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Mailbag: Inching Closer

With fall camp starting later this week we answer your questions related to all things Husky football

The 2022 PAC-12 media day at the The Novo at L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Pac-12 Media Day is behind us and Fall Camp is directly ahead which means we’re in the last few days of no real Husky football news. To fill this final gap I’ve taken your questions and put together this mailbag. Don’t worry it isn’t 3000 words. Is it 2800 words though? Yes...yes it is. Personally, I blame you for having good questions.


Do you think the loss of USC/UCLA might actually be ok? You have 2 relatively average teams moving and you now actually have a PAC-10 again. I know the networks love USC but I’ll take an Apple Cup over a 5-7 USC/UCLA matchup any day. - KPreston

If you’re solely looking at this from the standpoint of “does Washington have a better chance of winning the conference?” then sure, you could say that this isn’t that big of a deal. Even if you don’t buy that USC is going to rebound under Lincoln Riley you now have 10 teams instead of 12. Everyone’s chances of winning the conference go up through their departure no matter how good the L.A schools are.

You could also potentially see a world where the overall strength of the conference goes up if replacement happens. I don’t think it’s going to be the case but let’s just say that the conference decided to replace them by adding San Diego State and Boise State. Over the past decade the overall strength of those 2 teams has been greater than that of the L.A schools. Again, if Riley flops then the overall quality of the teams UW is playing could go up with the move.

But no, it’s not actually going to be okay (depending on your definition of that word). You are correct that the networks love USC and that’s why they aren’t going to pay nearly as much for the next media rights deal for the Pac-10 as they would’ve for the Pac-12. That’s going to result in annual losses in the tens of millions of dollars range that is a clear dropoff even when taking into account a 10-way versus 12-way split. That means less money for stadium upgrades, less money for coaching hires, and less money for extra folks in the recruiting department.

It has already been a near impossibility for the Pac-12 to hold onto their elite local talent over the past half-decade. QB Bryce Young went to Alabama, QB DJ Uiangulelei went to Clemson, and QB CJ Stroud went to Ohio State. Two of them were USC decommits and the stagnation under Clay Helton contributed to them leaving the area. Washington obviously lost both WR Emeka Egubka and DL J.T Tuimoloau to Ohio State in the class of 2021 and that was before the program knew for sure that Jimmy Lake was a disaster.

For the last decade the national talking point has been that when USC is down then the entire West Coast is down. Fair or not, the perception is that if you go to a Pac-12 team you are foregoing any chance of ever winning a national championship. Theoretically, a USC team that has everything humming could recruit at a level with their natural talent base to win a title. I’m not a “root for the conference” proponent but if Lincoln Riley managed to get USC to the playoff in 2023 and seriously challenge for a national title it would help bust that myth for recruits.

Unfortunately, the chance of that happening for the Trojans and the Pac-12 is gone. And now the most fertile recruiting ground in the West region is leaving the conference. Does a recruit from L.A say no to Washington now just because he knows he’s not going to ever have his parents be able to easily drive to a game during his career? Maybe not. But it certainly isn’t going to help UW recruit in Southern California which has always been a key backbone to their recruiting strategy if they never play a game there.

There’s a world where things turn out fine for Washington. Kalen DeBoer lives up to the promise and becomes Chris Petersen 2.0 while Dan Lanning flops as a first time head coach at Oregon never maximizing their recruiting talent. The Huskies clearly ascend to the top of the Pac-10 right as USC/UCLA leave and become regular mainstays in an expanded CFP. But that’s not the most likely scenario and the chances are better than not that things get worse at least in the short-term.

Ok. So, I think we can safely assume the DeBoer offense is going to be better than the disaster that was John Donovan ... where should Joe Husky fan set their expectation??- Inquiring Minds

Last year Washington’s offense averaged 323.4 yards per game (118th in FBS) and 21.5 points per game (108th). Meanwhile Fresno State under DeBoer averaged 463.8 yards per game (14th in FBS) and 33.4 points per game (26th). I don’t think it’s fair to assume that the Huskies are suddenly going to put up the same numbers the Bulldogs did last year. It’s their first year in the new system and they were truly horrible last year with a lot of the same personnel even though a new coaching staff.

Let’s say though that Washington makes up half of that gain in year number one. That would mean close to 390 yards per game and 27.5 points. If you’re looking for a parallel from the Pac-12, Arizona State last year averaged 388 and 28.4 respectively. And even those totals are still less than the Huskies averaged in the abbreviated 4-game sample of 2020 with Lake and JonDon at the helm (402.8 and 30.3). There were no non-conference games that 2020 season but all the games were at home and three of them were against teams that gave up more than 30 points per game.

