Ok. I know that some of you have been unhappy with my "tone" lately. And, although I completely disagree with the argument that I've somehow got a stick up my arse about this season's Huskies team (I don't - I actually love the construct of this team), I understand the sentiment. Many of you want sunshine and rainbows coming from your fan blog of choice. I get it.
But, we have to deal with this.
Yesterday in his dots, Ryan posted a link to ATN's projected over/under analysis for college football win totals in 2015. The Huskies came in at 4 wins. That total tied Oregon State for the lowest number in the Pac 12. Washington State and California were projected at 5. Even Colorado was projected at 4.5.
The numbers would seem to suggest that, at least by this analysis, the Huskies are projected for a last place finish in the Pac 12. This would not be inconsistent the "far too early" forecast for 2015 that I put out just after last season ended.
Since Husky fans by and large find the idea of somehow finishing behind Cal, WSU, OSU and Colorado in the standings laughable, there must be some sort of disconnect. What is the unbiased (uninformed?) mass media and general public seeing that those of us invested in the Purple and Gold are not? How could it be that UW could be projected to do so little with a two-time Bear Bryant award winner at the helm and a wave of fresh talent permeating each position group across the roster?
In my one and only Memorial Day weekend post, I'm breaking down the key issues that drive analysts crazy when it comes to forecasting the 2015 Washington Huskies.
Ah, to be Young Again...
I've heard the argument posted here a thousand times:
Who cares about youth? It doesn't matter. What we had before wasn't that good. The young players will have to be better by definition.
I'm not immune to this sentiment. Like you, I've many a time screamed at the screen to let the young guys in to see what they could do. Name the position. I've probably yelled it.
But the rational parts of our brains must be paid attention to. There is a reason that teams that sport lineups made up of juniors and seniors tend to do better than those that go younger. There is a reason that coaches prefer to use redshirts on incoming freshmen. There is a reason that the best roster management of a college football program leaves you with 50% of your scholarships allocated to players in the program three years or more. Experience matters. Grown men tend to out play growing boys.
Reality can sometimes be difficult to accept. Our reality is that UW is returning the youngest roster in the Pac 12 in 2015 and one of the youngest in the nation.
In my "far too early" preview piece last January, I said this:
It doesn't project as "bad", but it does project as "not ready". And, as both Cal and Colorado have shown us the past few years, the rest of the Pac 12 eats "not ready" for breakfast and shits it out the next morning.
UW doesn't have bad coaches nor does it have bad players. But "not ready" can lead to the same result as "bad", especially when you consider that the rest of the Pac 12 North - maybe with the exception of Oregon State - is returning more experienced rosters with more proven pieces in most position groups.
It's All on the Lines ...
You've all heard this a million times. UW is rebuilding it's entire defensive front line and 3.5/5 of its starting offensive line from a season ago. That's a lot of beef to have replace. Analysts and bettors alike have always looked at the presence of experienced, grown men on the line of scrimmage to be an indicator of prognostication success. Let's face it, UW doesn't have it.
This isn't to say that UW is bereft of front line talent. In fact, you could make the argument that in two recruiting cycles, Chris Petersen has done more to rebuild the big-man depth than Steve Sarkisian did in 5 years. And you'd be right. There is little doubt that the talent at the freshman and sophomore levels on both sides of the line of scrimmage is at the healthiest point we've seen it in the last decade. Or more.
Still, "talented" doesn't mean "ready". Analysts don't like to try to predict exactly when players with potential turn into players with productivity. As such, most are projecting dire outcomes for the play of UW's LOS units. Fox Sports projected UW's Offensive Line as the worst in the Pac in 2015. So did ESPN's David Lombardi. While I have yet to see any of those kinds of rankings for Pac 12 defensive lines, its already the case that just about any team preview talks about the challenge that UW faces in replacing 6 of its starting front 7 defenders.
Until those lines show that they have the combination of talent and physical readiness to hold up in a Pac 12 contest, they will be seen as a vital weak link that holds back the potential of this UW squad.
Are you a Player or a Playmaker?...
To the outside eye, the Huskies are notoriously short on playmakers on either side of the ball.
