Washington will sign nearly two-dozen 2020 recruits next week, then play Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl two days later.
But this week, we’re on our own.
To tide you over, enjoy another edition of The Times’ UW football mailbag.
I’ll let Chris Petersen answer this question.
“I have no doubt that this program is going to continue to grow (under Lake),” Petersen said at a press conference last week. “It’s going to take the next step, and we’ll be back to winning Pac-12 championships.
“Sorry, Jimmy. That’s (on) these guys to put that pressure on you,” he joked, motioning to the media. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
Woahhhhh now, Chris. Hold on. The media can be accused of plenty, but this? The media didn’t win a pair of Pac-12 championships in the last six seasons, reaching three New Year’s Six bowls and a College Football Playoff appearance in the process. The media didn’t sign back-to-back-to-back top-25 recruiting classes, with a fourth on the way. The media didn’t set these expectations; they’re a positive byproduct of the program’s recent success.
And, besides, here’s what Petersen said eight days earlier, when asked what fair expectations are for a UW football season:
“We should compete for the Pac-12 championship. That’s the goal, and that’s what we should be able to do.”
So there you have it. Washington is undeniably talented enough to compete for a Pac-12 title in 2020. The Huskies could return as many as nine defensive starters. Their offense should reasonably improve with Lake’s promised schematic/philosophical shifts … especially if quarterback Jacob Eason hypothetically returns. UW’s five losses came by an average of 5.2 points, which means the Huskies were a few plays in each game from effectively flipping the script.
No, it won’t be easy. Washington hosts Michigan in its season opener and will later play at Cal, Oregon, USC and Utah. If Eason doesn’t return, the Huskies will have to break in an inexperienced starting quarterback … while also replacing three starters on the offensive line. They will not be a sexy preseason pick.
But, if you want to be a nationally relevant program, the expectations need to be high. Every offseason. Every season. Regardless of coaching changes. Will I pick UW to win 10 games in 2020? Probably not.
But inside the program, at least, that should be the goal and expectation.
Because Chris Petersen said so.
That’s the question. And for now, there isn’t a satisfying answer. Petersen said in a press conference on Sunday that “those are going to be conversations for coach Lake and him. I’ve had a conversation and all that. But all that stuff’s between Jacob and his family and really coach Lake and those guys.”
Petersen also said pretty unequivocally that Eason will play in the Las Vegas Bowl, unlike left tackle Trey Adams and tight end Hunter Bryant — both of whom are refraining to preserve their NFL Draft stock. That could be interpreted as a positive sign for UW; after all, if Eason were already set on leaving, he might also sit out to avoid an unnecessary injury. But, coming off a relatively underwhelming season, Eason could also see a positive bowl performance as a way to further impress NFL scouts and executives.
But, in the end, I’m not sure Petersen’s presence is the most important factor here. A number of NFL draftniks and analysts have posited that Eason should return to school … if he has faith that he’ll continue to grow and develop with the Huskies’ coaching staff and offensive system. That’s a big, fat, problematic “if.” Does Eason feel offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan can help improve his game in the necessary areas? If Lake names a new coordinator and tweaks UW’s offensive scheme, will Eason feel he fits that vision and can prosper with different personnel? Does he feel capable of producing a breakout season with three new offensive line starters and a host of relatively unproven receivers?
Yeah, so those are all questions, and I don’t have answers. And publicly, at least, neither does Lake. UW’s soon-to-be head coach said last week that “we’ve already had some conversations. I’m very familiar with these conversations, because I’ve had them with Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Taylor Rapp — all these guys that had the option to either stay or go. With all these guys, if it makes sense to go, then it makes sense to go.”
When pushed further on whether Eason will stay or go, Lake grinned and said, “We’ll see. We will see.”
As for Garbers, UW’s four-star 2020 quarterback commit remains committed to the program, but it’s unclear whether he’ll sign early with the Huskies on Dec. 18. It’s entirely possible that Garbers will wait until February and see how Lake eventually addresses the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach positions, as well as Washington’s currently cloudy offensive scheme. When asked by The Times to discuss his status, Garbers declined to comment.
The good news, for UW, is that at this point in the process, nearly every major program has filled its needs at the quarterback position. The current recruiting culture places a particular importance on quarterbacks committing early in the process, then serving as a secondary recruiter that staffs can built their class around. Of the top 50 quarterbacks in the 2020 class, according to the 247Sports Composite, 45 are currently verbally committed. So it’s unlikely that a stream of suitors of UW’s caliber would line up to potentially poach Garbers in February. The most overwhelmingly likely scenario is that Garbers will be a Dawg … sooner or later.
And, in many ways, Lake and Co. need him to be. Should Eason declare for the NFL Draft, UW would have just two other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster — redshirt freshman Jacob Sirmon and true freshman Dylan Morris. The Huskies are relatively vulnerable under center, given the transfers of Jake Haener and Colson Yankoff last offseason.
Heck, if Garbers signs, there’s a chance — but don’t you dare say I’m predicting it — that he could be Washington’s starting quarterback against Michigan on Sept. 5.
If Garbers signs.
Washington currently has 21 verbal commits, and it’s likely all 21 will sign with the Huskies at some point. The Huskies’ remaining 2020 targets include defensive linemen Xavier Carlton and Lance Kenely, tight end Jack Yary, cornerback (and former UW commit) Jacobe Covington and outside linebacker Van Fillinger.
If put on the spot — and since I choose the questions, I suppose I’m putting myself on the spot — I’ll say that Covington signs with UW next week, while the Huskies scoop up Yary in February. There’s also an outside chance they convince Carlton — a 6-foot-7, 262-pound four-star defensive lineman — to pass on his in-state Utah Utes, should the Huskies impress during his official visit this weekend.
But I’ll have more on all of that later in the week.
I actually have the answer to this question, but have been informed by my employer that I can only divulge it once The Times reaches one million digital subscriptions. So, tell your friends.