August is here and that means college football season is starting soon. The first games of the 2017 season kick off Aug. 26. And as it quickly approaches, we have 25 days to preview each of the 25 teams in our updated Dr. Saturday 2017 preseason poll. Check here every day to find out who we think the 25 best teams in the country will be. Fair warning, however. We’re probably going to be wrong.
Previous entries: No. 10 Auburn, No. 11 LSU, No. 12 Michigan, No. 13 Stanford, No. 14 Louisville, No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 16 Georgia, No. 17 Florida, No. 18 South Florida, No. 19 Kansas State, No. 20 Texas, No. 21 Miami, No. 22 Notre Dame, No. 23 Northwestern, No. 24 Washington State, No. 25 North Carolina
No. 9 WASHINGTON
2016 record: 12-2
Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Biggest non-conference game: Sept. 1 vs. Rutgers (!)
Biggest conference game: Nov. 10 at Stanford
Key returning player: QB Jake Browning
Key departed player: S Budda Baker
Three things to know about Washington
Perhaps the alternate quarterback universe looks a bit different if Browning doesn’t suffer a shoulder injury in the Huskies’ November win against Arizona State. It’s pretty clear the injury hobbled Browning the rest of the year. While Washington clobbered Washington State and Colorado before losing to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Browning’s stats did drop off.
And while we don’t think Washington beats Alabama if Browning is at full strength, it’s fun to wonder how the game goes if he was.
Anyway, Browning was 243-391 passing for 3,430 yards, 43 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2016. It’s reasonable to assume he’ll have a similar stat line in 2017 despite the loss of the speedy John Ross.
Ross was the Huskies’ biggest receiving threat; he caught 17 touchdowns and had 81 catches. But Dante Pettis should come close to that 80-catch threshold this season. And he caught 15 touchdowns on just 53 catches a year ago.
Outside of Ross, Darrell Daniels was the only other receiving threat who isn’t back. As Darnold and Rosen take sides in the Battle of Los Angeles, Browning is going to be out here running the Pac-12 North.
“The quarterback position, I think the physical parts of the quarterback position are completely overrated,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said of Browning’s recruitment. “So we felt really good about certainly how he threw the ball, but we’re more excited about how he thought about the game and processed the game.”
PODCAST: Pete Thamel on the Year of the QB
• We’ve established that Washington is still loaded on offense even without mentioning running back Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 1,373 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016.
The defense is a far bigger question mark, though when you’re a top-10 team and appeared in the College Football Playoff the previous season, it’s a relative question.
If we’re getting specific, the secondary is the biggest unknown for the Huskies. Four starters return up front in Petersen’s 3-3-5 hybrid defense including linebacker Keishawn Bierria, who had 70 tackles and 3 tackles for loss a year ago. While Baker was everywhere on the field in 2016 — and had 7 tackles for loss — Bierra had just one fewer tackle.
In addition to Baker, the secondary is without CB Sidney Jones and CB Kevin King. Safeties JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp return, so the middle of the field should be covered. If the perimeter can be taken care of, Washington’s defense should be very good once again. The Huskies gave up fewer than 18 points per game a year ago and allowed 4.6 yards a play. Those numbers shouldn’t be drastically different in 2017 unless something goes really wrong on the outside.
Petersen said this summer that he saw “good flashes” from the secondary in spring practices. And the team could get valuable contributions from redshirt freshmen Kentrell Love and Isaiah Gilchrist in the secondary.
“But we’re not into comparing what this guy was like compared to Kevin King or Sidney Jones,” Petersen said. “What we’re into is the standard, what the standard looks like. How we practice, how we operate, how we use those techniques. And the standard is the best that that kid’s got, every single day. That’s good enough for us.
“We have good enough talent. So if we can bring his best every day and continually try to change that standard, that’s good enough for us. So it’s always about whoever is out there. It’s not about the guys we’ve had in the past. The standard will be good enough if you can bring your standard every day.”
• You may have noticed the (!) next to Rutgers as Washington’s biggest non-conference game. Because … yeah, it really is. The Huskies’ other non-conference opponents are Montana and Fresno State. Montana is an FCS school and Fresno State went 1-11 in 2016 and is now under the direction of coach Jeff Tedford. Yeah, the former Cal coach.
To be fair, Washington had no idea that Rutgers would be potentially the worst Power Five program in college football when the series was scheduled. The Huskies and Scarlet Knights played in 2016 (Washington won 48-13) and the two-game series was announced in March of 2014. Rutgers went 9-4 in 2012, 6-7 in 2013 and was 8-5 in 2014. This wasn’t a cupcake-baking fiesta.
Petersen was asked about non-conference scheduling at Pac-12 media days and gave a great response.
“Yeah, I don’t really have like an exact philosophy on that,” Petersen said. “I know the fans and people like to see good teams come into the stadium and play, and it’s really hard to get. Like even if you had an ideal, it’s almost like who is available? Who wants to play? And it’s five years from now is what we’re talking about.
“So even if we had a really like legit philosophy on how it wants to look, it’s really hard to get that done. Jen Cohen, our athletic director, says what do you think about these guys? And it’s like, yeah, OK. It’s kind of like that. And you don’t know what they’re going to be like in five years too. And it’s like, oh, those guys are really good, do we want to play those guys? Well, five years is like light years. It’s completely different. Or somebody that was struggling a little bit, and then we say let’s play them. Then you have coaches through there and by the time you play them, they’re really good. So it’s kind of hard. The choices are just really limited.”
Beyond the non-conference slate, the rest of the schedule lines up really favorably for Washington to get to a second-straight Pac-12 title game. Washington’s Pac-12 South opponents are Colorado, UCLA and Arizona State. Both the Colorado and ASU games are on the road, but it’ll be a surprise if ASU is anything more than fifth in the Pac-12 South and while the Colorado game is a Pac-12 title game rematch, the Buffaloes may regress a bit in 2017.
That matchup with Stanford in Palo Alto on Nov. 10 could serve as a Pac-12 North championship of sorts. But even if the Huskies lose that game, Washington still has a schedule edge. Stanford visits both USC and Utah and has to travel to Washington State.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• 6 players to watch in Week 2 of the NFL preseason
• The ‘perfect’ ending to Ohio State star’s wild career
• Major rules change approved for Mayweather-McGregor
• Judge hits monster HR but also sets troubling record