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2012 College Football Season Preview: Washington Huskies
2011 Record: (7-6, 5-4 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian (19-19 at Washington)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Alamo Bowl: lost to Baylor 67-56
Big Name Opponents: 9/8 at LSU, 9/27 vs Stanford, 10/6 at Oregon, 10/13 vs USC
Must Win: 9/1 vs SDSU, 9/15 vs Portland St, 11/17 at Colorado, 11/23 at Washington St
Revenge: 10/27 vs Oregon St
Stat to Cheer: scored TDs on 80.77% of trips to red zone (1st in Pac-12, 2nd in Nation)
Stat to Fear: gave up 33 plays of 30 yards or more in 2011 (last in Pac-12, 109th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 7; Specialists: 0)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Sean Parker (91 tackles, 4 INT), CB Desmond Trufant (64 tackles, 2 INT), DE/OLB Josh Shirley (28 tackles, 8.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Keith Price (33 TD, 11 INT), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (41 rec, 6 TD), WR Kasen Williams (36 rec, 6 TD)
CFBZ: It was just 2008 that Washington posted a 0-12 record. Three seasons later, Steve Sarkisian has taken the Huskies to two straight bowl games. What do you see as the biggest reasons Sark has been successful so far in Washington?
Bob Condotta: The biggest thing he did immediately was restore discipline, structure and stability to the program --- the team had some talent during the Tyrone Willingham era but never played to the level of what it had. Sarkisian immediately was able to get more out of guys like Jake Locker, Donald Butler, Mason Foster, etc. And since then he has also upgraded recruiting so that the Huskies appear to now have a roster that, top to bottom, is getting closer to being able to compete game-in and game-out against everyone on its schedule. That remains the biggest challenge, though, going from the current state of respectability to true contender status.
CFBZ: Washington's defense was an issue last year. This year they have brought in Justin Wilcox and have retained just one defensive coach. What kind of changes have you seen so far this spring and off-season and what should we expect the Huskies to do differently this year?
Bob Condotta: The biggest schematic change is going to more 3-4 looks --- it's not a wholesale, every-down change, but they want to be able to go to it more when necessary, especially against the increasing number of spread offenses they see. The move to more 3-4 schemes also illustrates how Wilcox really wants to be more versatile on defense, being able to give a lot of different looks to opposing offenses --- notably, being able to play more one-on-one coverage in the secondary. But as much as any schematic change, what players also cited was a change in how the Huskies practice some of their fundamental stuff and simply get better at what they do.
CFBZ: The Huskies lose their leading rusher and top two receivers from last years squad. Who should step up to take their spot?
Bob Condotta: The obvious candidates to take over for Chris Polk at tailback are junior Jesse Callier and sophomore Bishop Sankey. Callier has more experience and has shown to be a good receiver while Sankey had a solid spring and may be just a little quicker. Deontae Cooper is a real wildcard as he has missed the last two seasons with knee injuries but if healthy could also factor in. I wouldn't expect any to become the sort of workhorse that Polk was. Instead, I think it will be more of a committee approach, with all getting their chances. At receiver, the two guys who stood out in the spring were sophomore Kasen Williams and senior James Johnson. Both played in more complimentary roles to Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar last year but will need to take on greater responsibility this year. Johnson has had some good moments throughout his career but has often battled nagging injuries. Williams came on strong late last season when he arrived as one of the most highly-touted freshmen in recent school history and needs to take the next step this season.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Bob Condotta: UW coach Steve Sarkisian says he feels like the Huskies are ready for a breakthrough and to get back to again competing for the Pac-12 title. My take is that the Huskies may still be a year away as they have what is still an overall young roster --- they could have no more than three seniors starting in 2012. UW also has a tough schedule, especially in the first half. So I think that while UW could be better in 2012 than it was in 2011, it might not necessarily have much of a better record. At the moment, I see 7-8 wins and another Alamo or Holiday bowl-type appearance.
Under Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies are a team on the rise. Last year they lost six games but the only game that they lost to an inferior opponent was the Oregon State game. They lost four games to teams that were in the top twelve at the time of the loss and the other loss was at USC.
The biggest thing holding Washington back last year was the defense. The Huskies finished 11th in the league in scoring defense and total defense. They also struggled to get off the field on third downs (opponents 49.16% conversion rate was the worst in the Pac-12) and as we noted in our "stat to fear" they had the penchant to give up the big play. If the Huskies can improve this year, it will probably rest on the shoulder of the defense. Sarkisian has brought in Justin Wilcox as defensive coordinator but he's also brought in Tosh Lupoi from Cal. Those are going to be great moves in the long run but how well they pay dividends in the short run could decide Washington's season.
Keith Price showed last year why he won the job over some guy named Montana. Price finished tied for third in the league with 33 TD tosses and as a first year starter he played just as well on the road as he did at home. The Huskies must replace workhorse Chris Polk but Price's experience should help the running backs ease into replacing him (well, at least until week two at LSU). Price loses his top two receiving targets but he's still got plenty of talent to catch the ball. I expect the Huskies to continue to be tough to stop on offense.
One key for this Huskies team is not to get down if they get off to a rough start. Why might they get off to a rough start? They play at LSU on September 8th and then they run the Pac-12 gauntlet as they face the trifecta of Stanford, Oregon and USC in back-to-back-to-back weeks from Sept 27th through Oct 13th. The Huskies could come out of their first six games with a record of just 2-4. The good news is that they have a very good chance of running the table after that USC game. They will have some tough match-ups against the likes of Cal, Wazzu and Utah but on paper they more than match-up with anybody on the tail end of their schedule.
Washington just missed our Top 25 as they received votes in our pre-season poll from two out of four voters. I agree with Bob that it's probably next year that Washington takes a big step forward but this is a team to watch out for in 2012 and they aren't a team that opponents will look forward to having on their schedule.
2012 Prediction: 8-4
Previous 2012 Previews:
Big 12: Kansas
Get more great college football analysis over at College Football Zealots.
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