The Pac-12 will officially play football this fall.
So … where do the Huskies go from here?
From an administration standpoint, it starts with securing and successfully operating Quidel’s daily rapid-results COVID-19 tests. Before UW can return to the practice field — which coach Jimmy Lake said will happen Tuesday — the program must ensure that its highly publicized testing apparatus is in place.
To that end, Oregon State associate athletic director Dr. Doug Aukerman said in a media webinar Thursday that “we’ve got the machines on our campuses and we’re undergoing the training process currently, and we’ll be doing troubleshooting and making sure we’re doing the tests correctly and accurately so we can trust the results when we do get them.” (A university spokesperson confirmed Friday that UW has received the machines and is undergoing training as well.)
Aukerman conceded, too, that “it’s not a simple, simple process. You have to get the readers and you have to get some formal training, and people who are going to be running the tests have to be signed off on and be clear to run the tests.”
But, assuming the testing procedure promptly falls into place, Lake also must solidify his recently shrinking roster. Two of the Huskies’ top defensive standouts — outside linebacker Joe Tryon and defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike — have already declared for the 2021 NFL draft, and it’s extremely unlikely either player will opt back into an abbreviated 2020 season.
But Lake also received more than one piece of promising news Thursday. After the Pac-12 announced its seven-game season, senior defensive back Elijah Molden — who led the Huskies in tackles (79), pass breakups (13), interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (3) last fall — unambiguously tweeted, “See y’all Nov. 6.” The return of Molden, a potential first-round pick who almost certainly would not have participated in a winter or spring season, is a somewhat unexpected shot in the arm for a defense that still touts more talent than the vast majority of its Pac-12 peers.
Now, considering the 2020 campaign will not count against any player’s eligibility, it’ll be interesting to see if any others choose to opt out — either to pursue a professional future, or simply to protect their health before resuming a college career the following fall.
And, in the next six weeks, those that do intend to play will also have to be ready to work. UW strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha may face the most unprecedented challenge of his career. His players, after all, just took a three-week break, then completed a seven-day quarantine before finally being allowed back in team facilities. Of course, it’s likely that many of them continued to work out and condition in their time away from campus. But the fact remains that these athletes have not participated in organized team workouts at UW for four weeks, at least.
And six weeks from Saturday, they’ll open their season against a Pac-12 opponent.
In his radio show on 950 AM KJR this week, Lake repeated multiple times that his players are in shape.
But, one way or the other, they’ll soon have to prove it.
And they’ll have to prove they understand first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan’s pro-style scheme, too. Lake said in the aforementioned radio show that “John Donovan and our offensive staff have done a fantastic job of going through every situational football (scenario) that we could go through. We used our time wisely. I’ll just tell everybody that. We had a lot of time to put in the plays we knew we were going to put in, but then really dive deep into what we’re going to do in certain tough situations and what play calls we’re going to use as we go throughout the season and really keep defenses on their heels.”
This extended break, in essence, afforded Donovan an opportunity to install his full offense and verbiage in detail. But the only way to truly digest that scheme is to do it on the field. Now, the Huskies will have two weeks of walk-throughs and four weeks of padded practices to perfect the plays they’ve been communicating on Zoom calls for months.
That, and run a long-awaited quarterback competition.
Starting next week, four signal callers — graduate student Kevin Thomson, redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and true freshman Ethan Garbers — will compete to lead the Huskies in a seven-game sprint.
“We obviously have some young quarterbacks under center. But guess what? We have some talented guys under center,” Lake said on his radio show. “Those guys need to get out here and get some practice, which we’ve done. But now we need to get the pajamas off, get some pads on, get a helmet on. They need some blitzers coming at them. They need to be able to read the coverages and dink and dunk out of the way and fire the ball, and that’s what we’re excited to see in the next five-and-a-half to six weeks — who’s going to develop and who’s going to be leading the University of Washington out of that tunnel for the first game.”
But when they exit said tunnel, who’s going to be standing on the opposite sideline? Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday that a finalized fall football schedule will be clarified “certainly by next week.” We know that UW will encounter all five of its divisional opponents — Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and Cal — this fall, while also meeting two cross-divisional foes. (The second cross-divisional game will be the result of seeding on the final weekend of the season.)
If UW’s original 2020 fall football schedule — remember, the one with Michigan? — is any indicator, the Huskies will host Stanford, Oregon State and a cross-divisional opponent, while traveling to play Oregon, Cal and WSU on the road. That original schedule also included home games against Pac-12 South members Arizona and Colorado, which could make either the most likely candidate to inhabit Husky Stadium this fall.
Regardless, the selective cross-divisional schedule is bound to inspire some consternation conference-wide. Considering the cross-divisional game does count toward the Pac-12 standings, a UW matchup against Colorado or Arizona would appear more favorable than, say, USC or Utah.
The fact is, some Pac-12 schedules will be easier than others.
And if we’ve learned one thing from 2020, it’s that life isn’t fair.