The Washington Huskies have a preseason AP ranking of 14, the highest mark in 14 years. This is the biggest hyped team in over a decade as they bring 8 starters on offense and 7 on defense back to compete for a Pac-12 title. There are several potential high NFL draft picks on both sides of the ball leading this hungry dawg pack to a season where anything less than 10 wins may be a disappointment for this talented squad. A BCS playoff berth is a real possibility and one poll had the Huskies ranked as high as number 8 in the country. The schedule is very favorable for the Huskies this year playing the highest ranked Pac-12 team, Stanford, and USC at home. This is Chris Petersen's third year at Washington and should be the real test of lofty expectations heaped upon him when transferring from the legendary program he built at Boise State. Will this be the season of the Dawgfather Part 2: The Second National Championship? Let's break down the hype to see why the Huskies are ranked so high despite coming off a 7-6 season.
A young talented team led by sophomore quarterback Jake Browning is poised to see much better production than last year. Browning ended the year on a hot streak winning his last 3 games by comfortable margins. Browning has some help in the backfield with the talented sophomore running back, Myles Gaskin. Gaskin was phenomenal as a true freshman racking up over 1,300 yards on the ground. John Ross who was injured during the 2015 season is back to provide a quick receiver and deep threat to Browning's arsenal. Ross will no longer be playing two-ways and can focus on dominating defenses with his unreal speed. Even though there is only 1 returning starter on the front line the monster tackles Kaleb McGary and Trey Adams will probably provide better protection then their predecessors. Overall, the offense is balanced and looks to be young but improved over 2015.
The best defense in the Pac-12 last year returns a majority of starters from their surprisingly productive season. Safety Budda Baker is looking to be a first round draft selection in 2017 if he decides to leave and is already on preseason All-American lists. Sidney Jones was a first team Pac-12 player alongside Baker and will fly around the field snagging interceptions. Azeem Victor is a scary player to face as his hard hitting style was on full display last year terrifying offensive opponents in game after game. Victor may be the best defensive player in the country people outside of Washington have never heard anything about. This defense can easily be the best in the Pac-12 for a second season in a row. One can easily see the comparison at the pro level of the nearby Seahawks “Legion of Boom” as an analogy for this talented, hard-working group. Lastly, Elijah Qualls may channel the recent first round UW draft pick Danny Shelton this year at nose tackle causing all kinds of trouble for quarterbacks with his size and athleticism. Expect him to lead a crushing defensive line with Greg Gaines and Vita Vea and rack up a decent sack count.
Dante Pettis is a dangerous return man who housed 3 returns thus far in his career. Assuming Ross also returns to his 2014 returning role, the potential for multiple touchdowns on kick and punt returns is high. Reliable kickers Vizcaino on punt duties and Van Winkle on field goals and PATs round out a reliable special teams squad.
Overall this truly looks like this could be a special season for the Huskies. If Petersen notches a 10 win season we can expect more great recruits and even greater national attention for this revived Northwest program.