Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 18 Washington.
For the foreseeable future, you, yes you, will have to get to know Washington’s football team, because it seems pretty clear that until the NFL comes calling for Chris Petersen, the Huskies are going to be good as hell.
While they have a storied history—the two Rose Bowl wins to open the ‘90s; the 11-1 peak of the Rick Neuheisel era in 2000—Washington’s come a long way from being a directionless 0-12 program a decade ago. Things started to change when Petersen took over as head coach in 2014.
After spending the first two seasons building on the foundation left behind by Steve Sarkasian, Petersen kicked the program up to another level. In the summer of 2016, as the season’s storylines were still forming, Washington was thought by a large portion of the college football world to be on the cusp of greatness. The Huskies had the young and explosive offensive weapons, the right coach, and a winnable conference working in their favor. And so it came, almost too neatly, that head coach Chris Petersen led Washington to the promised land, making the playoff in his third season at the helm.
If last season’s 10-3 finish was a slight dip compared to expectations, the offseason appears to have set up Washington as a team ready for second shot at the moon. There are plenty of reasons for this, but the main thing you need to know about Washington is that quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin still somehow have another year of eligibility, and college football fans, but especially those of the Huskies, are all the better for it.
Browning’s junior season fell a good deal short of his insane sophomore explosion. His touchdowns dropped from 43 to 19, and his yards per pass dipped all the way to 1.3 yards. He wasn’t helped by losing star receiver John Ross to the NFL, and losing Chico McClatcher to broken ankle suffered in Week 3 further mucked things up. Dante Pettis, the No. 2 receiver in 2016 and go-to guy last year, was fine, but the subtraction of Ross’s secondary-shattering speed limited the offense to fewer explosive plays, and thus fewer scoring opportunities.
Browning seems ready to return to that 2016 form this season, as do his remaining 2018 targets. McClatcher is back after spending the past 10 months rehabbing his ankle, which is a huge get, if he can resist any future tweaks. The 5-foot-8 speed demon should be the downfield threat this team needed so badly last year—in his sophomore year, he was good for 18.5 yards per catch.
I’m telling you all this good news because, well, McClatcher kind of has to be The Man this year, seeing as Pettis left a year early to go play with the San Francisco 49ers. That means that along with Chico and all his long bombs and jet sweeps, Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, Ty Jones, and the promising Quinten Pounds will need to step up and provide some consistency for Browning. Otherwise, I hope the Huskies like being right on the cusp of conference titles.
While uncertainty exists out wide, on the other side of the field, there’s little cause for concern, which is amazing considering the defense lost a first-round defensive lineman.
The defensive coordinator position will now be shared by Pete Kwiatkowski, as Petersen promoted secondary coach Jimmy Lake to the status of co-coordinator. At first glance, one may wonder why Petersen risked upsetting Kwiatkowski with such a move; at second glance, one reminds oneself what Jimmy Lake has meant to this defensive unit.
The secondary will, once again, be the premier group for Washington. The safety spots belong to the flexible Taylor Rapp and the devastating JoJo McIntosh, while the corner roles will be filled by Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller. Both Murphy and Miller missed time last year with injuries; if they can stay healthy and play to their potential, they will be arguably the most feared corner duo in the nation. If they don’t, Myles Bryant and Austin Joyner are more than ready to fill in, because, yet again, the Washington corners have nothing but talent and depth to spare.
The bigger concern, figuratively and literally, exists up front. Vita Vea and all 347 pounds of his line-clogging, double-team-required run-stuffing wonder are gone, as he was scooped up in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There’s not really a player on Washington’s roster, or anyone’s roster, that can replace what Vea provided for the Huskies’ 3-4 defense. He was a force that demanded a double-team, which is excellent news when you have a quartet of able-bodied linebackers ready to shoot through the openings.
Last season, the Huskies’ defense ranked second in the nation in yards per rush, holding opponents to 2.36 yards. The onus will be on ends Jaylen Johnson and Levi Onwuzurike and nose tackle Greg Gaines to prove that Vea wasn’t a one-man show. Gaines should be the star here, but he’s coming off a rough year, having torn his PCL last season before re-injuring it in the spring.
This year’s linebacker corps will be rounded out inside by Tevis Bartlett and Ben Burr-Kirven, with the outside being shored up by Benning Potoa’e and Ryan Bowman, though Amandre Williams should also be in the running for a starting spot. Initially, it looked like the crown jewel of their incoming class, five-star backer Ale Kaho, would factor into the conversation as well, but then he was granted a release on Aug. 6 due to some personal family issues. At No. 21 overall, Kaho was the highest-ranked recruit Petersen had ever signed; reports from Wednesday say that he’ll likely be joining Alabama soon.
It only seems right that Myles Gaskin should be Washington’s Guy To Know for a second time.
Gaskin is a model of efficiency, consistency, and unadulterated speed. In his three seasons as Washington’s lead rusher, he’s posted at least 1,300 yards every year; all the while, he’s increased his rushing touchdowns, yards per rush, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns from season to season. Gaskin does this lining up behind the quarterback, taking direct snaps, and faking reverse sweeps. Quite simply, he is the best reason you or anyone has to watch Washington every week, because you know, every week, he’s going to do something that leaves you floored.
He’s one of several backs being included in the upcoming Heisman conversation, though Browning is receiving a bit more preseason hype. If Gaskin continues his trend of annual improvement, there’s no reason he can’t leapfrog his quarterback and be the Pac-12 standout.
Not an assistant, but still, hard not smile at a man making nearly $5 million per year being restrained by NCAA recruiting rules to tweet “WOOF!” every time someone signs with his team.
Yes, Washington can absolutely make the playoff. Beating Auburn in the season-opener will be key in setting the tone for the Selection Committee, but it’s a long season with plenty of opportunities to prove why they deserve a slot. The production of the receivers will likely determine just how far this unit can go—if they get a healthy Chico McClatcher regularly testing the speed of opposing safeties to pair with the gashing damage Gaskin regularly inflicts, then they’ll be in a good spot to go toe-to-toe with college football’s best come January.
Sept. 1: Auburn (Neutral field)
Sept. 8: North Dakota
Sept 15: @ Utah
Sept. 22: Arizona State
Sept. 29: BYU
Oct. 6: @ UCLA
Oct. 13: @ Oregon
Oct. 20: Colorado
Oct. 27: @ Cal
Nov. 3: Stanford
Nov. 17: Oregon State
Nov. 23: Washington State