SEATTLE (AP) When Chris Petersen took the job at Washington, it was clear changing the culture, style and approach was going to be a multi-year process.
Despite a winning record and bowl game appearance in his first season, don’t be surprised if the Huskies take a step back in Year 2.
Significant talent departures, a lack of upperclassmen, a challenging schedule and questions at the most important position on the field all cloud the picture for the Huskies this season. The Huskies have only 35 upperclassmen – and 14 seniors – on their roster. They must replace three All-Americans on defense. Top offensive playmaker John Ross is out for the season with a knee injury.
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And there is no clear answer about who will be their starting quarterback on Sept. 4 when they open the season at Boise State, Petersen’s team until he jumped to the Huskies before the 2014 season. Junior Jeff Lindquist is the favorite with redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning also in the running.
All those questions have Washington viewing itself as an underdog.
”With all of the guys we’ve lost, with the schedule that we have, through all of those things, if that gives (the players) that underdog mentality then I think that helps us,” Petersen said.
Things to watch at Washington in 2015:
QB QUANDRY: Lindquist is the favorite to win the starting QB job because of his experience. Petersen has never started a true freshman at quarterback in his coaching career. But he says that remains a possibility if Browning continues to impress. Browning set a bevy of national passing records at Folsom High School outside of Sacramento, California, then enrolled at Washington over the winter to try to join the QB competition.
Browning still looks like a freshman but Petersen doesn’t view his maturity in that way thanks to his enrolling early.
”I can’t quantify it, but a ton,” Petersen said. ”You get all those meetings, all that practice time … it’s a lot different.
CARRY THE LOAD: Dwayne Washington closed last season by showing signs of being the next great Washington running back.
Washington finished the 2014 regular season with three straight 100-yard games, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry during the span as he took hold as the Huskies’ featured running back. The job should be his again and establishing the run will be important because of the Huskies’ quarterback concerns.
REPLACING THE STARS: Washington was one of two schools in the country to have three players named first-team Associated Press All-Americans last season, with defensive tackle Danny Shelton, outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha and do-everything Shaq Thompson all honored.
Replacing Shelton and Kikaha would appear the most difficult. Kikaha led the nation in sacks, while Shelton was the type of run-stuffer that isn’t easily found.
BIG-PLAY BUDDA: Thompson became a two-way star for Washington last year at linebacker and running back.
The same scenario may be facing safety Budda Baker. Baker was a standout running back as a prep star, but was too valuable on defense for the Huskies. It may just be a few snaps but expect to see Baker on offense occasionally.
GOING HOME: Not that Petersen had a choice in the matter, but there could not be a more awkward and difficult opener for the Huskies than a Friday night matchup on the blue turf at Boise State. The Broncos are stacked coming off a Fiesta Bowl victory and expect to be in the Top 25 most of the year. Couple the Broncos’ talent with the game marking Petersen’s return to Boise after taking that program to unprecedented success and it’s a recipe for a difficult start to a challenging season.
”What makes it hard, probably, on all the coaches here, is we recruited so many of those kids,” Petersen said. ”You don’t want to play the kids that you recruited, because you want them to do well, you’ve paid attention and you follow them and you’re rooting for them and all that, and now you’ve got to go play them.”