Posted on August 19, 2018 by: Tony Krikorian
The 2018 College Football season is right around the corner and there’s so much excitement about the unknown. The unknown of who will rise to the top and who will not meet expectations. The Pac-12 clearly did not meet expectations last year and are looking to bounce back and show their prominence again.
Realistically though, there are only 3 teams from the Pac-12 who have a shot at making the College Football Playoff based on talent and strength of schedule: USC, Stanford and Washington. While a one-loss Pac-12 champion should be in the playoffs, you never know with the SEC and Big 10 bias. That means that every non-conference game is crucial, and none is bigger than when Washington opens against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This may go without saying, but this game is HUGE for the Huskies.
And the Pac-12 Conference as a whole.
In order to understand why it’s so important, a look back at last year’s postseason play will suffice. For those who may have forgotten, the Pac-12 earned a conference-record nine bowl game bids in 2017. Pretty impressive, right? Yeah it is, until the conference astonishingly underperformed by going 1-8, solidifying why the CFP committee made the right decision to leave out the Pac-12. Analysts and media outlets insisted that this was the downfall of the Pac-12.
So here we are, a few weeks away from the important 2018 opener: Washington versus Auburn. A win for the Huskies would give them a nice item on their resume to show the Playoff committee, but also would help erase the narrative that the Pac-12 is the worst Power 5 conference. The reputation of the entire Pac-12 hinges on UW’s performance, because a poor showing from the Pac-12’s overwhelming favorite would allow more of the same criticism and skepticism.
So, while we know it is important that they win, the question remains: can the Huskies actually pull it off? The biggest factor is how Jake Browning plays. Will he be the Jake Browning of 2016 (3430 yards, 43 TDs) or the Jake Browning of 2017 (2719 yards, 19 TDs)? Reports are that his shoulder is healed and he’s ready to go. He likes the short, quick throws and screens. And I think the gameplan will rely on that, considering they are going up against an inexperienced Auburn secondary. Plus, Auburn’s front seven is crazy good with multiple NFL guys, so I say stay away from them as much as possible.
Aside from the question that is Jake Browning, Washington will win for three reasons.
- Experience: The Huskies return 16 starters – 9 from one of the best defenses in the country last season. 6 of those returners are 4 YEAR STARTERS: QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, OT’s Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary, TE Drew Sample, and DL Greg Gaines. These 6, as well as a large portion of the other returners, have won a Pac-12 championship, played in the College Football Playoff, and have gone 22-5 over the last two seasons. That’s a lot of experience combined with talent. Experience in season openers can be crucial as teams are trying to find their identities and it’s nice to know that the Huskies already have theirs figured out.
- Defense: As mentioned above, Washington returns 9 starters from a defense who gave up only 16.1 points per game last year. In addition, they have arguably the top secondary in the country in Taylor Rapp, Jojo McIntosh, Myles Bryant, Byron Murphy, Jordan Miller and Julius Irvin. This group only gave up 11 passing TDs last year and helped create Washington’s +13 turnover margin. While they are going up against an NFL caliber quarterback in Jarrett Stidham, this group is a scary combination of speed, athleticism, and experience. I think they’ll have Stidham’s number.
- Chris Peterson: Since taking over at Washington, Peterson has established himself as one of the best coaches in the country, adding to his already remarkable resume from Boise State. He recruits well. He gameplans well. He adjusts well. And he’s not afraid to run trick plays, which I think is wicked awesome. He’ll have the Huskies primed and proper come September 1st. If the question is Chris Peterson or Gus Malzahn? My answer is Peterson.
When Washington takes the field on September 1st, all of Husky Nation will be rooting for them. But, so will Arizona, ASU, Colorado, UCLA, USC, Utah, Stanford, Oregon, Cal, Oregon State, and Washington State. Well maybe not WSU, because that’s a pretty heated rivalry. And maybe not Oregon State either because misery loves company and the Beavers are miserable right now.
But, you get the point. The entire Pac-12 needs this.