By: JD Yonke (@Yonkers805)
With offseason workouts and practices derailed due to the effects of COVID-19, there are more uncertainties than ever before as we head into the college football season. Teams that bring even more uncertainties of their own (new head coach, new offensive coordinator, etc.) into the equation are more likely to encounter more adversity this year than teams with relatively few question marks. Since the offensive side of the ball generally benefits from more practice reps and will be more volatile than team defense when projecting 2020 performance, additional weight is given when considering offensive scheme changes and returning production.
In April, Rex previewed some reasons why Mississippi State might struggle this year. We will continue identifying teams that are in either a good or bad position to weather this tumultuous offseason. Next up is a team that is being viewed by many as a potential darkhorse Pac-12 contender, but really could have benefited from a full offseason of preparation: the Washington Huskies.
Head coaching change: Yes
Offensive coordinator change: Yes
New quarterback: Yes
Returning experience concern: Yes – #104 overall, #127 offensively
*Note: returning experience numbers according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly
Reasons for optimism: Great recruiting and overall talent, internal HC hire, great defense
Let me start off by saying that Washington is unlike some of the other teams that will be mentioned in this offseason series in one key area: I would be surprised if they don’t make a bowl game this year. They’re still a pretty darn good team, when all things are considered, and it’d be foolish to count them out this year. However, they are a team that clearly would have benefited from a full offseason of work in order to break in the new coaches and offensive players. I’d feel better about this team achieving their ceiling this year if that was the case. They’re one of the three Pac-12 teams that did not get in a single spring practice before COVID hit. You can see above that they meet every single factor on my list contributing to potential setbacks or slow starts.
Coaching Change: An Abrupt Departure
I’m pretty high on new head coach Jimmy Lake in a vacuum. He’s been with the team for nearly a decade overseeing some truly outstanding defenses as the team’s defensive coordinator. He was allegedly hand-selected by former coach Chris Petersen for the job. However, we’re not living in a vacuum here (even though it may seem that way – 2020 has royally sucked thus far) and the context surrounding Petersen’s retirement absolutely has to be taken into account in any outlook on the Huskies’ 2020 season outlook. He was, in my opinion, one of the best coaches in all of college football and he will be extremely difficult to replace. Washington’s stock as a program seemed to be rising ever since he took the job before the 2014 season; highlighted by an appearance in the 2016 College Football Playoff. His abrupt retirement after the end of last year was one of the shockers of the offseason and I find it difficult to believe that Washington will seamlessly replace him in one year, especially not when that year features one of the strangest offseasons of all time.
I have the most concern with the offense. The hire of new OC John Donovan was widely panned by analysts as he hasn’t been coaching since the 2014-15 season. (He was with the Jaguars as an “offensive assistant” the last few years). Even he was surprised by the hire and I think everyone would feel more comfortable projecting offensive success if he had a full offseason to, you know, get the swing of this football thing again.
It’s not like there’s an experienced QB to rely on, as Jacob Eason leaves for the NFL and the team returns only three total passing attempts from a year ago. They recruit extremely well and have plenty of talent at the RB and WR positions. The overall returning offensive production is limited and we really don’t know what to expect other than this team being run-heavy and defense-oriented. Richard Newton should lead a crowded backfield after scoring 10 touchdowns as a Freshman and WR Puka Nacua is a prime breakout candidate leading a talented but unproven receiving corp. The defense should be very strong and will be led by an excellent secondary; so expect a lot of low-scoring games that could go either way this year even against teams that they are much more talented than.
Overall, expect Washington to be a competitive team this year that is held back by their offensive production. They’ll have to win a lot of close games to avoid underachieving the general consensus. They’re still in good hands and will remain a tricky out in the Pac-12, but some challenging offseason circumstances certainly aren’t doing them any favors. The good news is that they are still one of the better teams in the Pac-12 despite the difficulties, so the odds are against them bottoming out.
The schedule doesn’t help either, as they may have the toughest road schedule in the Pac-12 (at Oregon, at Utah, at USC) and open their season with a tough matchup against Michigan. While 9 regular season wins is the ceiling, I believe that 8 wins should qualify as a success for this season. However, the fan base will likely not be satisfied even if they hit that mark as expectations appear to be high – one might argue unreasonably so. This fan base is accustomed to success, but that’s far from a guarantee this season. It’s well within reason that Washington drops a few tight games and finishes with fewer than 8 wins, which could cause the fan base to turn on Jimmy Lake in a hurry.
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