Philadelphia, PA – 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: It has been quite a while since Seattle was considered a hot bed in the college football world. A program that once had 27 straight seasons in the Top 25 during which it made 21 bowl appearances (seven in the Rose Bowl) and even a shared national title during a 12-0 1991 campaign, Washington has largely fallen to quiet mediocrity.
That type of lackluster success occurred again last season. Washington was good for an upset or two during the year, including wins over Pac-12 Champion Stanford and nine-win Oregon State, but a three-game losing streak in October and an inexplicable 31-28 overtime loss to Washington State in the season finale kept the team at a meager 7-6 in the regular season.
It was enough though, for head coach Steve Sarkisian to bring his team to a third straight bowl game. However, in the Las Vegas Bowl the Huskies lost, 28-26, to Boise State.
OFFENSE: While the team wasn't able to better its record from 2011, or 2010 for that matter, the more troubling development was the regression of Keith Price. Now a senior, Price was expected to be a dark horse for all-conference honors entering last season after he threw for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011. That would not be how the 2012 campaign played out though, as Price's completion percentage dropped by six points, while he threw just 19 touchdowns passes against 13 interceptions. Getting Price back on track will be a huge key for this team.
"I'm ready. I have a lot to prove to myself and a lot to prove to you guys. I can't wait," Price said. " I think this is when I perform best, when people are doubting me and people don't think I can do what I did."
Hanging over the team this offseason and into camp is the impending legal and disciplinary issues for star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The 6-foot-6 tight end plead guilty to a DUI charge in July but team punishment is still pending. The tight end was with the team when training camp began but his chances of playing right away were put in even more jeopardy when he fractured a finger on his right hand. The injury will require surgery.
Sarkisian has been unable to give a timetable for Seferian-Jenkins' return nor has he been able to explain how the injury will affect any disciplinary action taken by the team against the star tight end.
Assuming Seferian-Jenkins is able to play at all this season, Price will again have solid options to throw to. Seferian-Jenkins would be a candidate for All-American honors after hauling in 69 passes for 852 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns last season. Wide receiver Kasen Williams is another dangerous threat, as he caught 77 passes for 878 yards, both team highs, to go with six scores. If Seferian-Jenkins misses serious time, Williams will be that much more valuable.
The running back spot went from being terrible early on to an area of depth entering camp this year. Starter Jesse Collier was lost for the season in the first game last year with a knee injury. Backup Bishop Sankey stepped in and had an impressive season (1,439 yards, 16 touchdowns). Both are back giving the Huskies options in the backfield.
There are four players returning as starters on the offensive line. Junior left tackle Micah Hatchie is the leader among a group that has aged together.
DEFENSE: On defense the Huskies compared favorably with the rest of the Pac-12 last season. As a unit, Washington ranked fourth in both total (355.2 ypg) and scoring (24.2 ppg) defense, while finishing among the top 40 teams in the country in turnover margin (+5).
The strength of this year's version is the linebackers. John Timu was converted from safety and excelled in both defending against the run and pass. Timu had a team-high 91 tackles and also collected two interceptions. Travis Feeney (76 tackles, 4.0 sacks) and Shaq Thompson (74 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3 INTs) are also converted safeties that really seem to have taken to playing linebacker.
In the secondary safety Sean Parker is one of the best in the conference. Parker's calling card is his hard hitting, as he racked up 77 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles last season. Sophomore Marcus Peters tied for a team- high with three interceptions and is expected to continue to improve at cornerback. Seniors Greg Ducre and Will Shamburger aren't returning starters but have plenty of experience as they enter their final seasons.
Both of the team's top pass rushers will also return to the defensive line. Josh Shirley (6.5 sacks) and Andrew Hudson (6.5 sacks) tied for the team lead in sacks and will be back on opposite ends of the line. Danny Shelton returns as a starting tackle, while Sione Potoa'e gets a chance to be a full-time starter in his senior season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Travis Coons did just about everything, outside of returning kicks, for the Huskies in the area of special teams. The senior hit 9-of-14 field goal attempts, was a perfect 39-of-39 on extra points and was also the primary punter with 54 boots for a 39.8 yards average. He is back once again this season.
Williams' speed and field vision make him a very attractive punt returner, though five different players returned punts for the team last season. Jaydon Mickens was one of them, while also serving as the lead kickoff returner.
OUTLOOK: Consistency can be a dirty word when teamed with mediocrity. Unfortunately for Sarkisian and company that type of stain is what they are trying to wipe away in Seattle. Washington is in a brand new stadium this season and will be trying to fill it with more cheers than a year ago.
"The reality is we are a better football team. We were a better football team last year and unfortunately the record isn't indicative of how good that football team was." Sarkisian said. "I feel confident we can get over that hump but ultimately until we do it we're a 7-6 football team and that's what we have to change."
A rematch of last year's Las Vegas Bowl kicks things off as Washington takes on Boise State to open the season before playing Illinois in Chicago. There is then a break against Idaho State before getting into league play. Washington plays Arizona at home to get it started and then immediately faces the toughest challenge of the season with a brutal three-game stretch at Stanford, against Oregon and at Arizona State. The second half of the year is more forgiving with home games against California, Colorado and Washington State, but back-to-back away games against UCLA and Oregon State will keep the Huskies honest.
Even with whatever punishment Seferian-Jenkins receives, the biggest concern for the Huskies is getting the 2011 Price back. If that can happen Washington has a real shot at being a dark horse in the Pac-12 North. If not a carbon copy of the last three seasons could be inevitable.