Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The disaster that was the Tyrone Willingham era at Washington seems to be firmly in the past. In three seasons under Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies have gone 19-19 and made two bowl trips. That takes into account a 7-6 effort last season that included a highly entertaining Alamo Bowl.
Washington played its first two games at home and came out on top in both to begin the 2011 season. The strong start came to an end in week three at Nebraska (51-38), but the Huskies then won their next three games, all in conference play. Sarkisian's squad struggled down the stretch though with a 2-4 record in the last six regular season games. At 7-5, the Huskies still managed a bowl bid but were out-dueled by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and the Baylor Bears, 67-56.
For a team that went 0-12 in Whittingham's last season, a return to .500 and two straight bowl berths have been a welcome sight. Now the Huskies are ready to make the next step forward with the recent, and difficult past squarely in the rearview window.
OFFENSE: The Huskies are a young team up and down the roster but with its youth, Washington also has a great deal of talent. Washington had no problems scoring last season, ranking 25th in the nation in points per game, and that was with a freshmen quarterback.
Keith Price certainly didn't play like a freshman. The 6-foot-1 signal caller completed a Huskie-record 66.9 percent of his passes for 3,063 yards, 33 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Price was slowed by nagging injuries to his knees, but can be a threat in the run game as well when healthy.
Price will not have Chris Polk to hand it off to this season though. Polk rushed for nearly 1.500 yards last season and it will be up to Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey to make up for that loss in production. Callier is the speedier of the two backs and will be the primary ball-carrier after rushing for 260 yards last season.
Also needing to be replaced is the Huskies' two leading receivers from last season. Those spots will be filled by sophomore Kasen Williams and talented tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. In just his freshmen season, Williams caught 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns. Seferian-Jenkins was even better with 40 receptions, 544 yards and six scores. Seniors Cody Bruns and James Johnson add depth and experience in the passing game.
The interior of the offensive line remains intact led by senior center Drew Schaefer. Guard Colin Tanigawa and Erik Kohler also return as starters, but the Huskies still have questions at the tackle spots.
"Obviously, that is one of our question marks: Who are going to be our five guys?" Sarkisian said of his offensive line, "You're going to see times Schaefer will be at tackle and Kohler at center. We will do it time and again to get the best five guys to be successful on the field."
DEFENSE: As great as the offense was in putting points on the board, the defense was just as bad at giving up scores to opposing teams. The Huskies ranked 108th in scoring defense and lost a number of games, including the Alamo Bowl, because the defensive resistance was not strong enough.
To rectify the situation Washington brought in Justin Wilcox of Tennessee as defensive coordinator. Wilcox will be using a variety of 3-4 and 4-3 schemes to best utilize his personnel.
Josh Shirley is the only returning starter on the defensive line, and he headlines the youth on the defense which will start four sophomores. Shirley was a dominant pass-rusher last season with 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. His fellow linemen will include sophomores Danny Shelton and Andrew Hudson.
The linebacking corps will also get significant contributions from a sophomore in John Timu. In just his freshmen season, Timu had 52 total tackles. Princeton Fuimaono is also a returning starter. The junior had 64 tackles and 8.5 for a loss last season.
The real strength of the defense, at least in terms of experience, is in the secondary. Safety Sean Parker and cornerback Desmond Trufant, younger brother of the NFL defensive back Marcus Trufant, are the team's top returning tacklers. The two combined for six interceptions last season as well, with Parker's four leading the team. Making the unit even stronger is heavily recruited prospect Shaquille Thompson
SPECIAL TEAMS: Washington is a team with only 11 returning starters on offense and defense so its only fitting that holes will need to be filled on special teams as well. Junior college transfer Travis Coons is the new place-kicker while true freshmen Korey Durkee will take over a punter. Callier and Sankey will likely be the return specialists.
OUTLOOK: Some significant contributors from last season are gone, but the Huskies are still blessed with a young and talented roster. Price is one of the Pac-12's best and Seferian-Jenkins Jenkins could turn into a star this season, while the secondary already has established playmakers in Parker and Trufant.
Washington will know just how far it can get this season early on with a brutal start to the schedule. The Huskies begin at home against San Diego State, which will be a warm-up for a trip to Baton Rouge to take on SEC power LSU. A matchup with FCS opponent Portland State gives some reprieve before Pac-12 play begins. The Huskies' first three games are at home against Stanford and USC and on the road against Oregon. If the Huskies can survive that stretch the rest of the schedule shakes out well, despite four of the final six games on the road.
For the past few years Washington has watched as Oregon and Stanford dominated the Pac-12 North. Now the Huskies want to break that up and push themselves towards the top of the conference. The offense will give them every opportunity to do so, but it will be the defense that determines if this dark horse candidate is for real.