WSU in Week 12: The Apple Cup

THE HUSKIES HAVE arguably the most favorable non-conference schedule in the Pac-12 -- their conference slate looks to be highly agreeable as well -- and Washington should be 4-0 to start the season barring a huge upset. That said, by the time they come to Pullman, the UW will be playing their eighth week in a row without a break.

UW should be 4-0 after starting the season with Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State. They return 14 starters in 2014, seven on each side of the ball.

There are no weekday games on the UW schedule, and they play both Colorado and Cal, projected last place finishers in the Pac-12 South and North, respectively. Plus, they miss USC this year to boot.

The Husky schedule probably couldn't be much more favorable. At the same time, what they lose in three departing starters is substantial.

Gone are QB Keith Price, who started the past three seasons, RB Bishop Sankey, who rushed for 3,309 yards the past two years, and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who won the Mackey Award in 2013.

That’s a lot of yards, and experience, to replace on offense.

On top of that, players will have to adjust to new coach Chris Petersen and his staff, who have made a number of changes on and off the field.

That could work to the Huskies’ advantage, however. Petersen told he made changes to “every single thing” about the way the Huskies conduct themselves, preaching accountability. That’s a not very subtle jab at the way Steve Sarkisian ran his program. And oftentimes a new coach laying down the law results in a better team on the field in, at least, that first year.

New offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith is expected to rely on QB Cyler Miles, who missed the spring due to suspension for an off-field incident. Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams this spring were both uneven this spring, although Petersen put a positive spin on it.

At running back, Deontae Cooper, Dwayne Washington, Jesse Callier and Lavon Coleman are all battling to replace Sankey and it could be UW goes with the dreaded running back by committee to start the season. A likely twist will be LB Shaq Thompson getting spot carries. But whoever ultimately wins the job, the Huskies seem destined to take a step back here.

The starting wide receiver group looks relatively solid but there are depth concerns behind them. Kasen Williams, Jaydon Mickens, Marvin Hall and John Ross can cause defenses problems but losing Demore’ea Stringfellow, who transferred out after being involved in the same incident as Miles, leaves a hole.

It’s a veteran offensive line, with only one starter lost and pretty much all the depth back in the fold. But here’s something that’s being virtually ignored this offseason – UW allowed 30 sacks last season (t-No. 82 nationally) on just 413 attempts. The question naturally begs - If you take Sankey out of that mix, what happens then?

On defense, the UW looks better in 2014 than last year’s stats might suggest.

The Huskies were in the middle of the pack in total defense last year (No. 55) but they look solid up front with Hau’oli Kikaha (13 sacks in ’13), Danny Shelton and Evan Hudson, (Edit: although as one message boarder correctly pointed out, Josh Shirley, expected to be a key reserve or starter up front, is transferring.)

The linebackers are also stout, with Thompson, John Timu and Travis Feeney -- though injuries but a little this spring and in so doing, showed the reserves need more seasoning.

Cornerback Marcus Peters is a good one in the secondary and Brandon Beaver, Jermaine Kelly and Brian Clay are better than most people think. The secondary also suffered their share of injuries this spring and showed, like the linebackers, that the reserves need more seasoning.

Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has said he won’t alter things too much from what previous DC Justin Wilcox did but the terminology is different and there’s been an increased focus on the fundamentals, so there could be an adjustment period, though UW’s non-conference schedule should allow plenty of opportunities to tighten things up.

In the Pac-12 slate, the Huskies in 2014 seemed destined to rise or fall by their ability to win close, lower-scoring games. Washington State, in the Apple Cup, will be looking to instead score in bunches. Something will have to give.

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