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Our 13th annual preseason Top 25: No. 24 Washington finally get a full season to work with

Mark Rosner
American-Statesman Correspondent
The Washington Huskies won the Pac-12's North Division last season. But 2020 ended in sour fashion. They couldn't field a team with enough scholarship players and had to cancel their final three games, including the regular-season finale, the Pac-12 title game and a bowl game.

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

No. 24 Washington

How good are the Huskies? They appear in some early top-25 media rankings but not others. Phil Steele has them ninth, ESPN/Football Outsiders 15th. Washington could use a big season from sixth-year senior OLB Ryan Bowman, who had 5½ sacks in 2019, his last full season. QB Dylan Morris is back for his second redshirt freshman season, though competition could come from Patrick O'Brien, who played sparingly in one season at Nebraska and started most of two seasons at Colorado State. There's also freshman Sam Huard, who was ranked as one of the top two quarterback prospects in the country.

Washington wasn't ranked in our preseason poll last year and didn't finish ranked nationally.

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About the Huskies

2020: 3-1, all in the Pac-12 — first place in the North Division. But they missed out on facing USC in the conference championship game because of COVID-19 issues. No bowl game, either.

Coach: Jimmy Lake (3-1) gets a full year — Washington's former defensive coordinator became the boss when Chris Petersen abruptly resigned after the 2019 season but got only four games in his debut season.

Returning starters: 18 (10 offense, 8 defense)

Shoes to fill: DE Joe Tryon (Buccaneers, 1st round); DT Levi Onwuzurike (Lions, 2nd); DC Pete Kwaitkowski (Texas DC); CBs Elijah Molden (Titans, 3rd) and WR Keith Taylor (Panthers, 5th)

Catching up

Both Molden and Taylor could have returned for fifth seasons per NCAA pandemic guidelines but opted for the draft. Another WR, Puka Nacua, transferred to BYU, where he'll play with his brother Samson, who transferred from Utah. ... Bob Gregory, who has directed the Huskies' special teams for the past five years, replaced Kwaitkowski as defensive coordinator. The defense took a gut punch when All-American OLB Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who led the team with seven sacks last season, suffered a torn Achilles tendon this spring. A team spokesman said a late-season return hasn't been ruled out, but that's an optimistic view.

More:Receiver Jake Smith headed to USC, joining other former Longhorns on West Coast

Washington linebackers Edefuan Ulogoshio, Jackson Sirmon and Ryan Bowman converge on a fumble by Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell last season. All three Huskies will play key roles in replacing All-American defensive lineman Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who's out with an Achilles tendon injury.

Returning leaders

Passing: Dylan Morris 67-110-897, 4/3 (led team)

Rushing: Sean McGrew 43-227-4 (led team), Kamari Pleasant 34-144-3 (2nd), Richard Newton 23-122-2 (3rd)

Receiving: TE Cade Otton 18-258-3 (led team)

Tackles: LB Edefuan Ulofoshio 47 (led team), LB Jackson Sirmon 27 (2nd)

Sacks: OLB Ryan Bowman and LB MJ Tafisi 1 (T-2nd)

Interceptions: DBs Asa Turner and Trent McDuffie 1 (T-1st)

Returning all-conference

Offense: TE Cade Otton (1st team), OL Jaxson Kirkland Jr. (1st), OL Henry Bainivalu (hon. mention), OL Victor Curne (hon. mention), QB Dylan Morris (hon. mention), OL Luke Wattenberg (hon. mention)

Defense: DL Zion Tupuola-Fetui (1st), LB Edefuan Ulofoshio (2nd), DB Trent McDuffie (2nd)

Special teams: DB Kyler Gordon (hon. mention)

Washington defensive lineman Zion Tupuola-Fetui drags down Utah running back Zach Moss in 2019. The team hopes Tupuola-Fetui, who tore an Achilles tendon during spring football, might be able to return toward the end of the season.

FYI

How the pandemic affected the Huskies: COVID-19 was brutal for the entire Pac-12 last season, and Washington was no exception. The Cal and Oregon games were canceled, so the Huskies played only four games, and they couldn't play in the Pac-12 championship game or a bowl game due to outbreaks.

Huards and Huskies: Washington's 2021 recruiting class ranked 36th nationally and included one five-star prospect — Sam Huard, the third Huard to quarterback at Washington. He's the son of former NFL QB Damon Huard and the nephew of former Huskies QB Brock Huard, who played in the 1990s and at one time held the school record for career passing yards.

No limits: The Huskies will open their season Sept. 4 at home in Husky Stadium against Montana. They will be playing in front of fans for the first time since 2019. No restrictions on crowd size are planned. Last season, the Pac-12 did not allow fans at games.

2020 national stat rankings

Where Washington ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Huskies ranked in 2019.

Scoring: T-48th (2019 — 41st, -7 spots)

Scoring defense: 39th (15th, -24)

Total offense: 57th (79th, +22)

Total defense: 27th (35th, +8)

Passing: 67th (57th, -10)

Pass defense: 13th (56th, +43)

Rushing: 54th (84th, +30)

Rush defense: 59th (28th, -31)

Sacks: 45th (58th, +13)

Interceptions: 102nd (25th, -77)

Red zone offense: T-26th (19th, -7)

Red zone defense: T-37th (32nd, -5)

Turnover margin: T-3rd (T-19th, +16)

Time of possession: 26th (64th, +38)

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels have plenty of firepower to work with

No. 24 Washington: Huskies' Morris looks like the quarterback to run with — for now

Coming tomorrow

Our No. 23 team. Want a hint?

This school cracked the Associated Press Top 25 last year for the first time since the 1940s. It knocked off eventual Big 12 runner-up Iowa State, too.