UW coach Chris Petersen, mind you, would be impatient with this conjecture, just as he was so dismissive last year of the burgeoning hype surrounding UW that he felt was as yet unearned.
They are coming off a Pac-12 title, an appearance in the College Football Playoff, and a No. 4 finish in the final poll. They are sprinkled with decorated and experienced starters on both sides of the ball.
But could a Washington football team of growing acclaim, of increasing accomplishment, of boundless potential, actually be underrated?
That one could even contemplate a program ranked No. 8 by The Associated Press and No. 7 by the coaches in preseason polls to be in any fashion dissed or downplayed is a testament to the vast progress the Huskies have made in just three seasons under Chris Petersen.
Petersen, mind you, would be impatient with this conjecture, just as he was so dismissive last year of the burgeoning hype surrounding UW that he felt was as yet unearned. While he’s not a summa cum laude graduate of the Nick Saban School of Prediction Belittling, he could be proctoring a course or two.
Petersen’s mantra is that his teams don’t reload each year, they rebuild. Each season is a tabula rasa in which the accomplishments of the past have been totally erased. The dynamics are so different from one season to the next, he feels, that all accolades have to be re-earned.
“We don’t pick up where we left off,’’ he said. “We start over with everything we do.”
But the Huskies are starting off with such a bounty of returning talent — at all the right places — that it’s hard to fathom how they aren’t getting just a little more national love. Mind you, this isn’t a Rodney Dangerfield story. The Huskies are getting plenty of respect. But perhaps just not commensurate with their credentials.
It’s hard to imagine many playoff teams from the previous year, returning a third-year quarterback who was the conference’s offensive Player of the Year and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting, would actually drop in the rankings. That’s just not the way it usually works.
Throw in two running backs who combined for more than 2,000 yards, a returning receiver who caught 15 touchdown passes (and added two more on punt returns), an offensive line featuring three returning starters, one of whom is regarded as a first-round NFL prospect, two stalwarts on the defensive line, two of the Pac-12’s best linebackers, and the Pac-12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year at safety, and you’d expect the Huskies to be at the forefront of the national championship discussion. But they have been more afterthoughts than central figures.
It’s not too hard to figure out what’s going on, actually, and it goes beyond our built-in anonymity as a lonely outpost in the upper-left corner of the country. You can point to the significant losses the Huskies absorbed — from speedster John Ross III to a trio of defensive backs selected high in the NFL draft. But all college programs deal with losses, and the Huskies have developed enough of a talent pipeline that they are as well-equipped as anyone to compensate for that.
More significantly, they have been, at least temporarily, overshadowed by college football’s newest “it” team, USC, which is actually not new in that role at all. USC is just oozing brand recognition, and they happen to be led by a charismatic quarterback, Sam Darnold, who has the size, the big arm, the good looks, and the beach-boy persona to captivate people. It’s not hard to understand the fascination with USC, whom the Huskies skip in the regular season but could meet in the Pac-12 title game.
Darnold also happened to outplay Jake Browning when they met last year in a high-profile game that USC won 26-13. That game, and a decisive 24-7 defeat against Alabama in the Peach Bowl (when Browning was suffering an as-yet undisclosed shoulder injury that required offseason surgery) are no doubt coloring people’s perceptions of the Huskies.
It also must be mentioned that Browning and Petersen, the two primary faces of UW football, aren’t exactly evangelizing on behalf of the Husky brand. Both prefer the low-profile approach to their jobs, staying as far out of the spotlight as is practical, and it has worked exceedingly well for them. But it’s not an approach designed to whip the masses into a frenzy of excitement.
Which, of course, bothers Petersen not one iota. In many ways, seventh or eighth is a perfect ranking for the coach. It stamps the Huskies as a national power, but removes the onus — and pressure — of being a championship favorite. In that regard, it takes the heat off their back and puts the chip on their shoulder, but does so from a jumping-off point that allows them ample opportunity to rise back into a playoff spot.
Yes, if you planted this identical Husky roster in, say, Los Angeles or Austin, they would almost certainly garner buzz as a top-three team. But the beauty is that it will all ultimately be determined on the field. I foresee a squad talented enough to get back into the championship picture. And then the Huskies can start all over next year.
|Top 25 rankings|
|The Huskies are No. 8 in the AP poll to begin the season.|
|1 Alabama||0-0||vs. No. 3 Florida State at Atlanta, Saturday|
|2 Ohio State||0-0||at Indiana, Thursday|
|3 Florida State||0-0||vs. No. 1 Alabama at Atlanta, Saturday|
|4 USC||0-0||vs. Western Michigan, Saturday|
|5 Clemson||0-0||vs. Kent State, Saturday|
|6 Penn State||0-0||vs. Akron, Saturday|
|7 Oklahoma||0-0||vs. UTEP, Saturday|
|8 Washington||0-0||at Rutgers, Friday|
|9 Wisconsin||0-0||vs. Utah State, Friday|
|10 Oklahoma State||0-0||vs. Tulsa, Thursday|
|11 Michigan||0-0||vs. No. 17 Florida at Arlington, Texas, Saturday|
|12 Auburn||0-0||vs. Georgia Southern, Saturday|
|13 LSU||0-0||vs. Brigham Young at Houston, Saturday|
|14 Stanford||1-0||at No. 4 USC, Sept. 9|
|15 Georgia||0-0||vs. Appalachian State, Saturday|
|16 Louisville||0-0||vs. Purdue at Indianapolis, Saturday|
|17 Florida||0-0||vs. No. 11 Michigan at Arlington, Texas, Saturday|
|18 Miami||0-0||vs. Bethune-Cookman, Saturday|
|19 South Florida||1-0||vs. Stony Brook, Saturday|
|20 Kansas State||0-0||vs. Central Arkansas, Saturday|
|21 Virginia Tech||0-0||vs. No. 22 West Virginia at Landover, Md., Sunday|
|22 West Virginia||0-0||vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech at Landover, Md., Sunday|
|23 Texas||0-0||vs. Maryland, Saturday|
|24 Washington State||0-0||vs. Montana State, Saturday|
|25 Tennessee||0-0||at Georgia Tech, Monday|