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The Washington Huskies and the Youth Movement

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Rumors of Chris Petersen turning to a true freshman QB brings fan attention back to the issue of team youth.

Well, that was fun, wasn't it?

Rumors of true freshman QB Jake Browning being informed that he would open the season at Boise State as Washington's starter burned up the Seattle node of the Internet this weekend.  Judging from the corpses of wasted commenters strewn about the ethernet, you'd think that an EMP bomb had just gone off in the Emerald City.

Either that or Miley Cyrus had just blown through town.

Many fans are incredulous to the notion that Chris Petersen might go with the true freshman at the most important position on the field.  After all, there have been precious few examples anywhere in CFB where true freshman have been pressed into service at QB and delivered a conference-winning season in the Power 5.  To jump Browning ahead of a veteran like Jeff Lindquist or even another young player who has more service time in KJ Carta-Samuels feels to many fans like a move that diminishes the prospects for a bowl campaign in the season ahead.

And, make no mistake, that is a distinct possibility.  But is it likely?

The coaches will tell you that they are playing the players that "give them the best chance to win".  Fans usually equate that to mean "the best chance to win today".  Coaches will often feed that notion by noting that they are playing for "the here and the now".  This inevitably leads to the conclusion that whatever decisions are being made when it comes to young players are a direct result of the coaching staff's conclusion that the younger player is better than the older player he is replacing.

In the sage words of the venerable Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend".

I don't recommend the task of parsing through coach speak to those faint of heart.  It is akin to trying to swim through shark-infested water while wearing Lady Gaga's famous meat dress without getting bit.  Either that or trying to get through a summer mathematics course at Eastern Washington University.  It's that difficult (am I right Duck fans?).

However, I think we all need to come to grips with the fact that "playing for today" and "building a sustainable program" are not mutually exclusive concepts.  In the case of this Huskies program, they may in fact be completely congruent.

Should Jake Browning step on the field as the starting QB in Week 1, he will become just another one of many young players who will be thrust into prominent roles for the Huskies in 2015.  At receiver, the Huskies will be be featuring two true sophomores in Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius in starter roles while rotating, at minimum, two true freshman (Chico McClatcher and Isaiah Renfro) in prominent positions.  The offensive line will feature at least one sophomore and will rotate in at least two redshirt freshmen along with - perhaps - one true freshman.  The running back corps looks ready to accommodate significant reps for true freshman Myles Gaskin.  The tight ends will definitely rotate in David Ajamu and Drew Sample, a sophomore and a freshman, in prominent roles.

That's just the offense.

On defense, the Huskies will feature first, second and third year (redshirt sophomores) players in starting positions at cornerback (2x), safety (2x), linebacker, defensive end and defensive / nose tackle.  The rotational depth will almost entirely be made up of players whose class level does not end in the letters "-ior".

The truth of the matter is that the Huskies - and I know that we've discussed this ad nauseum here at the 'Pound - is a very inexperienced football team.  This version of UW Football features just 18 scholarship players who fall into the category of "junior" or "senior".  That is a pretty small number that is further reduced when you exclude the two JC transfers (Nik Little, Tony Rodriguez) and the three special teams only players (Ryan Masel, Cameron Van Winkle, Koree Durkee) who count in those ranks.

A decision to start Jake Browning over Jeff Lindquist, should that be the ultimate decision, is not one that is made because Jake is the more ready player or capable of adding two or three more wins to the schedule.  The fact of the matter is that with a team this young, the staff has a strong incentive to implement "the new way" as quickly as possible.  Investing time and reps in a learning curve for a young QB so that he can grow and develop along the same timeline as the rest of the young players who are playing around him is a rational decision.  And it is one that can be made in this particular situation without a reasonable person assuming that the Huskies have to sacrifice wins along the way.  Sure, Jake may throw a few more interceptions or kill a few more drives than Lindquist or KJCS might otherwise.  But given the youthful mistakes likely to be shared among the rest of this young roster, is it likely that those QB mistakes will be the sole contributors to the difference between a win and a loss in any given game?

Probably not.

If you agree with this logic, it is then reasonable to conclude that the Huskies are playing for both the short and the long term in choosing to start Browning (if that is what they, in fact, end up doing).  In the long-term, they are investing valuable reps into a player who they believe will eventually lead this team to the top of the conference while giving him the chance to develop alongside the players that will partner with him for much of his college experience.  In the short-term, they are conceding a few more mistakes in return for (perhaps) a few more explosive plays and the likelihood that the outcome of any single game in 2015 is not significantly affected by the presence of one QB over another on the field.

Most Husky fans feel like that their Dawgs have been in a state of rebuilding for more than a decade.  Unfortunately, when you turnover coaches every four to five years, that is often exactly what becomes of your program.  Chris Petersen is in the midst of his own rebuild on Montlake.  The tools that he is wielding include players like Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Trey Adams, Dante Pettis, Austin Joyner, Kaleb McGary, Will Dissly ... and so on.  The apparent decision to turn to a true freshman QB is just another brick laid in the foundation of that grand plan.

While that plan may not add wins to the 2015 schedule over what the pundits expect, it certainly doesn't seem to compromise the outlook for the Huskies.  A struggle to get bowl eligible was always a distinct likelihood for the season ahead given the youth all over the roster.  The start of part II of the "Montlake Jake" era adds to the sustainability of the program's growth trajectory without compromising any prospects for the season ahead.