There’s a reason the Huskies are 14th in the Associated Press preseason poll and 18th in the coaches preseason poll. The reason is: They’re good. Potentially very good. Sorry, Coach, but I’m going to join the chorus that sees prosperity ahead for the Huskies.
You know the annual whine of most every college football team: We don’t get enough respect.
Well, the Washington Huskies have turned that one on its ear. Their unorthodox complaint heading into the 2016 season is that they’re getting TOO much respect. Too many accolades, too much positive press, rankings that are too high and projections that are too optimistic.
It may not be a Dangerfield situation on Montlake, but to coach Chris Petersen, it’s a field of danger. He likes to point out that they haven’t played one single game since they finished last season with a 7-6 record. So why the unfettered love? The way he sees it, it’s all a big, vicious trap to lure his players into a false sense of entitlement – one that he’s made it his mission to circumvent.
It’s important to note that Petersen doesn’t believe the Huskies are incapable of greatness. He just frets that it is being bestowed upon them prematurely. Petersen’s mantra, dutifully picked up by everyone in the program: We haven’t done anything.
But they will. Because there’s a reason the Huskies are 14th in the Associated Press preseason poll, and 18th in the coaches preseason poll, and seventh in the Sports Illustrated preseason poll, and 11th in the Athlon offseason poll, and dubbed a “darkhorse contender” for the College Football Playoff by Pro Football Focus.
The reason is: They’re good. Potentially very good. Sorry, Coach, but I’m going to join the chorus that sees prosperity ahead for the Huskies. As with the sainted Don James, to whom Petersen has been favorably compared, the third year on the job will be his breakout campaign. And not just because the pundits have deemed it so.
Yeah, there’s a bandwagon effect at play. You see it every year, with a different team that’s anointed as the trendy pick to emerge from the pack. Everyone wants to be the first to spot budding greatness — and no one wants to be the one that missed it in plain sight.
But the rampant Husky love comes from a solid foundation. For starters, they have an experienced and improving quarterback in sophomore Jake Browning, who may not wow you with raw tools like Jake Locker, but is smart, accurate and, it would seem from his 44-2 record as a three-year starter in high school, possesses a knack for winning. Pro Football Focus added to Washington’s respect overdose by naming him their No. 1 breakout candidate at quarterback.
Sophomore running back Myles Gaskin broke out last year with 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns, records for a UW true freshman. He’ll be running behind a line that has a few question marks but the potential to be one of their best in a while.
Having a solid QB and star running back is going to automatically get a team some notice, whether they like it or not. Even if the receiving corps is slightly less dynamic, a unit the Huskies hope is bolstered by the return of speed burner John Ross III.
But it is Washington’s defense that is rightly fueling the hype. The Huskies have seven starters back from the unit that was the best in the Pac-12 last year, including bona fide stars Budda Baker at safety, Sidney Jones at cornerback, and Azeem Victor at linebacker.
“You know what? We can be as good as we want to be,” Victor said. “It starts with us believing in each other. We already play as one. Really, we can be as great as we want to be. We have to go out and do it. We have to show everybody we are the best defense. Really, that’s it.”
It’s hard to see many glaring holes in a Husky D that allowed just 18.8 points and 351.8 yards per game in 2015 and oozes depth and experience in 2016.
Petersen’s tone-down attempts will help, too, because his inclination is absolutely correct. The only way for the Huskies to reach the heights of which they are capable is to not view their ascension as a fait accompli. Their success will be fueled by hunger and desire, not by self-satisfaction and gloating.
“We have this rule here, that’s don’t believe the hype,” Victor said. “We have to make that hype. We have to go out there and we have to do it. We never really listen to outside noise. We have our goals in mind and we know what we want to accomplish. So we never really pay any attention to any of that.”
For Washington, the outside noise is deafening this year. Not even Petersen’s metaphorical earplugs can drown it out. But the Huskies are good enough, and wise enough, to have the last roar.