In the most uncertain offseason in college football history, the questions never stop.
Which is why we have a mailbag.
Let’s dive into another round of questions from Washington fans.
Question: What current Huskies (players/staff) are our strongest recruiters for the 2021 and 2022 cycles? — Ben Smith
Answer: Because this is my mailbag and I make the rules, I’m going to interpret this as asking which UW staff members are the program’s top recruiters. I’d argue there are three viable candidates: wide-receivers coach Junior Adams, offensive-line coach Scott Huff and co-defensive coordinator and defensive-line coach Ikaika Malloe.
Adams, entering his second season at UW, helped land four-star wideout Puka Nacua almost immediately after arriving and signed three more touted wide receivers — Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze and Sawyer Racanelli — in the 2020 class. He has yet to receive a 2021 verbal commit, but UW’s top wide-receiver targets — namely five-star prospects Emeka Egbuka and Troy Franklin and four-star recruits Jabez Tinae, Junior Alexander and Xavier Worthy — remain available. If Adams can entice two of those five to sign with UW, that should be considered another significant haul.
As for Huff, the former Boise State assistant made big recruiting waves in 2020 — signing five offensive linemen in Myles Murao, Roger Rosengarten, Geirean Hatchett, Gaard Memmelaar and Samuel Peacock. That could someday be considered one of the premier offensive-line classes in school history. His only commit in 2021 is three-star Soquel, California, offensive tackle Robert Wyrsch, so there’s work still to be done. The top priority will be four-star O’Dea offensive guard Owen Prentice.
Malloe has made the most noise of any UW assistant in the current class, earning verbal commitments from a pair of high-three-star defensive-line standouts in Kuao Peihopa and Voi Tunuufi. The Huskies might take only one more interior defensive lineman, and if Malloe has his way it’ll be five-star Eastside Catholic standout J.T. Tuimoloau — the top overall player in the 2021 class.
Of course, in previous seasons, Jimmy Lake would be an obvious addition to this list. But the former UW defensive coordinator and defensive-backs coach now must prove he can seal the deal as the Huskies’ head coach. As for the players, if UW signs a strong in-state haul in 2021, a pair of five-star Huskies in outside linebacker Sav’ell Smalls and quarterback Sam Huard will deserve some credit for leading the charge.
Q: What recruiting advantages can UW leverage amid the COVID-19 restrictions? — Ben Smith
A: When you consider the importance of campus visits in UW’s recruiting pitch, I’m not sure there are many advantages to leverage amid an ongoing recruiting dead period.
“It’s kind of hard right now to move the needle with some of these kids,” Huff said in April, “because it is a phenomenal day in Seattle right now, and I couldn’t think of anything better than being out there in Husky Stadium, having a practice with some kids on unofficial visits watching the bald eagles fly over and dive-bomb fish out of Lake Washington. You move the needle that way, watching me coach and connecting that way. So we’re not having some of that.
“So it’s tough to move the needle with some of these guys having a phone conversation. You’re like a car salesman, just talking, and that’s not our approach anyways. We’re staying connected, but it’s hard to move the needle.”
His point, I think, is that it’s hard to move the needle. Without the aid of campus visits or a spring evaluation period, UW must continue to connect with recruits and promote the strengths of its program — the academic piece, the Built For Life program, the recent on-field and NFL draft success, etc.
And, ever the optimist, Lake was certainly willing to look on the bright side last spring.
“What I really love in our situation right now for the University of Washington, is these prospects have to do a lot of research now online of what places they want to attend,” he said. “When they start looking up the University of Washington, they’re going to see, ‘Oh wow, this is the No. 10-ranked academic school in the country. Wow, they have the best attendance of anybody out west. Wow, they’ve won two Pac-12 championships in the last four years. Wow, this team has more NFL draft picks than anybody in the Pac-12 in the last seven years. This team has more NFL combine invites than anybody in the Pac-12.’
“When they start doing all that research on their own and not getting caught up in some of the hype of recruiting and it’s just the facts, I think that’s really going to help out the University of Washington.”
It hasn’t helped much yet, as UW’s 2021 class — which contains seven verbal commits — is ranked No. 55 nationally and No. 4 in the Pac-12 by 247Sports. But we’ll see if that changes.
Q: With QB being a concern due to lack of playing and now practice experience, who will the starter likely be? — Dan Hill
A: I’ll tell you who it’s not going to be: J.T. Daniels. The former USC quarterback, who this reporter once wrote should be pursued as a transfer by UW, announced Thursday that he’s headed to Georgia.
As for the existing options — redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and true freshman Ethan Garbers — none has started a game on the college level. Sirmon completed 2 of 3 passes for 19 yards in five mop-up appearances last fall.
Still, considering the debilitating loss of spring practice, I’d guess that experience on a college campus, around these receivers and in that stadium, will have to count for something. Granted, all three need to digest new offensive coordinator John Donovan’s scheme, and fall camp — whatever that looks like — will feature a thorough and all-encompassing quarterback competition.
I’m not sure any of the three has much of an edge as it stands today. But my bet would be on Sirmon.
(Now check again next week, and it’ll almost certainly change.)
Q: Will there be a season this year? — Jon W
A: The short answer is I don’t know. No one knows, and anyone who says they do is lying.
But there has certainly been a swell of optimism in the past several weeks. The NCAA ruled that teams can begin voluntary activities June 1, and the Pac-12 added that its programs can follow suit starting June 15. When asked on the Paul Finebaum show about the possibility that some Pac-12 programs might not be allowed to play this fall, Commissioner Larry Scott said that “at this stage, I don’t have that concern.” Programs across the country are planning to play their full scheduled seasons — albeit with fewer fans in attendance.
Of course, all of this could change tomorrow, or next week, or next month. A second wave of COVID-19 could swallow college football altogether. All we have now are educated guesses.
And, if I had to guess on May 29, I’d say that the Washington Huskies will host Michigan inside an empty Husky Stadium on Sept. 5.