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Hype for Washington Football Arrives Just in Time for Summer

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With Washington now the darling of media members everywhere, UW fans are beginning to experience summer hype for their team.

The Husky hype train is leaving the station with Chris Petersen still not on board.
The Husky hype train is leaving the station with Chris Petersen still not on board.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We've reached the doldrums of the summer. Most spring sports have wrapped up. Spring football is a distant memory. Even the diversion that was the NFL draft has come and passed. Usually this is the time of the year when Husky football fans take refuge in whatever sunsoaked activities effectively bridge the gap from here to fall football.

Let's be honest here. Thinking about pre-season rankings or how a race for a division championship might shake out isn't something that the typical Husky fan need concern themselves with this time of year. Usually.

But, if you've been paying attention (and, trust me, I've barely been doing so amid new job, home remodeling, and the race for the White House), it is hard to miss the fact that people who are paid to write about such things seem to really like what Chris Petersen has put together going into the 2016 season. I'm not just talking about the Softy Mahlers, Adam Judes, Christian Caples, and Mason Kelleys of the world. National analysts are flocking to the Huskies like spray tan vendors to a Trump rally. A quick scan of the recent "way too early" polls being put out by highly regarded pundits reveals much love for Chris Petersen's club.

The newest of these posts belongs to Fox Sports columist and podcaster Bruce Feldman who, in his "post spring" preseason Top 25 ranked Washington 13th--highest among all PAC-12 teams ranked.

I've been bullish on the Huskies for awhile. I like the young talent Chris Petersen has assembled. On offense, quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin are coming off terrific rookie years. This team also has one of the country's top secondaries led by safety Budda Baker. This is the highest Pac-12 team I've got. I expect the league -- especially the North -- to be very balanced.

Feldman's partner in crime, Stewart Mandel, also showed quite a bit of love for UW in his preseason ranking piece from earlier this month. Mandel has the Huskies 16th in his poll, five spots below Stanford, but in front of every other PAC-12 team.

The Huskies look poised for a breakthrough under third-year coach Chris Petersen after a very young 2015 team upset foes like USC and Washington State. The Pac-12's top defense in 2015 returns eight starters, most notably S Budda Baker.

USA Today's Paul Myerberg, a favorite amongst some of us blogging types, was quick to identify UW as a sleeper when he did his early 2016 preview poll back in January. Noting that it still might be a tad early for a breakout, Myerberg ranked UW 24th in that poll.

This might be one year ahead of schedule for the Huskies, who have compiled an elite crop of underclassmen as the foundation for a conference championship. Those same youngsters — such as quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin — may be ready for prime time, however. If so, Washington is a team to watch.

ESPN was also quick to jump on the Husky hype train. As early as February, the mother ship was projecting the Huskies in the top 25, albeit behind other PAC 12 programs like Stanford, UCLA, Oregon, and (ahem) Washington State.

After losing six games in each of coach Chris Petersen's first two seasons in Seattle, the Huskies look to take the next step in 2016. Quarterback Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin were two of the top freshmen in the FBS this season, and the Huskies are bringing back four starting offensive linemen to block for them. Washington led the Pac-12 in scoring defense (18.8 points), total defense (351.8 yards) and red zone defense (79.5 percent), and seven starters are expected back from that unit.

Following spring practices, ESPN's Mark Schlabach doubled down on his UW prediction by moving them up to 17 - ahead of UCLA, WSU, and Oregon.

Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning spent the spring trying to improve his deep balls, and he was helped by the return of speedster John Ross III, who missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL in his left knee. The offensive line, which surrendered 34 sacks last season, also is getting somewhat of a makeover, with Coleman Shelton moving from right guard to center. Of course, Washington's Rose Bowl hopes are riding on its defense, which led the Pac-12 in scoring defense (18.8 points per game) in 2015.

ESPN wasn't the only outlet to like what they saw out of Chris Petersen's crew this past spring. Athlon's had already put a stake in the ground on UW way back in February when their "way too early" previews included a ranking of 19th for Washington.

