Head Coach: Tyrone Willingham 7-16@UW (72-67-1 overall)
2006 Record: 5-7 (3-6 Pac-10
2006 vs. Oregon: 34-14 Ducks at Autzen
2007 vs. Oregon: 10/20 in Seattle
6 offensive, 6 defensive
9/8 Boise State
9/15 Ohio State
10/13 @ Arizona State
11/3 @ Stanford
11/10 @ Oregon State
11/24 Washington State
12/1 @ Hawaii
I want to feel bad for the Huskies. I really do. I want to sympathize with, what five years ago, was one of the country's great programs. And that four straight years of terrible seasons is enough suffering for awhile. But the truth is that I don't feel bad. The Washington Huskies can revel in fifty more years of this misery, and I would cherish every moment of it. Watching this program fade into irrelevance has been one of the great joys of my sporting fandom. Fortunately, it doesn't look like the Huskies have much hope for this year, either.
It almost wasn't this way. There was hope last year. After six games, the Huskies stood at 4-2, two wins away from their first bowl game in four years. Their two losses were by a combined nine points on the road to powerhouses Oklahoma and USC. But it was all a guise. The Huskies were a one trick pony. And quarterback Isaiah Stanback was playing as well as anybody in the country when he broke his ankle. After that, the bottom completely fell out, as Washington even lost to lowly Stanford. Only when Washington State Coug'd it in the Apple Cup were the Huskies able to come away from the season with any sort of pride.
It appears that Tyrone Willingham is on the hot seat this season. And the Huskies really should be a better team than they were last season. Unfortunately, that does not mean that they will have a better record than last season. Washington has arguably the toughest schedule in the country. They open at Syracuse, then play non-conference games at Hawaii and at home against Ohio State and Boise State. There is not a more difficult non-conference schedule in the country. In fact, the Huskies could be significantly better than last season and win but a few games. A freshman quarterback and suspect defense does not help matters.
Although senior Carl Bonnell started the majority of games after Stanback's injury last season, the future of the Huskies rests with highly acclaimed freshman Jake Locker. Locker was one of the most sought after quarterbacks two seasons ago. He has great size at 6'3", 210 lbs. He's also mobile enough at that size that he is a threat to take off if he feels pressure. He throws a great deep ball, and only mild accuracy issues are of any concern, though its rumored that those are easily fixable. Locker has all the physical tools to be a great quarterback, the key with him will be how he handles the spotlight as a freshman, especially with so many big teams on the schedule. Bonnell will serve as Locker's backup. Although he started five games last season, he did so with very little success.
Washington finished 69th in the nation in rushing offense last year, and it would take a lot of pressure off Locker if they could do better this year. Last year's starter, Kenny James, graduated, but the leading rusher, Louis Rankin, returns. Rankin has experience and speed, but the question will be if he can handle the grind physically of being the man. He won't get the luxury of splitting time this year, as he's the only back with any experience on the roster. Backing him up will probably be J.R. Hasty. Hasty was the crown jewel of Ty Willingham's first recruiting class, but eligibility issues have kept him off the field. This year will be his third at UW, and it looks like he has those issues worked out. He was the state player of the year three years ago, and has the chance to be a big contributor. He needs to be able to help out Rankin if the running game is going to be successful. Beyond Hasty, the cupboard is pretty bare.
Receiver is one position that Washington should be pretty solid at. They could potentially go five deep at the position. Senior Anthony Russo is the only returning starter. However, there is other talent as well. Corey Williams could be the other starter. He's reportedly had a great spring, becoming a favorite of Locker. Marcel Reece could be the most talented of the bunch, and senior Cody Ellis also has loads of experience. All four of those players are seniors and will play this season with nothing to lose. Talented freshman Anthony Boyles, arguably the Huskies top recruit last year, could also be a factor. These guys have complimentary skills, so it should be a well rounded unit. At tight end, three players all have starting experience. None of them is any good or have been able to secure the job outright.
The offensive line the unit that should dominate and give Locker a chance to succeed. The line returns three starters, center Juan Garcia, right tackle Chad Macklin, and left tackle Ben Ossai. These three players played every snap last season, and were part of a line that allowed only 19 sacks. That's durability AND performance. Morgan Rosborough and Casey Bulcya should be the starters at the guard positions. Both stand at 6'6" and about 350. This line could be one of the conference's best.
The Washington defensive line is a bit of an enigma. They have a lot of experience, returning three starters. However, they are small and just not very good. Greyson Gunheim is probably the best of the bunch, an honorable mention all Pac-10 who had six sacks last year. He has talent, but his 265 is more linebacker size than defensive end. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is even smaller at 245 lbs. Tackles Wilson Afoa and Jordan Reffett are closer to the size you would expect, though neither have much of a history of production. This is a unit that could be pushed around by bigger lines and not cause nearly enough havoc defensively.
This is a very vanilla group. Dan Howell is the only returning starter and is one of the few players on the defense who can force a turnover. The rest of the potential unit is short on experience, but big on potential. Donald Butler and EJ Savannah are both extremely hard hitters who saw significant playing time last year and should move into the vacant starting positions.
A big problem was that Washington only forced 14 turnovers last year, and their poor secondary was a big reason why. The secondary was burned deep over and over again by every team that the Huskies played last year. Jason Wells and Roy Lewis return as starters. They were a big problem last year, but there is nobody to take their place. As for the other two positions, who knows? Washington's talent in the secondary is as thin as any Pac-10 school at any position. Think Oregon's secondary in 2002. This group could be that bad or, potentially, worse.
The kicking game is all new. JUCO transfer Jared Ballman will punt. Freshman Eric Folk, younger brother of former Arizona kicker Nick Folk, will likely get the kicking job. They both have the potential to be very good, but you don't really know at this point.
As I said, talent wise, this team is better than last year. The offense should be balanced, pending Rankin stay healthy and Locker makes good decisions. However, that defense is going to be so bad that its going to put a lot of pressure on the offense. And that schedule is absolutely brutal. Scheduling Hawaii for a 13 game season makes it so that UW would have to win seven games to make a bowl. No way that happens. Not with non-conference games against Ohio State, Hawaii, and Boise State. Figure those all to be losses. They should beat Syracuse and Stanford, and have a decent shot against WSU and Arizona. Look for them to split those games. They are also good enough to knock off and OSU/ASU/Oregon type team who might be overlooking them, but that team would really have to play down a notch. I figure them to win three games this year, good for ninth in the Pac-10. That return to glory will have to wait another year in Seattle. I'll try not to tear up too much over it.