Quarterback, of course, is where those eyeballs always look to first. UW's options are precariously thin. The starter from a season ago, Cyler Miles, is for all intents and purposes out of the program. He wasn't very impressive, but he was the guy that Chris Petersen thought gave UW the best chance to win. All of the playing time he got a season ago robbed other guys on the current roster - particularly Jeff Lindquist - of valuable live-fire reps.
Petersen is now working with only his fallback options from a season ago minus one transfer student in Troy Williams. Neither of Lindquist or KJ Carta-Samuels were able to distinguish themselves this spring. The true freshman who entered the mix impressed, but also showed that he would benefit greatly from a redshirt season. So it's not hard to understand why the analysts would not be impressed with UW's QB potential in 2015.
That problem is compounded by the lack of proven playmakers at the receiving positions. Jaydon Mickens is a respected Pac 12 receiver, but more of the "everyday Eddie" style player who produces more than he dazzles. Beyond him, just three other returning scholarship receivers and a heavy reliance on all four of your incoming true freshmen - none of whom were present for spring ball - is not a formula that is going to prove to analysts that there are playmakers on the outside who could help compensate for a middle of the road to bottom tier QB situation.
Even when you shift your attention to the defensive side of the ball, the search for playmakers continues. As fans, we know that guys like Sidney Jones, Budda Baker, JoJo Mathis, Will Dissly and Elijah Qualls all have potential to be huge playmakers. But to the outside analyst or sports bettor, that doesn't mean a whole lot. They look at the loss of Shaq Thompson's defensive TDs, John Timu's pick-sixes, Marcus Peters' 10 passes defensed plus INTs and Hau'oli Kikaha's 19 sacks and wonder to themselves how all of that gets replaced.
On to the Schedule...
The biggest factor driving the dire outlook by the outside world for UW's 2015 season is the schedule it faces. Most analysts have UW down has owning one of the 10 toughest schedules in the NCAA in 2015. Even Pacific Takes, our sister site covering Pac 12 happenings, has UW as hands-down the toughest schedule in the Pac.
Of course, most of the difficulty of the schedule is loaded in conference play. Given the fact that everybody pretty much plays everybody, you might presume that this really isn't that big of a deal when trying to forecast how UW will ultimately do in the standings.
However, you must also look at where games are played and how the schedule lays out from a timing perspective. In these regards, UW has caught almost no breaks for 2015. I say "almost" because they do catch one break in that this is a 5-home game season for the Dawgs, but one of those is Oregon. After that, there isn't a whole lot to like including a bye week that comes just one game into the Pac schedule (our opener hosting Cal) and a brutal three game stretch that has us @USC, vs Oregon, and @Stanford (what???).
The out-of-conference isn't too great either. While we don't have any marquee names on the schedule, our depth will definitely be tested by the physical challenge that our opponents present. The opening trip to Boise State will be both physically and emotionally draining for a young team. The Broncos are a projected playoff contender in 2015, even as they look to replace their QB and RB from a season ago. They have depth on the line of scrimmage and a tough defense. Utah State also presents a very physical style of defensive play that will definitely leave our Dawgs bearing some bruises before it is all said and done.
The difficulty of the schedule not only presents itself as a challenge from a wins and losses perspective, but also from an attrition perspective. A physically draining out-of-conference schedule coupled with an early bye will undoubtedly have an affect on the attrition rate of our team, especially as it rolls into the more "manageable" part of our schedule towards the very end of the season. These facts are not lost on analysts and are a major reason for the somewhat dour outlook for 2015.
So, there you have it. My take on why the Huskies look like a poor horse to bet on if you are an objective bettor looking for good candidate to lay cash on in the 2015 Pac 12 race.
My goal here was not to spread an opinion as much as try to break down what it is about UW that looks so dire to the outside analyst. In fact, were I a betting man I would definitely take the over on a line of four wins. As many of you would argue, I think that there is inherent value in the experience that all of the players gained after their first season under Chris Petersen. I also believe that there is much more experience at O-Line and Linebacker than what analysts are giving UW credit for - even if that experience is not purely of the "starting" variety. While bowl eligibility is going to be a challenge, I believe UW has a rational path to get there with the players and coaches it has on hand.
What about you? Where would you draw the over/under line for UW's 2015 win total? Leave your answer in our poll and join the discussion below.