This is the emptiest part of the offseason for college football fans.

Between February’s signing day and the beginning of spring practice in April, we are subjected to nearly two months of extended malaise. No position competitions. No post-practice news conferences. No games or scrimmages to draw our gaze.

But, to break through the boredom, let’s talk Husky football — and chili? — anyway.

Though the Mariners’ front-office blunders might steal the spotlight, here’s another edition of the UW football mailbag.

Why are there so few remaining seniors and juniors on the team? What were the major causes of the attrition in those classes? — Kevin Clark

I’ll begin by disputing one part of your premise. There are currently 25 UW scholarship players classified as juniors (or redshirt juniors), which is an exceedingly healthy figure. So no issue there.

On the other hand, just 13 scholarship Huskies are listed as seniors or graduate students — a year after Jimmy Lake’s team touted 11 total seniors. This is a concern, but far from inexplicable.

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To begin with, Washington’s 2016 and 2017 signing classes were both on the smaller side — with 17 signees in 2016 and 18 signees in 2017. And since Chris Petersen’s program didn’t dabble much in the transfer market, those numbers weren’t likely to even out over time.

Now, consider that in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 classes, 16 combined signees either transferred, left school, were dismissed or never enrolled — most notably 2016 linebacker Milo Eifler, 2017 quarterback Jake Haener and wide receiver Ty Jones, and 2018 quarterbacks Jacob Sirmon and Colson Yankoff and linebacker Ale Kaho.

On the other end of the spectrum, nine Huskies in the 2016 and 2017 classes left eligibility on the table to enter the NFL draft: cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Keith Taylor, safety Taylor Rapp, defensive tackles Levi Onwuzurike and Josiah Bronson, running back Salvon Ahmed, tight end Hunter Bryant, nickelback Elijah Molden and outside linebacker Joe Tryon.

But it doesn’t end there. Tight end Jacob Kizer and defensive back Isaiah Gilchrist, a pair of 2016 signees, opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 and it’s unclear whether they’ll rejoin the team this spring. Offensive lineman Cole Norgaard was forced to medically retire, while outside linebacker Jordan Lolohea — who technically signed in 2017 — went on a mission trip and did not arrive in Seattle until the 2020 season.

Put it all together, and you get a program with precious few scholarship seniors.

But some of this can also be attributed to the team’s official designations. UW signed 20 recruits in the 2018 class, and — since none played in more than four games as true freshmen — the 16 remaining on the roster are classified as redshirt juniors, not seniors.

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Which means, while Washington may look concerningly inexperienced this season, the view won’t be nearly so askew in 2022.

UW football signees who transferred or never enrolled in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 classes

2016: K Van Soderberg, QB Daniel Bridge-Gadd, OLB Amandre Williams, CB Kentrell Love, OLB Milo Eifler, WR Jordan Chin

2017: WR Ty Jones, S Brandon McKinney, OLB Ariel Ngata, QB Jake Haener, OLB Ali Gaye

2018: QB Colson Yankoff, QB Jacob Sirmon, WR Trey Lowe, OLB Mosiah Nasili-Kite, LB Ale Kaho

Whose number are we going to hear most next year? Sav’ell Smalls or Trent McDuffie? — Michael Hall

I’m going to really key in on the language here. If you’re asking which player will contribute more to his team in the 2021 season, McDuffie is the easy answer. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior corner started 15 of 17 possible games in his first two seasons — contributing 59 total tackles with four passes defensed, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a pair of interceptions. Opposite senior Keith Taylor, who could be a second-round draft pick this spring, McDuffie — a 2020 All-Pac-12 second-team selection — was consistently the best cornerback on the field.

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And, on the other side, Smalls — a redshirt freshman outside linebacker and former five-star recruit — could struggle to start with proven commodities Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Ryan Bowman and Laiatu Latu all returning in his room. The 6-3, 250-pound Seattle product — who registered seven tackles in four games last season — will likely earn a role, but injuries may influence his available opportunities.

Still, if you’re asking whose name (or number) announcers will say most often, a case can be made for Smalls. Because, as a shutdown corner, opposing quarterbacks would be wise to avoid McDuffie altogether — especially considering the lack of experience stationed on the other side. McDuffie could completely dominate without ever touching the ball — and, by extension, succeed in relative silence. And if Smalls comes through with a sack or tackle for loss, Husky fans are going to hear it.

But don’t forget that McDuffie will likely be featured as a punt returner as well, and proved capable of carving through coverage units at times last season. For that reason, and several others, he’s the overwhelming answer.  

What’s your favorite type of chili? — GB

Have you heard of Justin’s Famous Chili?

You haven’t?

That’s surprising.

It’s very, very famous.

In 2013, my roommates and I at the University of Missouri hosted a Super Bowl party, complete with more fatty foods than Guy Fieri could fit in a fleet of his trademark red convertibles. There were pizzas and chicken wings and chips and dips and cakes and cookies and maybe 20 gluttonous guests, consciously shortening their lives with each unconscionable crawl to the kitchen. There was an endless array of delectable delights.

Each made instantly irrelevant by the arrival of Justin’s Famous Chili (JFC).

Justin Brisson — my best friend since we met as freshmen on the seventh floor of Hatch Hall in Columbia, Missouri, in 2009 — cannot be considered a competent cook. He once put a batch of orange rolls — the cinnamon roll’s younger, less accomplished cousin — in the oven, forgot about them entirely and nearly burnt our townhouse to a tangy crisp. He has spent enough money at Taco Bell to feed a family of five for the rest of their lives.

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Which makes that magic chili all the more remarkable.

I don’t know what’s in it. I dare not ask. I can tell you it’s 1) red, 2) hot, and 3) good. The recipe calls for equal parts mystery and miracle.

Before the coronavirus trampled on our tradition this month, that friend group reconvened for the Super Bowl every single year — in Missouri, Iowa and multiple locations across Texas. For the 10-year anniversary in 2022, preliminary plans call for a trip to Mexico.  

And, like the event itself, JFC has stood the test of time. On the first Sunday in February, it has annually filled our bellies and hearts. Like Tom Brady, it has inexplicably, stubbornly persevered. It has proven, time and again, that perfection can come in a plastic bowl, topped with Fritos and a heaving helping of cheddar cheese.

So, yeah, that’s my favorite type of chili. It’s a meaty reminder of what actually matters.