The Washington Huskies prepare for a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the Playstation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: CFP run possible — if No. 5 Washington avoids another Pac-12 hiccup

The Huskies have two possible Heisman candidates at quarterback and running back. And nine returning starters on a top-10 defense.

Posted July 24th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

No. 18: For Boise State, the Mountain West sky is the limit

No. 17: Mississippi State is breaking in a new head coach

No.16: Virginia Tech’s chances hinge on an up-and-down quarterback

No. 15: TCU has been the model of consistency, but there are 2018 concerns

No. 14: Love is all you need, at least if you’re talking about Stanford’s Bryce Love

No. 13: Notre Dame is on the brink of a real springboard season

No. 12: Michigan has said goodbye to John O’Korn, hello to Shea Patterson

No. 11: With just about everyone back, Michigan State looks for a 2017 encore

No. 10: Penn State bids goodbye to Saquon Barkley, but Trace McSorley’s still there

No. 9: Talented Auburn should be considered a CFP possibility coming out of the SEC

No. 8: Oklahoma has reloaded, eyeing a possible first-ever fourpeat in the Big 12

No. 7: Miami’s dreams of ACC titles and CFP berths have to go through Clemson again

No. 6: Wisconsin’s 10 returning offensive starters ready to state case for CFP

Today’s team: No. 5 Washington

The Huskies’ best-case scenario: Anything but a return to the CFP will be a disappointment.

Their worst-case scenario: The Huskies have a hiccup like they did last year in Pac-12 play — a 14-7 loss to Arizona State — and fail to make the conference championship game.

RELATED COVERAGE: Ten things to know about the Washington Huskies

RELATED COVERAGE: Defensive tackle Greg Gaines makes his last stand

Inside the Huskies

Coach: Chris Petersen (fifth year, 37-17; 129-29 overall at Boise State and Washington)

2017: 10-3, 7-2 in the Pac-12 (lost to Penn State 35-28 in the Fiesta Bowl)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 9 defense

Goodbye: DT Vita Vea (1st, Buccaneers); WR Dante Pettis (2nd, 49ers); LB Azeem Victor (6th, Raiders); TE Will Dissly (4th, Seahawks); LB Keishawn Bierria (6th, Broncos)

Spring cleaning: Everyone outside the state of Washington has heard the names of Huskies stars Jake Browning (QB) and Myles Gaskin (RB). However, cornerback Elijah Molden took home the “Best Hands” trophy for spring practice. The 5-10, 191-pound sophomore was one of the most improved players this spring and likely earned a spot in new defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake’s nickel package. … Speaking of Lake, UW made him the highest paid assistant in the program’s history in May when it gave him a three-year extension worth $1.1 million annually.

Quarterback Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies is congratulated by tight end Drew Sample #88 and tight end Will Dissly #98 after throwing a touchdown pass to running back Lavon Coleman against the Utah Utes at Husky Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. The touchdown pass gave Browning 76 for his career, setting the school record. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Jake Browning, 230-336-2,719, 19/5 (1st)

RUSHING: Myles Gaskin, 222-1,380-21 (1st); Salvin Ahmed, 61-388-3 (3rd)

RECEIVING: Aaron Fuller, 26-291-1 (2nd); TE Hunter Bryant, 22-331-1 (3rd)

TACKLES: LB Ben Burr-Kirven, 84 (1st); DB Taylor Rapp, 59 (3rd); DB Myles Bryant, 57 (4th)

SACKS: OLB Ryan Bowman, 5.5 (1st); OLB Tevis Bartlett, 3.5 (T-3rd); DL Jaylen Johnson, 3.5 (T-3rd)

INTERCEPTIONS: DB Byron Murphy, 3 (1st)

Returning All-Pac 12 players (11)

Offense: OL Kaleb McGary (1st team); RB Myles Gaskin (2nd); RB Salvin Ahmed (hon. mention); QB Jake Browning (hon. mention); OL Nick Harris (hon. mention)

Defense: DB Taylor Rapp (1st); DL Greg Gaines (2nd); LB Ben Burr-Kirven (2nd); DB Jojo McIntosh (2nd); OLB Tevis Bartlett (hon. mention); DB Myles Bryant (hon. mention)

FYI

(Psst. They play defense, too): Washington’s defense in 2017 was a bit unappreciated. It happens. Especially when the offense was the second-highest scoring unit in the Pac-12 and 17th in the nation (36.2 points per game) and has two possible Heisman candidates in Browning and Gaskin. However, the defense finished fifth nationally in points allowed —16.1 per game. The rest of the Pac-12 should be on notice as nine starters return from that defense.