Looking for a sleeper pick to win the Pac-12 in 2016? Take a look at Chris Petersen's Huskies. Washington was slated for a rebuilding year in 2015, and this team finished with at three-game winning streak to get to 7-6 overall. The biggest reason for optimism in 2016 is the return of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin after impressive freshman seasons, while the defense returns nearly intact after leading the Pac-12 in scoring (18.8 points per game allowed) and the fewest yards per play (4.9).

Athlon's upgraded UW's position all the way to 11th in their post-spring poll.

The Huskies are poised for a breakthrough year in Chris Petersen's third season. Talented sophomores Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin are two of the Pac-12's top players on offense, while the defense returns eight starters from a unit that allowed only 18.8 points a game last year.

11th?  "Breakthrough year?"  Really?

Cameron DaSilva of Fox thinks so. He's got Washington on his list of Top 5 Most Underrated Teams in 2016. UW joins the likes of Michigan State, Auburn, Iowa, and Nebraska as teams that he thinks are going to make more noise than the critics expect.

Since coming over from Boise State, head coach Chris Petersen has led the Huskies to back-to-back winning records. Washington also upset the likes of USC and Washington State a year ago, doing so in the midst of a 7-6 season led by true freshmen at quarterback and running back. Now with Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin gaining a year of experience under their belts, Washington is poised for a breakout season in the Pac-12.

This offseason has gotten so crazy for UW in the hype department that they are now beginning to show up on lists for teams that are getting too much of it.  Consider Tom Fornelli's "Top 5 Most Overhyped Teams" piece on CBSSports.com from a couple of days ago.

The Huskies were a team that had a nice win over USC on the road, and crushed Washington State to finish the regular season, but it's important to remember that the Cougars were without quarterback Luke Falk in that game. Had Falk been healthy and played in the game, it's not unreasonable to believe that Washington State might have won the game, which would have kept Washington at 5-7 and out of a bowl game.

To be fair to Tom, he did make some comments related to the fact that he does expect UW to be good, but "not until 2018."  He also was clever enough to put Washington State on that same overhyped list, thus ensuring that he would piss off the entire Evergreen State.

Overhype lists aside, it is remarkable to see UW garnering such attention from all corners of the sports media universe. Sure, sports writers can sometimes display lemming tendencies and follow one another right over a cliff. However, in this day and age when everybody is looking to garner click-throughs with the novelty of their "own take," it is exceptional to see Washington attracting so much positive attention.

There are some common threads that bind all of these forecasts together. Certainly, the UW defense, which shined in 2015 and returns eight starters, is the one piece that is impossible to ignore. Now with a national "name" in the form of Budda Baker, the Huskies D is easy to recognize.

Analysts have also gushed over the upside of UW's breakout true freshmen. QB Jake Browning has been consistently in the mix as one of the top two or three returning signal-callers in the PAC as documented by several pundits. Jon Wilner even went as far as to point out that UW's QB position is probably the best of all the programs when you consider backups. RB Myles Gaskin was one of just two true freshmen to rush over 1000 yards and has also gained national name-brand recognition as a result.

Probably the most significant reason that UW is garnering all of this attention is the fact that advanced stats (yes, those darned advanced stats) really love the Huskies going into 2016. SB Nation's own Bill Connelly ranked UW in a tie for 9th with Tennessee in his Projected S&P analysis, just barely behind USC, when he did his preseason piece back in February.  Connelly's work is objective in that he uses a formula that looks at its recent on-field performance, its returning production and its two-year recruiting rankings.

More from Bill Connelly

In Connelly's formula, UW might even be undersold, if that is even possible. The logic behind that point of view is that Connelly's formula doesn't really give credit to player development, a capability that Chris Petersen and his staff are widely viewed to excel in. Given the objective data and subjective assessments such as that, it is not hard to see why so many outlets are getting behind the "UW as a dark horse" storyline.

To his credit, Chris Petersen has done his best to derail the hype train. He has ignored, glossed over, rebuffed, and outright mocked comments made to him that UW is a "contender," preferring to go the time-honored coach-speak route of waiting to "prove it on the field."

It is understandable that Petersen wishes to clamp down on lofty expectations for his young program. He knows better than anybody that Stanford is a force, Oregon is a threat, and USC is still USC. I fear UW fans are not about to comply with their coach's wishes. We are not used to paying attention to, much less caring about, football news and analyses in the summer.

All of that is about to change.