College football and season-long storylines go hand-in-hand.
From the quirky bits that get featured on College GameDay to the program narratives that elicit fervent debate on sports talk radio/TV and in the Twitterverse, there is always some sort of storyline that ties together a season for fans of particular programs (as well as all of college football as a whole). Some of these are entertaining and engaging (everyone likes a good underdog story like Petersen’s Boise teams or 2021 Cincinnati), but there’s always at least one that get’s tiresome by the end of the year.
For me, some of the most exhausting storylines over the last few years were the finger-pointing after the Jimmy Lake fiasco last year, our lack of big wins during the Petersen era, and the “what happened to Jake Browning?” later in his career.
Now most of these storylines are worth discussing because most have some sort of tangible impact to UW or football as a whole. However, just because something might be relevant doesn’t mean it’s not exhausting by the season’s end.
The QB Situation
To start things off, I’ll keep things relevant and close to home for UW fans. Since even before Jake Browning’s graduation, our Huskies have had some type of QB controversy on an annual basis. In 2018 Browning got benched for Jake Haener for a brief period during a loss to Cal that year. In 2019 there was a protracted QB battle between Haener and Jacob Eason in fall camp that surprised most fans who had assumed Eason would seize the job after Haener left a poor impression during the 2018 loss to Cal. Eason wouldn’t live up to expectations in his one year starting while Haener would eventually go on to light up the MWC at Fresno under future UW HC Kalen DeBoer; an outcome that further frustrated Husky fans.
In 2020, Dylan Morris surprised everyone when he was named the starter in Week 1 after beating out the more highly touted Jacob Sirmon, who’s recruitment back from the Transfer Portal was seen by many as the coup of the offseason. Morris played solidly in 2020, but after a rough start to 2021, the calls to start Sam Huard eventually grew deafening and led to an end of season change at QB. Heading into 2022 with no clear choice, DeBoer brought in multi-year starter Michael Penix Jr. from Indiana to shore up the QB room with a seasoned vet who was familiar with the new offense.
After an open QB competition through spring and fall practices, this week’s announcement that Penix had won the starting job should quiet the controversy for the time being, but there’s a good chance that this storyline will resurface this season. Penix’s lengthy injury history makes the on-going battle for QB2 more important than ever, and I expect us to see the back up play more than in the past if we build early leads, or if (heaven forbid) Penix gets injured. Morris has a leg up over Huard as the more experienced QB, but Huard is the fan favorite as the more talented player with potential to be a long-term starter. With the potential playing time on the table, the inside track to the starting job next year once Penix exhausts his eligibility, and a possible loser leaves town situation, this storyline will be as important as ever. However, this storyline could get exhausting given that the QB2 battle will be a moot point if the best case scenario plays out (Penix plays well and stays healthy).
As I alluded to earlier, we’re in the era of player movement. Personally, I like the recent transfer and eligibility reforms in college football. It helps players get themselves the best opportunities, and it helps teams rebuild/reload their rosters, especially after staff changes. What gets exhausting is the constant discussion about how every decision could lead to portal defections.
Obviously weighing the impacts of coaching decisions in the context of the portal is important (just like how your bosses should be considering how their decisions might impact you and your employment), but if a player would have to wait until the next season to play after transferring, why over analyze the potential transfer? It’s a long season, and lots could change through out the season. I hope all parties involved can let the team focus on the season and avoid the unnecessary speculation.
This is the big one for me. The offseason news that USC and UCLA were defecting to the Big Ten sent shockwaves throughout the college football landscape. Unlike the other conference realignment developments over the last decade, this one puts UW squarely in the spotlight and probably on the hot seat. The California schools’ departure puts us an Oregon in a strange position as natural allies as this next wave of realignment progresses. Being the two remaining tent pole programs in a hobbled Pac-12, our next moves will decide the fate of the conference.
Pushing for a Big Ten invite is the ideal long-term scenario, but that’s out of our control. A move to the Big 12 seems to be an unnatural fit, but there is safety in numbers, and that move would provide us with the most short-term stability. It’d likely limit our future options to move to the Big Ten, but its less risky than trying to stick it out with a distant 5th place conference in a post-Power 5 era.
While all of this is very interesting in the offseason, it’ll definitely get taxing throughout the season. Much of the information being discussed online is coming from the rumor mill, and those in the know don’t have too much influence in getting us into the Big Ten. The only portion of this that we can control is how we perform on the field. Much like the Transfer Portal storylines, we just need to focus on the season at hand, prove that last year was an anomaly, and let everything shake out without getting too spun up about it.