Lots of weapons: Washington’s backfield may be one of the best in the nation. Browning returns for his senior season as does Gaskin, who has 4,055 career rushing yards. Browning threw for 2,719 yards and 19 touchdowns while Gaskin amassed 1,380 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Browning lost his favorite target — the graduated Dante Pettis. Look for the deep threat Chico McClatcher and tight end Hunter Bryant to get a lot of looks from the pass-happy Huskies.

Scheduling issues: Washington’s schedule was a bit soft in 2017 with non-conference games against Big Ten cupcake Rugters, FCS powerhouse Montana and the Mountain West’s Fresno State. All were at home. That won’t be the case this year. The Huskies will charge out of the gate against Auburn in the heart of SEC country — Atlanta. The game will likely set the tone for Washington’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff. Other non-conference games include FCS juggernaut North Dakota and BYU. The conference schedule is equally concerning with away games at UCLA, Utah and Washington State.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 17th (36.2 ppg) — right above fellow Pac-12er Oregon at No. 18, right behind No. 16 Tulsa

Points allowed: 5th (16.1 ppg) — right above No. 6 Georgia, right behind No. 4 Virginia Tech

Passing: 72nd (222.2 ypg) — right above No. 73 Pittsburgh, right behind No. 71 Idaho

Rushing: 44th (183.2 ypg) — right above No. 45 Alabama-Birmingham, right behind No. 43 Louisiana-Lafayette

Total offense: 58th (405.5 ypg) — right above No. 59 Baylor, right behind No. 57 Boise State

 Total defense: 8th (298.0 ypg) — sandwiched between two Big Ten schools, right above No. 9 Ohio State, right behind No. 7 Michigan State

Running back Myles Gaskin (9) of the Washington Huskies is unable to catch a pass during the second half of the Playstation Fiesta Bowl against the Penn State Nittany Lions at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Nittany Lions defeated the Huskies 35-28. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1 (2:30 p.m., ABC)Auburn
Sept. 8 (4 p.m., P12N)North Dakota
Sept. 15 (9 p.m., ESPN)at Utah*W, 33-30 in Seattle
Sept. 22Arizona State*L, 13-7 in Tempe
Sept. 29BYU
Oct. 6at UCLA*W, 44-23 in Seattle
Oct. 13at Oregon*W, 38-3 in Seattle
Oct. 20Colorado*W, 37-10 in Boulder
Oct. 27at California*W, 38-7 in Seattle
Nov. 3Stanford*L, 30-22 in Stanford
Nov. 17Oregon State*W, 42-7 in Corvallis
Nov. 23 (5:30 p.m., Fox)at Washington State*W, 41-14 in Seattle
* Pac-12 game

The key game: Sept. 1 vs. Auburn (at Atlanta)

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
20139-4 (5-4)— / 25thFight Hunger, W
20148-6 (4-5)25th / —Cactus, L
20157-6 (4-5)— / —Heart of Texas, L
201612-2 (8-1)14th / 4thCFP semifinals, L
201710-3 (7-2)8th / 16thFiesta, L
Total46-21 (28-17 Pac-12)1-4 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

4 schools:

Pac-12 — No. 5 Washington, No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

Big Ten — No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan

Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

3 schools:

ACC — No. 7 Miami, No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State

SEC — No. 9 Auburn, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU

1 school:

Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame

Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 4 team

Want a hint?

This school’s coach has coached under Nick Saban three times — twice in college, once in the NFL.

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