Preview 2017: Can Washington Win The Pac-12 … Again?
After a special season, can Washington do it all again?
Was Washington a mirage?
Even with a phenomenal season and a Pac-12 title, there’s still a Prove It aspect to last year that might only be answered by doing it again.
And the Huskies just might.
Of course, Chris Petersen is one of the best head coaches in college football. Of course, last year’s team had great players. Of course, there’s nothing cheap about winning a Power Five conference championship. But the Huskies beat Stanford, and … um … Utah?
Colorado was a relatively weak title game representative from the South, Washington State was lots of flash and not enough substance – big surprise – and Stanford’s offense was sputtering early as it got stuffed into the UW woodchipper.
In all, Washington ended up beating just five teams that went bowling – Idaho, Stanford, Utah, Washington State and Colorado – and was shut down to a dead stop in losses to USC and Alabama.
But that’s how the College Football Playoff selection game is apparently played. Penn State was a more deserving conference champion than Washington with a far better resume, but 1) win your Power Five conference title and 2) do it by going unbeaten or with one loss or 3) be Ohio State and beat a slew of amazing teams.
That appears to be the criteria, and Huskies did their part.
There’s no shame in losing last year’s playoff game against a rested Alabama – the Washington defense came up with a solid game. Considering Ohio State’s bedwetting performance against Clemson, and with Penn State losing the Rose Bowl to USC, UW’s inclusion in the CFP was justified.
But enough whining and fine-toothing this. Washington won the Pac-12 and got into the College Football Playoff. There’s no yucking this yum.
Now comes the real task of taking all the good things that happened and doing them again.
Struggle this season and fall back in the pack over the next few years, and 2016 will seem like a strange, quirky blip in a bad season for the Pac-12. Get back in the race again this year and maintain the high level of play, and then Washington turns into the powerhouse with potential staying power.
Come up with another great season, and then Petersen’s first two years – going 15-12 – will look like the aberration.
The best part about all of this? With the exception of the secondary, this year’s Washington team might be better.
QB Jake Browning is a seasoned vet now with two years of starting experience and a Pac-12 title on the resume. Devastating deep threat receiver John Ross is gone, but the receiving corps is going to be fantastic – Browning’s numbers shouldn’t fall off that much, if at all.
The 1-2 rushing punch of Myles Gaskin and Levon Coleman could turn into the best in the conference, working behind a good line that loses its starting guards, but gets back both tackles and a great center in Coleman Shelton.
The fantastic defense might have just lost three second round draft picks in the secondary, but it’s still going to be really, really good with a few great-looking young prospects in ready to shine.
The linebacking corps is going to be a killer, and despite the loss of Elijah Qualls on the inside, the line will be a rock against the run again.
Strength of schedule, schmength of schedule.
The slate is about as easy breezy as any Pac-12 team could reasonably ask for, with no USC to deal with, Oregon and UCLA coming to Seattle, and with just one truly tough road game at Stanford. Throw in a layup of a non-conference schedule, and here we go.
Washington, with this team, this coaching staff and this schedule, go 12-1 again with another Pac-12 title, and get back into the College Football Playoff.
Do that, and no matter what, the success will be very, very real.