In our previous article, we took a look at the Husky starting lineups for 2012 and compared them with the rest of the conference. Not only did that study find that the Huskies were young this year, they were in fact the youngest in the conference. The notion that the Huskies were a young team this year gave a number of fans pause - how was it that the roster should continue to be young in year 4 of Sark's time here on Montlake? In this article, we take a look at the roster and try to figure out why.
The first thing to look at is the composition of the roster. Here's the breakdown by years (players that redshirted or have redshirted indicated with an asterisk):
Even by the standards of today, this was a roster very light on 4th & 5th year players. How did this happen? Let's look at the recruiting classes:
2008 (Ty's last recruiting class): 26 signed, 4 remained
This was a full recruiting class, and by ranking, the best of the Willingham era. But it suffered from tremendous attrition, as 15 of the 26 fell by the wayside at various points. Some never made it into school; some retired due to injury; some flunked out; some were booted due to off-field issues; and some simply didn't pan out and opted to transfer. There's no doubt that some of the attrition was sparked by the coaching change from Willingham to Sark - different staffs don't always view players in the same way, and different systems may require different skills. Plus, the connections that players make to the staff that recruited them may not carry over to a new staff of guys they have no prior connection to. But some of the attrition was just bad luck (or poor scouting) in terms of injuries, and some was due to Ty's staff reaching for guys that simply didn't belong on an upper-tier Pac-10/12 roster.
Only 10 of these players ended up completing their careers at the UW, a frankly terrible rate. The ones that did manage to make it all the way through were generally pretty good players, with 6 of them players that never redshirted, or, in the case of Chris Polk, left early for the NFL.
Of the 4 guys that were still here from this class, 2 were starters (Schaefer &Glenn). The 3rd fifth-year starter on the roster (Amosa) was initially a walk-on.
2009 (Sark's first recruiting class): 19 signed, 7 remained
This was frankly a really poor class. Most of that blame lies with Willingham, as he was a lame duck coach for much of the season, and the coaching staff basically stopped recruiting after October. That, combined with the poor state of the program, left a difficult situation for Sark to step into when he was hired. He tried, but there just weren't many guys left available that were willing to listen to his pitch. Sark gambled heavily on JC kids, signing 6. but only 2 of them ended up playing for Sark as most of them did not meet the UW's admission requirements.
Of the 15 players that actually made it into school, 6 of them washed-out along the way. Along with the 2 JC kids that made it in and graduated already, this left only 7 players still on the roster for this year. And of those, only 4 redshirted (including James Johnson who sat out this season). Combined with the low numbers left from the 2008 class, this resulted in a Husky roster unusually low on Seniors & RS-Juniors - the kinds of guys you normally count on as the backbone of your team.
That's not to say there weren't some good players in this class - there are - but not nearly enough, and some kids ended up burning their redshirt years that wouldn't have in a healthier program. Talia Crichton, Semisi Tokolahi & Nate Fellner all were guys you'd normally want to redshirt.
2010 (Sark's second recruiting class & first true full class): 31 signed, 23 remained
Sark rebounded nicely from his first, truncated class by signing a large and highly-regarded class (#11 Scout.com, #28 Rivals.com). He was clearly in the mode of remaking the roster with "his" guys, and took advantage of some early-entry signees to count against the 2009 class and a couple of greyshirts delaying their enrollment to count against 2011 to sign 6 guys more than the NCAA limits. There were a couple of academic casualties (including Chris Young, now starring at ASU), and a few others have left the program for a variety of reasons, but this class retains a sizable presence on the roster, including the majority of the OL depth for 2012. More attrition seems inevitable though - some guys might not be able to recover from recurring injuries, and some may find themselves buried on the depth charts and decide to leave. Given the reality that Sark appears determined to sign another full class for 2013, there are players in this class that are going to get pushed out to make room for the newcomers.
This class hasn't quite lived up to their initial billing as a few highly regarded players (Nick Montana, Colin Porter, Zach Fogerson, Chris Young) are not around, and another (Deontae Cooper) could very well join the injury retirement list. But there are a number of key players still around from this class, including the aforementioned OL (initially dubbed "The Cascade Front"). Their numbers have taken a hit with Porter's retirement and the ongoing injury issues of Erik Kohler & Colin Tanigawa, but next year's OL starters figure to feature at least 3 from this group, and possibly all 5. Besides these OL, there are anywhere from 3 to 7 guys from this group that figure into the starting mix for next year.
2011 (Sark's third recruiting class): 24 signed, 22 remain
Another well-regarded class for Sark (#22 Scout.com, #23 Rivals.com) including his first consensus 5-star players in Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. There's been very little attrition so far, as only 1 player failed to qualify (2 others ended up delaying their enrollment to get their grades in order) and 1 other has left the program. Sark was able to redshirt a large portion of this class as only 5 played as true freshmen. However, I'd expect a lot more attrition to come - with the wholesale change in the defensive staff, there are new priorities in recruiting and the kinds of players Wilcox & Co. want in their defense. We've already heard strong rumblings of James Sample leaving the program, and I'd expect more to come. There will be openings in the depth chart, and if some of these guys can't make a serious move up, they are likely candidates to be encouraged to move on.
