In 2008, the Washington Huskies were 0-12 and at an all-time low. Out went head coach Tyrone Willingham and in came Steve Sarkisian. The hire made barely a ripple on the national stage, as no one was paying Washington much attention.
I remember thinking it was a solid hire. At the same time, it was a wait-and-see kind of hire because Sarkisian had no head coaching experience. So far, I have to stand by saying it was a solid hire, as Washington looks to have been building up since he took over, but I am still waiting to see if he can get Washington to the next level.
Sarkisian got Washington out of the gutter in his first year. The next two years had identical 7-5 records with 5-4 conference records. They went to bowl games in each of the last two years but with split results.
His offensive coordinator is Eric Kiesau. This will be his first year in Washington. Last season he was the passing game coordinator for Cal. Defense not only got a new coordinator but an entire staff overhaul. The new coordinator is Justin Wilcox, who has made stops in Boise and Tennessee on his way back to the Pac (he played at Oregon from 1996 to 1999).
I remember watching the Alamo Bowl and hearing all the hype about Heisman trophy-winner RGIII. And he deserved it. I also remember watching him get out-played by Keith Price. The Washington quarterback had 438 yards on 23 completions and threw four touchdowns. RGIII had only 295 yards on 24 completions for only one touchdown.
Price is going to be out-hyped by Matt Barkley in the conference, but I think he could be better. For the record, Price had a QB rating of 161.9 last season, compared to the 161.2 of Barkley.
Since I started writing this, it has been announced that Washington’s depth at running back took a hit. Deonte Cooper suffered yet another ACL tear. This is the third such injury for Cooper in as many years. They were already having to replace Chris Polk, a 1,500-yard rusher for them last season. Bishop Sankey and Jesse Callier are a solid one-two punch, but having Cooper behind them would have been nice to help keep them fresh.
I am torn on the receiving game. On one hand, I see they lost their top two receivers. On the other hand they have their next three back. Well, technically their tight end and next two receivers. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is possibly the best tight end in the conference, though.
The offensive line will have to replace a couple of starters but return some very experienced players. They opened good holes for Polk to run through and gave Price time to throw. The odd thing is, they also gave up 26 sacks. For some reason I can’t get past the idea that having Price and Polk helped the line look better than they may have actually been.
All parts of the defense will be under a watchful eye this year and the biggest changes were not even on the field. I mentioned before that the defensive coaching staff got overhauled this offseason, and they needed it.
The defensive line will be coached by Tosh Lupoi. Sarkisian was able to lure him away from Cal. Lupoi is also considered one of the top recruiters in the conference.
As for the line itself, I am not sure. There is only one starter returning, but the potential new starters all got significant time last season. The run defense was not very good, ranking 76th in the nation last season. The new starters will have to get used to more time on the field in a hurry for this aspect of the defense to improve.
Josh Shirley is the returning starter and is someone who can make life tough on an opposing quarterback. Shirley led the team with eight-and-a-half sacks.
For the second year in a row, Washington loses a first-team All-Conference linebacker. Last year Cort Dennison led the team in tackles and tackles for loss. When I think about this position for Washington, I think, who’s next? Who is the next linebacker to step up and be an all conference player? My guess is Prince Fuimaono.
The secondary really took a beating last year and came in with the fifth-worst pass defense in the country. Despite that, the experience gained can’t be ignored. Corner Desmond Trufant and safety Sean Parker are two of the team's tackle and interception leaders. Added to the mix will be highly-touted safety Shaq Thompson. He is expected to play right away.
Kicker Erik Folk has been a good one for Washington over the last few years but now must be replaced. A new punter must also be found, after a couple of players gave it a shot last season and now are both gone. On the other side of things, return men Jesse Callier and Kasen Williams are back and should give special teams a boost.
I look at Washington as a team that is on the upswing, but I don’t think their schedule agrees. A tough early slate could make it difficult for Washington to top last year's seven wins. That’s where I have them: Seven or eight wins and a mid-tier bowl.
Before anyone calls me a hater because I am an Oregon fan, I will put this out there now—wait for next year, that’s where I see Washington being a contender.