Three seasons removed from an 0-12 debacle, the outlook on the Washington Huskies football program for the near future looks to be trending upward. Steve Sarkisian’s program has a Heisman contender in quarterback Keith Price, dynamic receivers in Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and a new defensive coordinator in Justin Wilcox to work on fixing a defensive unit that finished last in the Pac-12 last season and gave up 67 points in a bowl loss to Baylor.
A trip to the Alamo Bowl would have seemed like Shangri-La after the dark days of the Tyrone Willingham era. Now, the bar has been raised. The Huskies faithful are rational, but the transition from winning records to winning 10-plus games and going to top-tier bowl games needs to happen sooner rather than later.
The outline for creating any top program starts with an elite recruiting classes. Programs like Boise State take pride in finding diamonds in the rough, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind bringing in classes with 4 and 5-star recruits on an annual basis.
Notorious recruits maintain high levels of success at elite programs, while others can single-handedly turn a school’s fortune around. Jake Locker anybody?
The Huskies raked in this year's 21st-ranked class per rivals.com, and look to be headed for an even bigger coup for 2013 when National Signing Day rolls around next February. The Huskies won’t be headed to a BCS bowl this season, but the foundation is set for taking another step forward in reminding the nation that top-tier football in the Pac-12 North exists outside of Eugene.
For the Huskies, the last-second signing of arguably the nation’s top safety prospect in Shaq Thompson after he de-committed from Cal was like taking your rival’s girlfriend to the prom. Thompson’s talent will earn him playing time as a true freshman, and his lightning speed will make him a stalwart of the Husky defense for years to come.
The Huskies also added 4-star cornerback recruit Brandon Beaver to the secondary.
The Huskies struck gold with their last two quarterbacks in Locker and Price, and the signing of one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks in Cyler Miles as well as top quarterback prospect Jeff Lindquist portends for continued success at the position.
The Huskies lost out on the state’s best players with Zach Banner and Josh Garnett going to Pac-12 competitors USC and Stanford. However, the last-second addition of Thompson ended the signing period with a resounding score.
Recruiting is still to become more and more of a strength, and a huge reason for this has been and will continue to be the presence of the new assistant coaches, notably new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive line guru Tosh Lupoi.
Before his time at Tennessee, Wilcox was the head of Chris Petersen’s defense at Boise State, where he led one of the nation’s best defenses. Just as importantly, he earned accolades for his ability to take unheralded recruits on the defense and coach them into stars and eventual NFL draft picks.
In Lupoi, the Huskies get another assistant that became famous in Pac-12 circles for his innovation and successful recruiting tactics under Jeff Tedford at Cal. Lupoi’s commitments became famous for reaching out to undecided recruits and trying to sway their decision. "#Calgang" became a popular hash tag on Twitter as the motto for committed recruits to reach out to their peers.
Social media is such a huge part of communication today, and Lupoi is partially behind promoting "#HuskyNation" as a way to utilize these new mediums in order to bring more top recruits to Seattle. Don’t think Shaq Thompson would have ditched Cal to head north without Lupoi working his magic.
Who will be the best among 2012's recruits?
The Class of 2013 is a perfect example of why Lupoi is being paid $350,000 annually, an unusually high sum for a position coach. June 29th was why he earns it (via Seattle Times). On that day, the Huskies received eight, you read it right, EIGHT commitments, seven of which are for 2013 (via CBSsports.com)
The players committing aren’t fillers either, with top wideout Demorea Stringfellow and defensive tackle Elijah Qualls leading the way of future impact players declaring their intentions.
With that boost, the Huskies class of eight jumped to 15 players, and is currently ranked the nation’s 14th-best group for 2013 per rivals.com.
Washington athletic director summed up these offseason additions best by saying
"These are some of the top coaches and best recruiters in the country, and the fact they have chosen to come to Washington is a credit to the remarkable job Coach Sarkisian has done with his program in his three seasons here. This is a desired destination on the national map" (via gohuskies.com).
The two will change the culture at U-Dub both off and on the field, and will continue to be crucial in convincing the top recruits from Washington, California or elsewhere that Seattle is an up-and-coming place to be in the college football world.
The Class of 2012 is impressive, while 2013’s edition is shaping up to be a program changer. The talent will need to live up to hype, but the coaching staff and schemes are in place for 2012 and 2013’s recruits to enable the Huskies to compete on par with Oregon, USC and the Pac-12’s best not too far down the road.