I've taken a bunch of grief for my "pessimistic" outlook for on the Huskies for this season. While we may debate how "pessimistic" I really am (I don't feel that I'm pessimistic at all), there is not much of a debate around these parts as to how difficult it is going to be for this year's Huskies squad to reach bowl eligibility.
A difficult schedule with one of the youngest teams in the nation and, potentially, a true freshman QB at the helm does not normally lend itself well to a championship run in this modern era of college football.
But, as has been pointed out many times here on this blog, there are reasons for optimism. And, given that the pre-season is the time for optimism to abound, I thought we'd spend the second to last day of no college football thinking about the top silver linings for UW as they prepare for Boise State.
I've laid out below the top three things that I think bode well for UW to start the season. Mull them over and place your vote in our 30 Day Countdown poll.
Number 1: Team Health
Knock on wood as we still have a few days of practice yet to complete. But, let's all take a step back and marvel at just how well this entire offseason has gone as it relates to player health. Sure, we've absorbed a couple of blows, most notably the medical retirement of senior OG Dexter Charles and the knee injury to junior WR John Ross. By and large, however, UW has had one of the healthiest fall camps that I personally can recall.
For a young team that is trying to develop its front line depth, this is music to our collective ears. Credit UW Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim Socha for putting together a program that both enhances development while controlling for player health as well as the UW medical staff for staying on top of the nicks and dings that plague every football team during offseason conditioning. Also credit the UW football staff for taking a measured approach to how they manage contact in practice. Thanks to their collective efforts, UW will go into Boise State in relatively excellent shape.
Number 2: Staff / Roster Familiarity and Cohesion
If you pay attention to the myriad of player and coach interviews that Ryan often links to in our Dots columns, a common theme threads its way from piece to piece: Familiarity.
We often poo-poo this notion of player / staff cohesion and familiarity as a minor point and one that is not all that relevant to wins and losses during the season. While it is impossible to prove or disprove that notion, the idea that the coaches don't have to invest the time (and that the players don't have to invest the frustration) in learning how to do things like line up for drills, manage their personal time or take notes in film study means that more time and energy is available to the principle activities that do drive wins and losses: Fundamentals and Scheme.
From head coach all the way down to place kicker, everybody on this roster has benefited from either already knowing what the expectations are of them in how to do things or having access to a teammate who does.
Teams that have built and perfected their way of doing things - programs like Oregon, Alabama and, dare I say, Boise State - capture those efficiencies and leverage them to both better assimilate young players and to accelerate the development of their veterans. When the details of how to work are familiar, the details of executing the work can be mastered. If the players and coaches are to be believed, massive improvements in this area have been achieved this offseason.
Number 3: No Rebuild Positions
Last season, the Huskies were not only breaking in a new coaching staff, they were quite literally overhauling two position groupings that were almost completely green. The quarterback position was manned by two young players who had never had a single snap of college football and a slightly experienced young player who had missed the entire offseason while suspended from the team. The entire unit was, therefore, two guys who had no knowledge of college ball and one guys who had no knowledge of Chris Petersen's system.
You all know how that turned out. But they were not the only unit in such a predicament.
The defensive secondary was also completely new. Outside of veteran Marcus Peters, the Dawgs faced the prospect of rolling out a true sophomore and a bunch of true freshman (after Jermaine Kelly and Trevor Walker were injured) across the entirety of their defensive backfield. While there was some talent to work with in guys like Budda Baker and Sidney Jones, we all saw the dramatic lumps that those players took as they learned how to adjust to the speed of the game. Efforts against the likes of Eastern Washington, Georgia State, Oregon and even Oklahoma State were all eye openers for those players and for fans alike.
This season, there is no such complete rebuild. There are obviously a lot of positions across the roster introducing new featured players. We've discussed ad nauseum the youth of the team, the lack of starts across the O-Line and the new starters across the defensive front seven. Unlike last season, however, the players stepping into those roles all played a season ago. Even where we are projecting the team to make use of true freshmen - positions like WR and RB - those situations include complementary players with more experience to help guide the younger players.
How that translates onto the field remains to be seen. At the very least, you can expect fewer "gross" errors in execution of assignments and opponent play / cue recognition. At the very most, you can expect a much more consistent and efficient level of output across all of the position units, even if the spectacular playmaking doesn't quite match that of the veterans who are now departed.
No Rebuild Positions
The purpose of this exercise is to debate the top "silver linings" for a Husky team that is going into week 1 with so many unknowns and in a significant state of transition. For me, the fact that UW is going through that transition with so many players - however young and physically immature they still might be - who have played in live snaps against PAC 12 teams, who have been to a bowl game and who have benefited from the mentorship of guys who may now be playing in the NFL or doing something else excellent with their lives is a notion that is moving.
I don't think fans will be able to fully comprehend how much of a disadvantage UW was at at both the QB and DB positions last season until they see the performance of both of those units this season. Even as UW reloads along the offensive and defensive lines this season, the mere fact that all of the major rotation players did, in fact, earn precious reps in live games a year ago, is a significant advantage that this team has over last year's. To me, that's is the best reason for optimism that one can hope for going into Boise.