#24 Washington Football 2016 Preview

Washington Huskies
Overall Rank: #24
#4 Pac-12
Washington is making big strides under Coach Chris Petersen. The Huskies have played second, or third, fiddle to Stanford and Oregon in recent years, but that could change now. Following another 7-6 season, the expectations are that year three for Coach Petersen is going to be a big one. He now has the talent and depth that he wants on his team and this should be a team that competes for a Pac-12 North title.
2015 Record: 7-6, 4-5
2015 Bowl: Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Southern Miss (W 44-31)
Coach: Chris Petersen (15-12 at Washington, 107-24 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jonathan Smith
Defensive Coordinator: Pete Kwiatkowski, Jimmy Lake
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Myles Gaskin, RB, 1,302 yards
Passing: Jake Browning, QB, 2,955 yards
Receiving: Dante Pettis, WR, 414 yards
Tackles: Azeem Victor, LB, 95
Sacks: Elijah Qualls, DT, 4.5
Interceptions: Sidney Jones, CB, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Lavon Coleman, TE Darrell Daniels, LB Keishawn Bierria, S Budda Baker, LB Darren Gardenhire, CB Kevin King
Key Losses: RB Dwayne Washington, WR Jaydon Mickens, WR Joshua Perkins, DT Taniela Tupou, LB Travis Feeney, LB Corey Littleton, DB Brian Clay
Eight starters return to a defense that ranked first in the conference in total defense and scoring defense. The unit allowed a mere 18.8 points per game. That is a good number for any team, but is especially impressive in the Pac-12. Washington switched to a 3-4 defense and it worked wonderfully. Nose tackle Elijah Qualls proved to have a great combination of size and speed. Greg Gaines will slide over to the defensive tackle spot to replace Taniela Tupou. Inside linebackers Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria are back, but Washington needs to find new outside linebackers. Senior Joe Mathis is the most experienced option, but there are quite a few talented young players looking for their shot too. The rush defense allowed a mere 125.3 yards per game last season and that number could go up a little bit if all of the holes on the outside are not filled quickly. The secondary is one of the most talented in the country. Safety Budda Baker and cornerback Sidney Jones were all-conference first-team honorees last season and Kevin King is no slouch either. Baker totaled 49 tackles and two interceptions, but the Pac-12 knows better than to throw his direction. Jones picked off four passes and added two fumble recoveries, while King added three interceptions. The secondary will occasionally give up big plays, but they make nearly as many.
The offense was on fire at the end of last season and the hope is they can pick up where they left off. The slow start was not surprising considering the fact that so many key players were very young and inexperienced. Quarterback Jake Browning threw for 2,955 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman and is only getting better. The Huskies and Browning never really found a go-to wide receiver last season. And with Jaydon Mickens and Joshua Perkins gone, the team’s top two pass catchers, that could be an issue again this year. Dante Pettis caught 30 passes for 414 yards and a score and tight end Darrell Daniels is a good shot yardage target, but John Ross will likely need to step up following a year on the bench with a knee injury. He is an elusive speedster who is also one of the most dangerous kick returners in the Pac-12. The biggest surprise among all of the freshmen from last year was running back Myles Gaskin. He rushed for 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns and was nearly impossible to stop by the end of last season. 
The Bottom Line:
It will not take long before we figure out if Washington is a true contender for the Pac-12 North title. After starting Pac-12 play with a trip to Arizona, the Huskies host Stanford and travel to Oregon. With two wins there, they are suddenly the favorites to win the division. Two losses and the Huskies are basically out of the title chase. At the least, they need to go 1-1 in those games, especially considering they still have to host USC and go to Washington State later in the season.
Projected Bowl: Foster Farms Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 163.8 (76th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 239.2 (50, 9)
Total Offense: 403.1 (61, 9)
Scoring Offense: 30.6 (55, 9)
Rushing Defense: 125.3 (19, 2)
Pass Defense: 226.5 (68, 4)
Total Defense: 351.8 (31, 1)
Scoring Defense: 18.8 (13, 1)
Turnover Margin: 0.38 (34, 3)
Sacks: 2.62 (26, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 2.54 (96, 7)
Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:
#63 Sidney Jones
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#103 Byron Murphy
#139 Camilo Eifler
#152 Levi Onwuzurike
#209 Brandon Wellington
#214 Sean McGrew