It only takes a quick look behind that 7-6 record in 2015 to avoid being fooled. The Huskies made big strides in Petersen’s second season at the helm and are in position to break out in 2016, returning 16 starters from a stunningly young team that put up the Pac-12’s best defense and found some much needed stability at quarterback in Jake Browning.
Washington should be able to open up the offense from the start now that Browning has a year under his belt. The return of speedy receiver John Ross after sitting out in 2015 due to a knee injury should give the Huskies the opportunity to stretch the field. Slot receiver Chico McClatcher was also a standout in spring. With a line that holds up, Washington could take a huge step forward on offense this year.
In 2015, Washington’s defense was one of the big surprises in the Pac-12, allowing the fewest points and yards in the conference despite having lost four players in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The defense won’t surprise anyone this year, however, returning eight starters, including two all-conference players in cornerback Sidney Jones and safety Budda Baker. Cornerback Kevin King also returns in the secondary which is one of the nation’s best.
The defensive line should be solid, led by tackles Greg Gaines and Elijah Qualls. However, the Huskies will have to rebuild the linebacking corps a bit after losing Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton. But senior Joe Mathis could be due for a breakout season and Azeem Victor is solid in the middle.
Expectations are as high for the Huskies as any time since the Rick Neuheisel era. Chris Petersen patiently has recruited well and rebuilt the Huskies, not afraid to use true freshmen as starters. After an 8-6 and 7-6 season in years one and two, Petersen’s next move will be to return the Dawgs to the Pac-12’s upper echelon and start beating the Oregons and Stanfords of the conference.
With a relatively soft non-conference, the pressure starts with four of the first six Pac-12 games on the road. I’m projecting Washington to go 10-2 overall and 7-2 in the Pac-12 North, finishing in first place in the North Division and beating UCLA in the Pac-12 Title game.