcase his talents this upcoming season because he has become the #1 go-to offensive threat now that the productive receiving duo of Aguilar and Kearse have left the fold.
Getting defensive: Sarkisian took an aggressive approach to replacing Nick Holt as the D-coordinator last season and it seems to be paying dividends. Justin Wilcox comes over from Tennessee and is bringing a 3-4 look with a lot of early aggression. It helps that a lot of potential play makers return to give Wilcox options, but the key word is: potential. The defense showed very nicely in the spring game and throughout spring by all reports, but the names of Trufant, Shamburger, Fellner, Glenn and Shirley will need to become household beyond the state of Washington if the Dawgs plan on making any noise in the Pac.
The Coaches: With the addition of Wilcox, the UW staff seems to finally be one that the Husky fans will be proud of. Sarkisian is one of the best young coaches in the nation and he has proven that it will be difficult to beat the Huskies as they continue to build on their current talent base through recruiting. Speaking of recruiting, the Huskies are once again starting to rise in the Pac-12 class rankings from year to year.
Pro advantage?: Husky Stadium (already a loud venue) is receiving a facelift, so the Huskies will move over to Seahawks Stadium for their home contests this year. Century Link is known as the loudest and most intimidating venue in the NFL and maybe all of professional sports. If the Huskies fill it on Saturdays with their raucous crowds as they are sure to do, it could get very interesting for opponents from a communication standpoint. The Washington defense that struggled so mightily last season can only benefit.
Qb depth: If Keith Price goes down for any amount of meaningful snaps, there is no precipice for just how indecent or bad the Dawgs will become, but the consensus has to be that they will become much, much worse. Nick Montana decided to leave for JC in hopes of playing time and he was the only qb who could give them backup experience at the position. Instead the Huskies will turn to 3 freshmen and an unheralded junior to try and keep the offense going if indeed Price would become lame.
Proven RBs?: The Chris Polk show is over and the Huskies need to find an every down back or figure out a way to do it by committee. A Sark offense is predicated on a feature back and while many speculate that it could become Jr Jesse Callier, the names and potential of sophomores Bishop Sankey and Deontae Cooper, along with the experience of Sr Cole Sager could really make the rotation decisions difficult for the offensive staff. Only one thing holds true here and that is none of these backs has had to carry the load on an every down basis.
That schedule: It never seems like the Huskies catch a break with the scheduling gods lately. Heading to LSU and Oregon are not even as good as difficult tasks early, and Stanford and USC are sure to come into the C-Link with Price and the previously hideous defense in their high powered cross-hairs. That’s 4 of the first 6 as mentioned earlier so the potential is there for the Huskies to lose steam before the halfway mark. It doesn’t seem likely that the Aztecs will come in and steal a game with their losses, but if they did somehow take advantage of opening day being traditionally difficult on the Huskies, UW could start a miserable 1-5. Of course nobody in Seattle will believe that is possible, but I’m telling you it’s a realistic thought. Toss in both the Cal game and the Apple Cup on the road late, and you might have yourself a losing season.
Summary: Let’s not bury these guys before the party starts though. If Price stays healthy and the defense is much improved as Spring indicated, Washington could be staring in the other direction as well. After all, SDSU and Stanford are rebuilding a little bit with a new qb and a continuing lack of game changing speed, while USC (as good as they are on paper) typically doesn’t play well in Seattle. It’ll take some work and another Bowl season is well within reach even if they start out at 2-4, but I can easily see them with a straight split at 3-3 going into the second half. It’s going to be interesting to see how visitors react to the change of venue and what advantage that will give Sark and his troops. I think the Dawgs will go into Pullman with an opportunity to clinch a winning season and the Apple Cup will determine if they go to a decent Bowl or a bad one… or none at all.
Check back next week to see our preview of our very own Cougs as we finish up our team section of the Pac-12 Previews. After that we still have some good preseason stuff to look at for each of these teams, so just know that we’re just getting started!