I’m going to give three likelihood scenarios.

  • 75% chance Washington eclipses that 390 ypg/27.5 ppg figure which I think is the reasonable baseline point for fan expectations.
  • 50% chance that they’re able to best 420 ypg/30.0 ppg.
  • 25% chance they really break out as a superlative offense averaging 450 ypg/32.5 ppg.

If you pick every top team that is not in the SEC or Big10, can you get 18 teams that can make a new 3rd super conference? And is there a Media package out there that can put them in the same income bracket as the other 2? - Still can’t get over it

I didn’t address this exact topic in my article last month but as long as we’re talking fantasy scenarios, I’d prefer that one. In order to do it you would need the upper echelon members of the Pac-12, Big 12, and ACC to all come together to make one more super conference. Given that their media rights deals all expire at different times this isn’t feasible since it would likely require leaving behind members from the other conferences rather than adding a little at a time to an existing conference. If you were going to do it though and pick the 16 (amending it from 18) best teams not already be in the B1G or SEC you could put together something like:

ACC- Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia

Big 12- Baylor, BYU, Oklahoma State

Independent- Notre Dame

Pac-12- Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, Utah, Washington

Those schools have nothing in common as a group but would give you a huge national brand in Notre Dame, regional markets in Seattle, the Bay Area, Florida, Houston, and the Carolinas, and 4 men’s basketball recent national champions to boot with the Duke/UNC rivalry plus Arizona. Again though that’s a complete pipe dream.

Who do you think will be our punt returner?- Dawgmanic

This is largely a shot in the dark but I’ll go with Jalen McMillan. I expect Giles Jackson will stay as the primary on kick returns. Last year Ronnie Rivers, FSU’s lead tailback, was their primary punt returner so DeBoer is willing to let contributors in that role. However more than 2/3rds of all punt returns were fair caught by Fresno so we’ll see if it’s a DeBoer policy to play it conservative on returns or Fresno just happened not to get any good return opportunities last year based on field position.

if none of our highly rated 2020 OL class breaks the starting line up this year, do you think some of them might portal in search of playing time? they would still have quite a few pretty good players ahead of them next year.... - armball

These days you can probably count on one hand the number of players that are 100% not to transfer in a given offseason. So regardless of any other circumstances there’s a chance they could head somewhere else. Still, as a reminder for folks that OL class of 2020 includes: Myles Murao, Roger Rosengarten, Geirean Hatchett, Samuel Peacock, and Gaard Memmelaar.

As you mentioned, none of them were running primarily with the 1’s at the end of spring practices. However three of them appeared to be 2nd on the depth chart: Hatchett at center, Memmelaar at left guard, and Rosengarten at right tackle. Worth noting though that Jaxson Kirkland didn’t participate in the spring and Henry Bainivalu was highly limited.

We also should consider who is going to be graduating at season’s end which is Kirkland (LT), Bainivalu (RG), and Corey Luciano (C). That means Hatchett has the clearest path to immediate playing time after this year, he’s local, and his brother is joining the team in 2023. If I had to bet on one of them to stay, it would be Geirean. Although it’s worth noting that in Landen’s recruiting pitch it certainly seemed like the staff told him Geirean would eventually be shifted over to guard.

Let’s just say for a moment that none of the other older players declare for the draft or transfer out after this year. You could still put together a line that includes: Julius Buelow, Nate Kalepo, Matteo Mele, Victor Curne, and Troy Fautanu in some combination. It certainly isn’t a stretch to think that could be the default option going into a 2023 season. If that’s the case then I would be shocked to not see a transfer or two from that class of 2020 group that is still waiting their turn (I’m not going to speculate about any specific players).

Given that the coaching staff just accepted a 5th commitment for the class of 2023 along the offensive line it certainly seems like they expect there will end up being some attrition whether it’s from the older guys or the class of 2020.

This dynamic is why I think the offensive line might be one of the most interesting position groups to track this fall. Especially to see who ends up the backup at a spot that’s not occupied by one of Kirkland, Luciano, or Bainivalu. Is that player going to be content with the possibility of never breaking through as the starter without a position change? From the team standpoint, having too much OL Depth is one of those good problems. Then again, the line was pretty terrible last year so it would be nice to know for sure that it’s good depth rather than just a group of prospects none of whom have developed as expected.

