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.
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.
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
Returning All-Pac 12 (3)
Offense: OL Nick Harris (1st team)
Defense: DB Myles Bryant (2nd)
Special teams: Elijah Molden (2nd)
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
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Aug. 31||Eastern Washington|
|Sept. 7||California*||L, 12-10|
|Sept. 21||at BYU|
|Oct. 5||at Stanford*||W, 27-23|
|Oct. 12||at Arizona*|
|Oct. 19||Oregon*||L, 30-27 (OT)|
|Nov. 2||Utah*||W, 21-7|
|Nov. 8||at Oregon State*||W, 42-23|
|Nov. 23||at Colorado*||W, 27-13|
|Nov. 30||Washington 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
|2014||8-6 / 4-5||25th / —||Cactus Bowl, L|
|2015||7-6 / 4-5||— / —||Heart of Texas Bowl, L|
|2016||12-2 / 8-1||14th / 4th||CFP semifinals, L|
|2017||10-3 / 7-2||8th / 16th||Fiesta Bowl, L|
|2018||10-4 / 7-2||6th / 13th||Rose Bowl, L|
|Total||47-21 / 30-15||5 bowl games (0-5)|
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 14: Penn State
No. 13: Washington
Our Top 25, by conferences
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
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.