SEATTLE (AP) — When Chris Petersen decided to come to Washington, there was no set timetable on returning the Huskies to prominence.
Headed into his third season, the Huskies seem poised — between talent and a favorable schedule — for a return to the top of the Pac-12 Conference and perhaps the national stage.
“We expect to win every game we play. And so the outside noise that might have changed their expectations, that doesn’t change anything,” Petersen said.
Washington goes into the 2016 season with expectations not seen on Montlake in more than a decade.
Gone is the patience of waiting for Washington’s potential. This is the year the Huskies should graduate from hovering around .500 and being stuck in the middle of the Pac-12 discussion.
With a defense that could be among the better ones in the Pac-12 and a sophomore backfield combo of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, Washington at least has the pieces in place to potentially find itself in the national conversation.
Petersen will be the last person to buy into the hype.
“If we can slow this thing down and pay attention to building skill and getting better and getting our competitive spirit where it needs to be, then I think we’ll feel good about things,” Petersen said. “But that’s where we are. We’re in good shape. They trained hard. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
MONTLAKE JAKE: Browning is thrilled he doesn’t have to hear any more about being a true freshman playing quarterback in the Pac-12.
“I’m glad the whole true freshman thing is over. I don’t have to hear true freshman this, true freshman that,” Browning said. “Now it’s like, just go win.”
No longer having that label means greater expectations for Browning to build on a solid freshman season. Browning threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, but improving on those numbers will rely heavily on the development of wide receivers slim on experience and another huge season from running back Myles Gaskin. Browning should be helped by the return of speedy wide receiver John Ross, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury.
“For a true freshman quarterback to come in and play in our league is really hard and to see him do so well, I was very excited about this year,” Ross said.
SECONDARY TO NONE: There may not be a deeper secondary in the country than Washington’s, led by safety Budda Baker, and cornerbacks Darren Gardenhire and Sidney Jones. They’re athletic, physical and have a knack for the ball.
How successful that secondary is in the pass game may be predicated on whether Washington is able to find pass rushers to replace Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton and get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It does help that the Huskies return middle linebacker Azeem Victor, who led the team with 95 tackles last season.
SEASON OPENER: Welcome to having expectations. Petersen became comfortable with always being in the national conversation when Boise State was on its rise to prominence. But it’s been 16 years since Washington went into a season where it was receiving this much notoriety before ever playing a down. The only real test before the start of Pac-12 play comes in the Sept. 3 opener against Rutgers.
KEY GAMES: All the focus will be on an eight-day stretch in late September and early October that will determine the arc of Washington’s season. The Huskies host Stanford on Sept. 30 then travel to rival Oregon on Oct. 8 having not beaten the Ducks in their previous 12 meetings.
The end of Washington’s season isn’t easy either with USC and Arizona State at home, before facing rival Washington State in the Apple Cup. The Huskies have lost 10 straight to the Sun Devils.
PREDICTION: Washington may be a year away. Of their projected starters, there are only four or five seniors depending on training camp competitions. But the schedule is favorable and if the Huskies can shake their 12-year losing streak to Oregon, this could be a special season. Ten wins and a return to the national conversation seems possible.
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