With all the talent on the roster is 6th in the Pac really where we as fans expect our dawgs to be? - codawgfanstillhere

I certainly don’t speak for all of UW fandom (nor would I particularly like to do so) so that’s really up to you as far as what you expect. But I think that’s certainly a fair starting point. If you throw out divisions then last year Oregon State ended up 6th with a 5-4 conference record. That’s probably what you’re talking about if you think Washington ends up 6th. The Huskies will be sizable favorites at home against Arizona and Colorado. They will also be favored although by less over Stanford (although that’s never a gimme for UW no matter how bad they may be). If you think they finish 6th in the conference it probably means you have UW going 2-4 against: Oregon State, @UCLA, @Arizona State, @Cal, @Oregon, and @Washington State.

There’s a chance that ASU is a dumpster fire given how much they lost this past offseason as well as (gestures in general direction of ASU) and I’m not convinced by Cal’s QB succession plan from Chase Garbers. That means just one more win to finish 6-3 and almost certainly a top-5 spot in the conference. I could easily see it happening but I don’t think I’d call UW much better than a coin flip in any of the other games.

I wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking the Huskies should be slotted ahead of Oregon State given how close that game was last year in Corvallis despite Lake/JonDon still being gainfully employed at the time. But I’m personally not upset at the Beavers getting the benefit of the doubt returning Chance Nolan at QB and Smith as HC even though Washington has the higher upside.

I feel like this team is returning enough talent to win 10 games (or more). Then I think back to the struggles of Coach Pete’s first two seasons. Obviously Petersen’s first team had lost a lot of talent from the previous year. Are we in for an adjustment period? Or will DeBoer and Co. have the first year “bump” we have seen from guys like Mel Tucker, Chip Kelly (yuck) and many others I am surely forgetting? - PepperdineDawg

It really comes down to how much of last year’s failings are attributable to schemes/formation versus player skill/development. Given how obvious some of the scheme issues were even to us fans without any playing experience it suggests there are going to be some immediate fixes that will raise the floor immediately. Not playing 2 safeties 20 yards off the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 2 will from the get go result in a few more stops per game. Not running the ball straight up the middle with no misdirection on both 1st and 2nd down will result in more 1st downs per game.

The make or break difference will be whether the necessary skills are there in the QB room. Michael Penix Jr. has shown that when fully healthy he can be dynamic in the DeBoer system. The problem is he’s rarely healthy. Can Dylan Morris snap out of the funk he fell further into with each successive game operating JonDon’s offense? Can Sam Huard look more like the QB we saw in high school rather than the one in the Apple Cup?

The in-game adjustments from Lake and Co. to DeBoer and Co. are probably worth a couple of wins. If the strength and speed increases and overall football IQ improvement turn out to be legitimate with the new coaching staff as well then that’s how this transforms from a dead cat bounce to a true instant turnaround.

More a personal question. With all of the changes in the NCAA landscape, how do you manage to stay connected and passionate about the game and its direction? - Tigermtn

Staying connected is a lot easier when you’re in charge of a blog on the subject. Although I’m guessing that’s not a viable option for most of you reading this (but I believe in you if that’s what you want!). Like most UW fans I’m not happy with the direction the game is going. That’s in particular with regards to conference realignment. NIL is long overdue and I can simultaneously both believe players should have the right to transfer and recognize that it doesn’t help fandom when the rosters seemingly turn over every year or two.

We have two more seasons left with USC and UCLA in the Pac-12. There will be a shadow looming over the conference during that time. But operationally it isn’t going to change much other than increasing the hatred towards the L.A schools until we hit 2024. If Coach DeBoer is what UW hopes he is then the Huskies have a chance to win a lot of games in that period. Winning is fun even if it’s not resulting in a national championship.

If instead we go 4-8 again this year and DeBoer has a rocky start... Well then it might be a good bit harder to stay as engaged.

I don’t have any secret advice. If someone doesn’t feel as attached to Husky football as they used to be I don’t think that in itself is a sign that they’re out of touch or anything (if it’s because “back in my day players didn’t get paid” then you’re out of touch. Yes, they did). Life is short. If being involved in Husky athletics and this site brings you enjoyment then I hope you keep doing it. If it doesn’t then take a break and try coming back to it later. Priorities change. But while things may look different by the hour, it’s going to take a lot more than conference realignment for there not to be 60-minute games at Husky Stadium in the fall waiting for you.