Every season in August we like to take a look ahead at the upcoming football season and give our predictions about how the team will perform compared to the previous year with our Better/Worse/Neutral series. In the spirit of accountability, with the season concluded it's time to take a look back at those predictions and see how accurate they were. First up is our look at the Husky return game.
Here's what we said
From our article back on August 2nd, this was our conclusion:
Verdict: Neutral. Perhaps I'm being too optimistic here. While I don't expect any of the newcomers to match the TD threat that Ross provided, I do think Pettis will remain a terrific option as a punt returner, and I expect the penalties and self-inflicted errors in the kickoff return game to decrease. With a number of very fast, very quick players available to step in for Ross, I don't think it's going out on a big limb to think that the kickoff return average could come close to matching the 21.8 the Huskies posted last year, and the overall return game should be similar to what Washington did last year.
How did we do?
I think "Neutral" was an accurate prediction, and that's a good thing considering how good the return game was in 2014. In the 2014 season the kickoff returners averaged 21.8 yards on 45 returns, including 2 touchdowns courtesy of John Ross. The punt returners averaged 9.4 yards on 32 returns (from 70 total punts) with 1 touchdown from Dante Pettis. It's no exaggeration to say the Huskies featured one of the most explosive return teams in the country with both Ross and Pettis threats to score on each return. Penalties were the main sore point with these units in 2014, with a number of big kickoff returns in particular called back. Despite the absence of Ross in 2015, the return teams posted numbers nearly as good. The kickoff returners averaged 20.2 yards on 35 returns with no touchdowns, while the punt returners averaged 16.0 yards on 23 returns (from 73 total punts) with 2 more touchdowns from Pettis.
While the kickoff return unit was not quite as explosive, it was more consistent with fewer poor returns and a noticeable reduction in penalties. Chico McClatcher was the primary guy with 25 returns and a 23.5 yard average with a long of 56 yards. He didn't take any to the house and isn't quite as explosive as Ross in that capacity, but he was very effective and more consistent. Pettis remained the primary punt returner for most of the season, and while he had a lower percentage of punts returned, he boosted his average to 16.9 yards and added 2 more touchdown returns. His 3 career punt returns for touchdowns is 2nd all-time in Husky history, one behind Beno Bryant's record. McClatcher also got some looks back there and did well, averaging 12.0 yards on his 6 returns.
Looking ahead, things look bright. With McClatcher and Pettis returning and Ross coming back from his ACL injury, the Huskies will boast three proven, explosive returners. And with guys like Budda Baker and Austin Joyner also on the roster and a recruit like Sean McGrew on the way, there is plenty of depth.