Washington head coach Chris Petersen wants a facemask call against UCLA on a fumble recovery by Myles Bryant in the third quarter on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Husky Stadium in Seattle. The host Huskies won, 44-23. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/TNS)

Football

Our 11th annual Top 25 countdown: Defense may decide No. 13 Washington’s Pac-12 fate

The Huskies will have a new quarterback in former Georgia Bulldog Jacob Eason, but the bigger concern is defense with only two returning starters.

Posted July 15th, 2019

Advertisement

We’re 45 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We continue with our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked first, second, eighth and 13th in our 2018 poll.

Our No. 13 team: Washington

The Nittany Lions’ best-case scenario: Washington’s young, but talented, defense steps up and grows into a top unit out West by the teeth of the conference schedule. The expectation is a conference championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Washington can repeat as Pac-12 champions if Georgia transfer Jacob Eason shows signs of his five-star pedigree after two years of struggles with injury and the transfer process.

And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? Head coach Chris Petersen faces a tough task replacing a quarterback and nine defensive starters. Washington State, Stanford and Oregon will field more experienced squads in the North Division. A four-week stretch beginning on Sept. 28 demands the Huskies face USC, Stanford and Oregon sandwiched around a game at Arizona. A bad stretch in those games leaves little to play for come November.

Advertisement

Last year, Washington was No. 5 in our preseason poll.

Inside the Huskies

Coach: Chris Petersen (6th year, 47-21; 139-33 overall, 13 years at Boise State and Washington)

2018:  10-4, 7-2 in the Pac-12 (lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl). In the five years since Petersen left Boise State, the Huskies have gone 47-21 and the Broncos have gone 52-15.

Returning starters: 6 offense, 2 defense

Shoes to fill: QB Jake Browning (3,192 yards, 16 TDs); RB Myles Gaskin (1,268 yards, 12 TDs); LB Ben Burr-Kirven (176 tackles, Pac-12 defensive player of the year); S Taylor Rapp (2-time all-conferece); DB Byron Murphy (2nd round, Redskins)

Spring cleaning: Washington’s only returning defensive starters are defensive end Benning Potoa’e and safety Myles Bryant. The Huskies should be fine up front, but players still need to emerge at inside linebacker and in the secondary for Washington to compete for a championship. The Huskies prefer a five-defensive back defense, and four of the starters from the 2018 secondary graduated or headed to the NFL.

Washington running back Salvon Ahmed (26) runs into the UCLA defensive backfield for a long gain in the first quarter on Oct. 6, 2018, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Jake Haener (2nd on team), 9-13-107 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

RUSHING: Salvon Ahmed (2nd), 104-608-7

RECEIVING: Aaron Fuller (1st), 58-874-4; Andre Baccellia (2nd), 55-584; Ty Jones (3rd), 31-491-6

TACKLES: DB Myles Bryant (3rd), 61

SACKS: DB Myles Bryant (T-2nd), 3.5; DL Levi Onwuzurike (4th), 3.0

INTERCEPTIONS: None

Returning All-Pac 12 (3)

Offense: OL Nick Harris (1st team)

Defense: DB Myles Bryant (2nd)

Special teams: Elijah Molden (2nd)

Former Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason is injured and leaves the game during the game against Appalachian State on Sept. 2, 2017. He’s now at Washington, taking over starting duties from the departed Jake Browning. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

FYI

A strong base: Eason must prove himself at quarterback, but he’ll get to do so behind a talented and experienced offensive line. Four of Washington’s six returning offensive starters play up front, and that should help Eason ease into the season with added protection and a complementary running game. All quarterbacks look better with more time to survey the field.

A welcomed addition: Eason isn’t the only welcomed addition to the offense. Injury forced tight end Hunter Bryant to miss 15 games over his first two seasons. He’s a dynamic weapon when healthy and should provide a security blanket to Eason. Washington lacks a true No. 1 receiver unless Bryant can become an impactful weapon.

Where are the linebackers?: Washington must replace both starters at inside linebacker. Things became more complicated when senior DJ Beavers retired from football in April. That leaves unproven names like Ariel Ngata, Jackson Simon and freshman Josh Calvert to be ready in a hurry.

2018 national stat rankings

Scoring: 88th (26.4 ppg)

Total offense: 54th (414.6 ypg)

Passing: 60th (238.4 ypg)

Rushing: 55th (176.3 ypg)

Red zone offense: 103rd

Time of possession: 23rd (32:20)

Scoring defense: 5th (16.4 ppg)

Total defense: 12th (306.2 ypg)

Pass defense: 25th (190.1 ypg)

Rush defense: 15th (116.1 ypg)

Red zone defense: 55th

Turnover margin: T-50th

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 31Eastern Washington
Sept. 7California*L, 12-10
Sept. 14Hawaii
Sept. 21at BYU
Sept. 28USC*
Oct. 5at Stanford*W, 27-23
Oct. 12at Arizona*
Oct. 19Oregon*L, 30-27 (OT)
Nov. 2Utah*W, 21-7
Nov. 8at Oregon State*W, 42-23
Nov. 23at Colorado*W, 27-13
Nov. 30Washington State*
* Pac-12 game

The key game? Nov. 29, Washington State: A win on the road to close the 2018 season propelled the Huskies the Pac-12 championship game, which it won over Utah. A Friday night home game could once again decide the fate of the North Division if both Washington squads reload at quarterback and on defense.

The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
20148-6 / 4-525th / —Cactus Bowl, L
20157-6 / 4-5— / —Heart of Texas Bowl, L
201612-2 / 8-114th / 4thCFP semifinals, L
201710-3 / 7-28th / 16thFiesta Bowl, L
201810-4 / 7-26th / 13thRose Bowl, L
Total47-21 / 30-155 bowl games (0-5)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Stanford will need its experienced defense to lead the way early

No. 24: Can Nebraska carry its end-of-2018 momentum into 2019?

No. 23: Was 2018 a one-time thing, or is Syracuse back as a program?

No. 22: A run to last year’s Big Ten title game has Northwestern wanting more

No. 21: Mike Leach hopes Clemson’s quarterback loss is Washington State’s gain

No. 20: With no proven quarterback, Wisconsin will ride the legs of Jonathan Taylor

No. 19: With Jarret Stidham in the NFL, Auburn must choose a freshman quarterback

No. 18: Army might end up throwing a real wrench into the CFP’s plans this year

No. 17: Iowa State hopes to keep its recent rise moving full steam ahead

No. 16: Central Florida is trying to overcome a pair of serious quarterback injuries

No. 15: Utah casts its eyes on winning the Pac-12 title this year

No. 14: Penn State

No. 13: Washington

Our Top 25, by conferences

4 schools:

Pac-12 — No. 13 Washington, No. 15 Utah, No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford

Big Ten — No. 14 Penn State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska

1 school:

AAC — No. 16 Central Florida

Big 12 — No. 17 Iowa State

Independents — No. 18 Army

SEC — No. 19 Auburn

ACC — No. 23 Syracuse

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 12 team

Want a hint?

It’s the first school from the state of Texas to make our poll.

Comments