This class also has a number of key contributors already, as the 5 true frosh that played are starters along with 2 more that redshirted.
2012 (Sark's fourth recruiting class): 25 signed, 24 remain
A class that had early momentum that then stalled and had folks concerned picked up a lot of late steam after the coaching changes and ended up ranked similarly to the previous year (#22 Scout.com, #21 Rivals.com). Only one player didn't make it in as Kalei Auelua has been greyshirting to rehab from a high school knee injury. It's not clear at this point if he's expected to enroll at Washington - I'd guess both parties have moved on, but there's been no confirmation yet either way.
A couple of the signees were JC kids that join the 2010 class as 3rd year players and didn't redshirt; of the true frosh, 8 also saw action due to a combination of injuries, ability & new coaching philosophies on defense. If this class can avoid too much bad luck with injuries and off-field problems, they set up as one that could be Sark's best yet and key cogs down the road for a Pac-12 title contender.
Given the above data, I think we can draw the following conclusions for why the 2012 Husky starting lineup was so young:
1) Coaching Turnover - Wholesale changes in coaching staffs often result in high levels of attrition; the returning players are not ones recruited by the new staff, and loyalty between the two suffers. There were quite a few players from Ty's 2008 class that left under Sark's watch as they struggled to gain traction in the depth charts. The coaching change also effectively crippled recruiting for the 2009 class as Sark inherited almost no commits and few recruits that were willing to take a chance on a new coach taking over a winless program at the nadir of a horrible 12-47 stretch of losing football. That small class, on the heels of a previous class that suffered tremendous attrition left a big hole in terms of experience on this roster.
Turnover on the defensive side of the coaching staff last year is also having an impact on the composition of the roster, and will have an even bigger impact this off-season as they attempt to fit in 25+ new players with only 10 spots open due to graduation. Kids like Travis Feeney & Cory Littleton likely would not have found themselves starting this year under the previous defensive staff.
2) Failures of the 2008 & 2009 Classes - Related to the above point, the two classes that should have provided the veteran leadership and experienced backbone of this team were instead gutted by attrition and resulted in just 14 total players in their 4th or 5th years, a terribly low number. By default this meant more opportunities for younger players to fill the 2-deeps and contend for starting spots.
3) Injuries - While I can't say for sure how this program over the last 4 years compares with others in terms of injuries and players having to give up the sport, there's no question that it had a major impact on the composition of the starting lineup this year. All teams have injury issues, but nearly every player that went down for the season before it even started was a key player expected to start: Colin Porter (retired), Ha'oli Jamora, James Johnson, Jesse Callier & Erik Kohler.
4) Scouting Failures - When you look at certain position groups, you can't help but see glaring misses that left big holes to fill. In particular, the LB group. It's not just the talent of John Timu, Travis Feeney & Shaq Thompson that resulted in them starting this year - check the list of LB signees that washed out of the program in the last 4 years: Bradly Roussel, Kurt Mangum, Jordan Wallace, Tim Tucker, Garrett Gilliland & Victor Burnett (plus Darius Waters & Chris Young who failed to qualify). As well, you can't help but notice the low number of OL recruits in the 2011 class, partly due to the last-minute defections of Paulay Asiata & Stephane Nembot to Colorado. While Asiata flunked out, Nembot was a starter for the Buffs - having him around might have allowed Sark to redshirt Shane Brostek and keep Dexter Charles on the sidelines. And you also can't help but look at the failure of any WR to step up and firmly claim the #2 job opposite Kasen; part of that was due to JJ's injury and the lingering effects of Kevin Smith's injury prior to the Alamo Bowl last year, but you have to wonder if guys like Antavius Sims, Marvin Hall, Josh Perkins & Jamaal Jones will ever make an impact. This is a big reason why you see Sark looking to sign 3-4 WR in the 2013 class, and it wouldn't surprise me if 1-2 of them see significant time next year.
5) Improved Recruiting - I think part of the youth movement on this team is due to Sark continuing to land more high-level kids ready to play right away; guys like Williams, ASJ, Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson, Pio Vatuvei, Shane Brostek and others. If this staff is able to pull off some of the high-level kids they're currently on for the 2013 class, you'll see more true frosh contending for starting spots next year simply because they are that good.
Looking ahead, I think Sark has ridden out the worst of his roster problems - with the 2008 class completely gone now and the 2009 class nearly gone, the roster numbers are much more balanced between classes and years. Those problems were at least partly of his own doing as he oversaw and encouraged a significant amount of attrition to get his recruits in place, had his own scouting/development failures, and he can't be completely absolved from the disaster that was the 2009 class; but moving ahead (assuming he continues coaching here long-term) the amount of churn should lessen and the number of kids he redshirts should increase.