Expectations Should Be High for Huskies

Expectations Should Be High for Huskies Despite Third Place Pick - The third year of the Steve Sarkisian system with the exact same coaches should be reason one for logical optimism. Strictly from the mechanical standpoint, this team has evolved steadily for the last 24 months. They have progressively gotten better.

It's obvious that if they can play like they did in the Holiday Bowl, winning a championship in the first year of the Pac-12 is not entirely out of the question.

Having another winning season and going to another bowl game seems to be a reasonable expectation, but there are some big questions to be answered if Washington is going to contend for a championship.

We all know that if you don't at least think you can do it, then you certainly don't stand much of a chance of doing it. A lot of these Huskies think they can do it. There are 18 listed seniors on the roster, and these Huskies in particular have certainly learned things the hard way, but they now expect to win each game as it comes up on their schedule. They believe in their ability to do so.

A lot more than just winning occurred at the end of last season. Those last four games appeared to have changed their collective way of thinking. Now they expect to win games instead of worrying about losing, and it showed in their confidence and how they played coming down the stretch and into the bowl game. They have also worked really hard in their off-season program and have basically changed their own expectations.

It's only fair for us fans to share in those expectations, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited: The Huskies should be much improved on defense - especially up front; they should be able to run the football with Chris Polk; and have really worked hard on improving their overall kicking game. Excuse me, but those are the three major ingredients to successful football at any level of the game. If they can do those three things well then they could win a championship, beating the Ducks and/or the Cardinal along the way, both of whom are picked to finish ahead of them in the Pac-12 North.

Sure some good players graduated and moved on, including the eighth overall pick in the NFL Draft, but that's what college football is all about. A lot will obviously ride on the play at quarterback and linebacker, where the Huskies lost their best two players, but this Husky team is noticeably better up front, a place where many of us still think games are won. The Huskies will be more physical across both lines, and now have some depth to roll more bodies into their rotation. This comes from stockpiling linemen talent through recruiting, as well as the current players knowing their system and the expectations of their coaches.

Although a lot will also depend on the return of some of their injured players, the fronts should be bigger, faster, deeper and stronger than they were last year - or for the past five years, for that matter. They will also be more experienced on both fronts, with as many as four starters returning on offense, and possibly all four on defense.

They will also be better on the ends of both lines, where the tight end and pass rushing defensive ends showed considerable improvement in the spring. They recruited specifically to address those position needs, and if spring was any indication then two freshmen - TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and DE Josh Shirley - are both poised to have breakout first years. They are now a solid 2-3 deep on the edges of both fronts, and that justifies even more optimism.

So expectations should be high, and Husky fans should expect that this team will be competitive in every game - including those against Stanford and Oregon, where the Dawgs have simply struggled over the past few years. They are at least smart enough or coached enough not to think ahead, but rather take games one at a time and do whatever it takes to win each game. You never hear these coaches or players specifically commenting on how many games they will win, what their record will be, or anything except in reference to the next opponent.

We all know there are big games and really big games on the schedule. Nebraska, USC, Oregon, and the Cougars are always big games for Washington, but listening to this team there is no bigger game than the first one - Eastern Washington.

Competition at each position has also improved this team considerably, and that comes from their collective emphasis on recruiting. These Husky coaches know they can now play faster because of their improved depth. The players know what is expected of them from their coaches. They know if they play well up front, play great defense, run the football well but be balanced on offense, and be solid in all phases of the kicking game that they have just as good of chance as anyone to win this conference. I hate to repeat myself, but that is the formula for winning football, and this team really emphasizes it in their practice approach.

How about Washington winning the North and then winning the first ever Pac-12 Championship game? How cool would that be?

Here are the easy picks for the freshmen, or first-year players who may have an impact besides ASJ and Shirley: The two red-shirted freshmen tight ends, Michael Hartvigson and Evan Hudson, will be major factors and Washington will go from no tight ends to playing lots of two or even three tight end formations. Obviously, quarterback Nick Montana will be in the depth, as will offensive guard Colin Tanigawa and tackle Ben Riva. Red-shirt freshman Andrew Hudson showed he will help at DE, and Jamaal Kearse showed he may be in contention at outside 'backer along with grey-shirt John Timu and junior college transfer Thomas Tutogi. Those three should see action at least on special teams and give the linebacker position added depth. Another junior college transfer, Antavius Sims is likely to play on either, or both sides of the ball. That's an addition of twelve or so new faces, none of whom played a snap last season.

As for the incoming true freshmen, I think you will finally see the majority of them red-shirting, thereby allowing them to develop and get settled into the system. There are a few, however, who you'd think may have to play simply because their ability will dictate it.

The most obvious is Kasen Williams, who will definitely play and will be "a star in the making". He will probably work his way into the rotation by the end of the first week of practices and stay there the whole season. By his second year he will become the number one receiver.

Because of the summer loss of two running backs, freshman Bishop Sankey may get a chance to travel and even play, while fullback Dezden Petty will get a chance simply because there are not a lot of fullbacks in the program.

On defense there could be as many as three additional contributors in cornerback Marcus Peters, safety James Sample, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton. Maybe a pass rusher or kick returner could see the field, but I can't imagine that there will be more than six or seven true freshmen playing in varsity games this year.

That is a good sign, and means that in four to five years the Huskies will have a solid nucleus of older veteran players. It also means that the team as a whole is getting good enough so that they don't need to be playing 18-year olds. Older teams are usually better teams, and Washington is slowly getting there. The past two years they have been forced to play their youngsters, and that only robs the future. Oh I'm sure that if a kid jumps out at them in fall camp that could change, but I bet they'd prefer to red-shirt most of their freshmen.

That also means that expectations for winning are justified because this team will be based upon a solid group of veteran players. This team is experienced now, and they are also experienced in winning. Because of that they are going to be in every game, and when it's all said and done they should be playing in another bowl game when the regular season ends.

The system has now been implemented, there will be an instant infusion of new faces, and this team also thinks they can do it. That's a pretty solid argument for increased expectations.

Dawgman.com Top Stories