Our ranking: No. 6 WASHINGTON
Coach: Chris Petersen (27-14 the entering fourth season; 119-26 overall)
2016 record: 12-2, 8-1 in Pac-12, finished first in North Division
Look back: The Washington program took a big step forward in Year 3 under Chris Petersen, with the Huskies entering the season ranked in the top 15 for the first time since 2002. The offense and the defense thrived and it wasn’t long before the team found itself ranked in the top five nationally for the first time in more than 16 years. Washington went on to win a piece of its first Pac-12 title since 2000 and its first outright conference championship since 1991. The Huskies qualifyied for a spot in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals, falling 24-7 to Alabama.
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 6
Key losses: WR John Ross, OL Jake Eldenkamp, OL Shane Brostek, DT Elijah Qualls, LB Psalm Wooching, S Budda Baker CB Kevin King, CB Sidney Jones, K Cameron Van Winkle
Top returnees: QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, WR Dante Pettis, OL Coleman Shelton, DT Greg Gaines, DE Connor O’Brien, LB Azeem Victor, LB Keishawn Bierria, CB Taylor Rapp, S Jojo McIntosh
Strengths: It was a record-setting performance for the offense in 2016, with the Huskies setting high marks for points (585), touchdowns (77) and touchdown passes (47). QB Jake Browning put together a career-best season, setting single-season school records for touchdown passes (43) and passer efficiency rating (167.5). His 3,430 yards were the second-most in school history and helped him earn Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors. The challenge for him will be avoiding a dropoff entering his third season as a starter.
Myles Gaskin rushed more than 1,000 yards last season. His return along with that of Lavon Coleman (852 yards) gives the Huskies one of the deepest tailback positions in the Pac-12.
Coleman Shelton is the centerpiece of the Huskies’ offensive line, a unit that allowed just 26 sacks.
Weaknesses: John Ross was one of the most dependable receivers in the country and his departure leaves senior Dante Pettis (822 yards) as the team’s primary option in 2017.
Safety Budda Baker was the heart of the Washington defense last season and replacing that kind of competitor will be crucial for the Huskies, especially for a secondary that was tops in the Pac-12 in passing defense.Outlook: Petersen knows a thing or two about establishing a winning culture after building Boise State into powerhouse program.
He rejects the suggestion this year’s team will defend the Pac-12 title, giving his current squad a clean slate.
“I don’t think you reload. That’s not our mentality at all,” Petersen said during Pac-12 media days. “We rebuild. That’s just the mindset. We’re not even kind of the same team we were last year. So that’s always our process. We start from ground zero. We take nothing for granted.”
The pieces are there for continued success if the Huskies can avoid injury.