1) Chris Petersen is your head coach.
This is the main reason Washington fans should have a big grin on their faces. Yes, after going 92-12 during his eight years at Boise State he's amassed the same number of losses in just two years at Montlake, but shoots of growth are finally showing. They started to reach the surface the final half of 2015, and now the buds of success are ripe to flower this fall. His 'Built For Life' and OKG mantras rings true with recruits and families and has paid off with student-athletes looking to maximize their college football experience. And best of all? He's not going anywhere. The last thing you could say about Petersen is that he's a carpetbagger. He knows he can win at UW, and win big. He believes it, and he's got his players believing it too.
2) You have arguably the best set of assistants in the conference.
What Pete Kwiatkowski has done for the defense is nothing short of remarkable. He turned a defense that was average statistically into the top defense in the league, and that was after losing an entire defensive line and four total top-45 draft picks. I'm hard-pressed to find another situation that turned out as rosy. Jimmy Lake is now being talked about as one of the best secondary coaches in all of college football, and his recruiting has been off the charts. The offensive coaches have been bolstered by the addition of former Pac-12 Head Coach Jeff Tedford as consultant, which should only strengthen a group coming into its own.
3) You have a homegrown Athletic Director personally invested in growing the program.
Jen Cohen grew up a Husky: she knows what it's like when your childhood team is the best in the country. She lived it. She's been there. She wants to get back there again in the worst way. It won't be easy. It will take some time and a lot of effort. But having grown up in this area and having lived in Washington my whole life, I know we are a bit of a different breed. We have a way we like to do things. We have a certain style. And Jen understands all of that. She's had her finger on the pulse of the Washington sports fan for her whole life because at heart she is a Washington sports fan. It's who she is. She's invested at a level no other Washington athletic director can claim. For her, getting Washington Football back to the top of the mountain is business, and it's personal.
4) Your defense is the best in the Pac-12.
Seven defensive starters return on a defense that gave up the fewest points in the conference last season. You lose two big-time outside linebackers in Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton, but you replace them with two seniors - Joe Mathis and Psalm Wooching. That's how you fill needs. The defensive line lost a second-team All-Pac-12 in Tani Tupou, but you replace him with a potential 1000-plus pound cast of Elijah Qualls, Greg Gaines, and Vita Vea. That's how you fill needs. You lost safety Brian Clay but replace him with a true thumper in Jojo McIntosh who played in all 13 games in 2015. That's how you fill needs. This defense, if you can believe it, is even hungrier heading into this fall - begging to prove last year wasn't a one-hit wonder. Old-time UW fans remember how it wasn't the bombs or the returns that electrified Husky Stadium: it was the 'All I saw was purple' comments generated by a dominant defense. And that defense is back.
5) Your offense is a year older.
The cliche in sports is that your biggest jump in development happens from year one to year two in any program. If that's the case - Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Trey Adams and Chico McClatcher should make big strides this fall in their physical and mental maturity. And we're not talking about insignificant positions: quarterback, running back, left tackle, and all-purpose back. Chris Strausser has eight returning starters along the offensive line, and Bush Hamdan just added former Oklahoma Sooner K.J. Young to a receiver group that got a big boost this spring when John Ross III came back 100 percent healthy. There's no doubt the evolving nature of the offense during the course of 2015 was a big narrative, and how that evolution has manifested itself into a potent run-pass mix with Browning at the helm will continue to be a major storyline for the Huskies in 2016.
6) Recruiting is rolling along nicely.
For the 2016 recruiting class, Washington found itself outside Scout.com's top-25 rankings in terms of total points, but some of that had to do with the size of the class. If you looked simply at rating per player, the Huskies were ranked 21st, just ahead of Stanford and behind only USC and UCLA. USC and UCLA are expected to lead the league in recruiting every year, so it's unsurprising to see them at the top of the list when it comes to quality. What might be a tad more surprising is that Chris Petersen was able to bring in the next highest quality group in only his second full recruiting cycle with the Huskies. It's clear his OKG (Our Kinda Guys) maxim gained a lot of traction on the recruiting circuit, with prospects and parents buying in. 2017 is more of the same: a small class littered with quality across the board. UW is currently second in rating per player behind Stanford, and ahead of UCLA and USC. And that number includes a two-star juco punter in Joel Whitford. The Huskies stole the top player from Oregon right from under the Ducks' feet (Marlon Tuipulotu), and are well on their way toward getting a clean sweep of their top in-state targets. Only Salvon Ahmed, Henry Bainivalu and Foster Sarrell are left. If Petersen can land those two must-gets...wow. All the questions about Petersen being able to compete in the recruiting arena will be put to rest once and for all.
7) The Pac-12 is as wide open as it has been in years.
For the last five years the Pac-12 has been ruled by two teams - Stanford and Oregon. They are the ones that have shared the spoils and have been stingy as hell when it comes to sharing the wealth. But Kevin Hogan is gone at Stanford and Oregon is breaking in a new quarterback as well. Both teams return a total of nine starters on defense, adding to questions as to just how improved they will be on that side of the ball. At the same time, five Pac-12 teams showed up on the AP pre-season poll, meaning the pundits think a lot of teams could be very good this year. And that doesn't even include the two teams that also received votes - Utah and Washington State - and both those teams could cause serious problems for those expected to be near the top in their respective divisions. All this means it's going to be a genuine horse race toward the title game December 2nd in Santa Clara, Calif. So to paraphrase Russell Wilson, why not the Huskies? Their resume includes a very favorable out-of-conference schedule and home games versus Stanford, USC and Arizona State. They have three difficult road tests: Oregon, Utah and Washington State, and Arizona will not be a cakewalk. But a very young UW team in 2015 won two Pac-12 road games, so it's not an impossible task.
8) Husky Stadium is still an easy ticket.
With the Seahawks ruling the Seattle sports world, room on the Huskies bandwagon is still very much available. Tell your friends! With under 50,000 season tickets sold, that means there's still a ton of room to find your own spot and check out the 'Greatest Setting in all of College Football'. It's hard to argue. With the Seattle skyline available from the north stand and Lake Washington and the Cascades visible from the west, it's a beautiful panorama. And it can all be yours for a nominal sum most Saturdays in the fall. Remember when going to a UW game was a tough ticket? I remember scarfing up the last two available tickets together for the Michigan opener back in 2001 after the Huskies had won the Rose Bowl. A sure loss turned into an improbable UW win after Omare Lowe put together a kick block and a pick-six in the span of 30 seconds to turn the tables on the visitors. Husky Stadium was roaring as Roc Alexander picked up that blocked field goal in stride and blazed down the sideline. A full Husky Stadium has been an infrequent occurrence since then, especially at the end of the decade when the wheels fell off. But Husky Stadium has a new face and a Husky Football a new lease on life. It's time to jump back on board.