We’re less than 10 days out from the Washington Huskies’ 2019 season opener against Eastern Washington, and Chris Petersen has yet to name a starting quarterback (UPDATE: Jacob Eason appears to have prevailed, sources told the Times late Thursday).
So, yeah, you’ve got questions. Of course you’ve got questions.
We’ll try our best to provide some answers.
Without further ado, enjoy another edition of the UW Huskies mailbag.
I hope you’re all wearing old clothes, because it’s time to take a deep breath, pop our cell phones into waterproof plastic bags and swim backstroke through the sewers of college football recruiting. Ready? We’re diving in, in 3 … 2 … 1.
Let’s say Washington decides it has enough room to take four scholarship defensive backs in the 2020 class, and it offers eight recruits. Those recruits are ranked by talent, potential, fit, etc. There are some players that the coaching staff decides it absolutely must take, should they choose to commit, no matter the circumstances. If four DBs have already committed to UW, but the Huskies’ top target in the class decides in December that he wants to jump on board, then guess what? Washington will make room. The coaches will take one fewer wide receiver, or tight end, or outside linebacker, or whatever. These kids are classified as “must-takes.”
Now, let’s consider what happened in the last week. With three-star cornerback James Smith already committed, three more defensive backs — Jacobe Covington, Makell Esteen and Elijah Jackson — boarded the boat in a four-day span. That left four-star Eastside Catholic DB Ayden Hector — who, to be clear, is also considering USC, Stanford and many others, and was no guarantee to eventually commit to the hometown Huskies — likely out of luck.
If Washington valued Hector highly enough and decided he was a clearly superior prospect to Jackson, who officially committed on Monday, the coaches could have told Jackson that they were not ready to accept his commitment until Hector made a decision. This is called a “non-committable offer.” That clearly wasn’t the case.
(It’s worth noting here that UW offers fewer players than just about any team in the country, so the percentage of “committable offers” is very high. According to 247Sports, Oregon has offered 299 recruits in the 2020 class, while Washington has offered 70. You read that right.)
Of course, if Hector is declared a must-take and he wants to commit later in the process, the coaches will find a way to take him (but, swimming metaphor aside, don’t hold your breath).
So, when there are eight offers and four spots available, saying it’s “first come, first served” is likely oversimplifying the process. Very little in college football recruiting can or should be classified as “simple.”
At least the next question won’t be overly complicated though, right?
This one’s difficult to decisively answer, because Washington has 12 scholarship wide receivers and any of them — except, probably, for true freshman Taj Davis — could realistically contribute this fall. We know that the upperclassmen — specifically, Aaron Fuller, Chico McClatcher, Andre Baccellia, Ty Jones and Quinten Pounds — have earned opportunities. But with limited targets to go around, who else is likely to make a legitimate impact?
Petersen specifically named former four-star prospect Puka Nacua as one of three freshmen (besides likely starting safety Cam Williams) who has impressed in August, so there’s reason to believe he’ll stiff-arm the dreaded redshirt. Of the three highly touted redshirt freshmen, Austin Osborne has consistently produced throughout the spring and early in fall camp and could provide a reliable target for Eason or Haener. Trey Lowe — all 5-foot-8 and 182 pounds of him — has also had his moments, but it’s unclear how much he’ll play in the slot if McClatcher returns to his sophomore form (or if the offense continues to lean heavily on multiple tight ends).
Spiker is somewhat of an anomaly. At 6-3, 193, the former Murrieta Valley High School standout entered UW as a four-star prospect and the No. 80 overall recruit in the 2018 class, per 247Sports. But he didn’t play a down last season and hasn’t stood out — at least, during practices open to the media — in August. Can first-year wide receivers coach Junior Adams extract the obvious potential from a guy who broke the California high school state record for career receiving touchdowns, with 72?
Time will tell. But the clock is certainly ticking.
OK, time to write something I can’t take back.
First, to get the obvious out of the way, I’ll say Washington goes 11-2 (excluding the realistic possibility of a conference championship game, because I’m not about to predict the entire Pac-12) in 2019. Here’s the way I see it breaking down.
UW is 19-1 inside Husky Stadium in the last three seasons, and that advantage should pay obvious dividends this fall. The Huskies have the good fortune of hosting Oregon, Utah, USC, Washington State and Cal. It’ll be more complicated than this, sure, but for the sake of this exercise: chalk ’em up as wins.
But where has Washington struggled in recent seasons? Answer: Palo Alto. The Huskies have not won at Stanford since 2007. In their five consecutive defeats, they’ve lost by an average score of 38-20. And the Cardinal — ranked by the Associated Press as the No. 25 team in the country entering the season — have at least tied for first in the Pac-12 North every odd year of the David Shaw era. Forget the fact that senior K.J. Costello may actually be the most underrated quarterback in the conference.
If you’re into weird, possibly irrelevant trends, this is an odd year.
But where will the other loss come from? I don’t know, and that’s actually the point. The Huskies lost a road game they had no business losing both in 2017 (Arizona State) and 2018 (Cal). With a somewhat inexperienced and unproven defense and set of offensive skill players, I’ll say that happens again this season — either at BYU (Sept. 21), Arizona (Oct. 12) or Colorado (Nov. 23).
It’s not pleasant to bring this back up, but Washington has dropped three consecutive major bowl games — the 2016-17 Peach Bowl to Alabama, the 2017-18 Fiesta Bowl to Penn State and the 2018-19 Rose Bowl to Ohio State. But this team, with competent coaching, should improve as the season goes on (especially if it stays healthy). The new defensive starters should find their footing, and the quarterback — whoever he is — should find a rhythm along the way.
Sure, it won’t be in the College Football Playoff. But when it comes to winning a New Year’s bowl game, I’ll say the Huskies finally break through.
UPDATE: Jacob Eason appears to have prevailed, sources told the Times late Thursday.
Why do I do this to myself? Why do I write these mailbags? Why do I choose questions without clear, concise answers?
Oh, sorry. Forgot I’m supposed to be answering questions, not asking them. Onward.
When asked about the timeline for giving a quarterback the starter’s share of reps in practice, Petersen said that “we’re going to play this thing through this week and see where we are and figure it out from there.”
So it appears a starter will not be named the next time Petersen meets the media this week, on Friday. It’s entirely possible he bypasses an announcement altogether and simply lets everybody see for themselves when the UW offense trots out against Eastern Washington next Saturday.
When that happens, I still expect the starting quarterback to be Jacob Eason. He was the more consistent quarterback during the practices the media was allowed to view early in August, and he made fewer mistakes. From what we’ve heard, he has been the best option in the practices since as well. But at this point, rumors are running rampant. If sophomore Jake Haener landed the starting job, it wouldn’t truly surprise me — and it shouldn’t surprise you. Whether fans want to accept it or not, this quarterback competition was exactly that; it wasn’t a pointless, expertly orchestrated smokescreen.
But is there a third option? Could Washington actually split snaps between Eason and Haener this season?
Probably not. But Petersen did say that “we’ll set the deck as we go into it, so everybody knows what the playing rules are. If there’s one guy, there’s one guy. If there’s three guys, there’s three guys. We’ll say, ‘You’re playing this, and you’re playing that.’ We’ll make sure we take care of that.”
He could have left zero room for over-analysis. He could have said, “We’re not playing multiple quarterbacks,” and instantly squashed the needless speculation. He didn’t do that.
Do I think two quarterbacks will play against Eastern Washington? No (unless the score is out of hand).
Do I know two quarterbacks won’t play against Eastern Washington? No.
But, I’ll say it again: I think Eason will be the starter.