Defending Pac-12 champs need to replace significant talent
SEATTLE (AP) — Washington coach Chris Petersen has been here before. The Huskies lose significant talent only to replenish the roster and continue what’s been an upward trend during his tenure.
This season will test whether the Huskies can do it again as they try to win consecutive conference titles.
Gone are four-year starting quarterback Jake Browning and his backfield mate Myles Gaskin, the school’s all-time leading rusher. Gone are four starters from the secondary — three selected in the NFL draft — and the national leader in tackles in linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven.
“We’ve been through this before, many times when you’re in college football,” Petersen said. “It’s cyclical in terms of you’ll have some young guys that play for you for a long time and then away they go. Sometimes it’s more sporadic. Sometimes we’ve had a handful of guys that played for us for a long time and they kind of go out. As a program, you kind of love that a little bit better if it’s spread out, but we have been through this before when some really marquee guys have moved on.”
Washington is optimistic about the depth Petersen has created. The Huskies return most of their offensive line. They have potential playmakers in the backfield and the secondary could end up being better than the group that just left.
They could also have Georgia transfer Jacob Eason under center at quarterback.
And with the exception of a trip to Stanford, the Huskies’ toughest conference games will be played on the shore of Lake Washington.
Other things to watch:
QB QUESTION: Browning’s eventual successor remains the biggest unknown for Washington. Eason is widely expected to win the job. He brings an NFL frame and arm to the Huskies after starting as a freshman at Georgia. When it was clear Eason didn’t have a future with the Bulldogs, the 6-foot-6 junior transferred and sat out last season.
But it’s likely Petersen will also give Jake Haener a look. Haener had brief appearances last season, but is shorter and doesn’t have the same big arm as Eason. The Huskies could give both snaps in the opener, but would likely want a starter beginning with Week 2 and a challenging conference opener against California.
NO MORE MYLES: Gaskin left Washington as the school’s all-time leader in yards rushing with 5,323 yards and 57 rushing touchdowns, and was one of two players in NCAA history with four years of 1,200 yards or more rushing.
While Gaskin won’t be easy to replace, the Huskies at least have options.
Salvon Ahmed saw plenty of time in the same backfield as Gaskin over the past two years and will be moving into a more prominent role. Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant also saw significant time. The trio combined for 1,048 yards rushing and 10 TDs in reserve roles last season.
SECONDARY CONCERN: Defensive backs Taylor Rapp, Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller all got drafted in April and Jojo McIntosh signed with an NFL team as a free agent soon after. The four helped make Washington’s secondary one of the best in the country.
There may not be much — if any — falloff this season.
Myles Bryant is the one returning starter and is likely to play safety. Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor are talented cornerbacks, with the nickel cornerback and other safety position the uncertainties.
LINE CHANGE: The Huskies offensive line could help make up for the inexperience in the backfield early in the season. Trey Adams, Luke Wattenberg, Nick Harris, Jaxson Kirkland and Jared Hilbers all have extensive experience as starters.
Adams, once one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the country, is coming off two straight injury-shortened seasons.
“I think we’re all really good buddies,” Adams said. “Off the field we hang out. I think that plays a big role in how you play on the field is if you’re comfortable and trust the guys.”
KICKING OFF: The Huskies open with FCS runner-up Eastern Washington and open conference play a week later against California, which beat the Huskies last season in Berkeley.
Washington also welcomes USC at the end of September but visits from Oregon, Utah and Washington State in October and November will likely decide whether Washington is again playing for a conference title in December.
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