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Mailbag: “Deep in the Heart of Texas” Edition

We close out the 2022 season with a host of your questions

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Texas at Washington Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Not sure I understand how UW can take in 26 or 27 players and keep its total under 85 unless they are able to go over due to covid or some other rule. They must be expecting some serious attrition? -chris taylor

They are indeed expecting some serious attrition. As of the time that I’m typing this there are slotted to be 92 scholarship players. That doesn’t include a kicker or punter since Peyton Henry and Kevin Ryan both were on scholarship this year and both are out of eligibility. Presumably the Huskies will put Grady Gross and Jack McAllister on scholarship to fill those spots since they didn’t sign anyone in the recruiting class and haven’t been linked to anyone in the portal (I would not be sad to see them try to add a punter since McAllister had an underwhelming freshman year, although punter may be the least important spot on the 2023 roster given UW’s offense).

That would put the Huskies at 94 committed scholarships. Rome Odunze is the only Husky with eligibility remaining who appears to be considering the draft still. Even if he decides to leave that would require an additional 8 players to transfer out. I still have 4 more names highlighted on my personal list of potential transfers given depth chart placement. So far 5 of the 6 scholarship players to announce they’re entering the portal were on my list from after the regular season as likely transfers.

I’m not going to speculate publicly on who might be leaving but even if all 4 of the ones I might expect do enter the portal there are still likely to be 4 more “surprises”. Obviously some names would be more surprising than others. There are another 5-6 players who I considered putting on my initial expected transfers list who didn’t make the cut and could be part of the next group to enter the portal. But at this point it looks like the rest of the attrition is going to come almost entirely from players who were not significant contributors this past season after the first few games.

As of right this second here are the position-by-position net player flows which should help inform where the rest of the attrition may be coming from. A positive number suggests we’re more likely to see a transfer out in the coming days. Also note that Washington was at 81 scholarship players at the start of the season so ultimately the below numbers need to get down to +4.

Quarterback: 0 leaving, 0 entering (+0)

Running Back: 1 leaving, 3 entering (+2)

Wide Receiver: 1 leaving, 4 entering (+3)

Tight End: 1 leaving, 1 entering (+0)

Offensive Line: 3 leaving, 5 entering (+2)

Defensive Line: 1 leaving, 2 entering (+1)

Edge Rushers: 1 leaving, 3 entering (+2)

Linebacker: 3 leaving, 3 entering (+0)

Defensive Back: 4 leaving, 6 entering (+2)

Special Teams: 2 leaving, 0 entering (-2)

Which Pac -12 teams look to be improved next year and which ones may slip? -Gu1966

Lots of excitement around UW’s roster production returning for a second year in the system plus new contributors. Should fans of other top tier Pac12 teams (eg USC, Ore, Utah) feel the same about their teams? -Purpled Glasses

I’m not going to pretend I have the complete pulse for every single other Pac-12 team out there but here is a very quick look at how things appear to be trending for each school in order of conference finish.

USC- Returning Heisman winner Caleb Williams at QB which makes them an instant contender and replacing Jordan Addison with 1st team Pac-12 transfer Dorian Singer (Arizona). A couple key pieces on defense coming in the portal but USC’s ceiling will be determined by if that unit improves substantially since they are due for some serious turnover regression and lose All-American Tuli Tuipulotu. We’ll see. Steady.

Utah- The Utes bring back Cam Rising at QB but lose several key playmakers on offense (RB Thomas, TEs Kincaid and Kuithe) plus star CB Clark Phillips III on defense. They’re mostly sitting out the portal but have been recruiting well enough to potentially develop and backfill. Steady.

Oregon State- Stud RB Damien Martinez returns and they’re adding former 5-star Clemson QB D.J Uiagalelei who has been very up and down but should be an upgrade on Ben Gulbranson. The key for the Beavs is if their offensive line and defense can keep up their above average play because the pieces are there at the skill positions. Up.

Oregon- The core on offense should be very good still with QB Bo Nix and RB Bucky Irving while adding several very good portal OL despite losing their OC. The defense took some hits from the NFL draft and we’ll see if Dan Lanning can get it to improve in year 2. Steady.

UCLA- DTR was dynamic at times but inconsistent despite being a 5th year senior so we’ll see if either Collin Schlee or 5-star freshman Dante Moore can take control. Losing RB Zach Charbonnet and WR Jake Bobo is big and the Bruins haven’t brought in the same premier portal talent as they have the last few cycles. Although they’ve also lost almost nothing to the portal even though they lost plenty to graduation. Down.

Washington State- The Cougars lost both coordinators and have hemorrhaged talent in the portal while bringing in next to nothing. QB Cam Ward is back but despite his physical gifts that may not be a good thing give his rollercoaster performance. Down.

Arizona- The Wildcats have been among the big losers of portal season with 2 of their best players going to USC but return QB Jayden de Laura and WR Jacob Cowing plus get a sophomore year from stud WR Tetairoa McMillan. It may be another year though of shootouts unless the defense unexpectedly improves by quite a bit. Steady.

California- The QB position is unsettled but Cal should have one of the better rushing attacks in the conference with RBs Jadyn Ott and Byron Cardwell plus added several potential starting corners in the portal. That’s not good enough to finish in the top of the conference but an above average defense and running game will keep a team out of the cellar. Steady.

Arizona State- I don’t know that the roster got better after a significant portal shuffle with 16 subtractions and 12 additions. But a new QB in Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne and a new coaching staff under Kenny Dillingham theoretically should be better than the Herm Edwards crew that started last year. Up.

Stanford- David Shaw finally stepped away and a portal exodus ensued while QB Tanner McKee declared for the draft. New head coach Troy Taylor is going to have an almost bare cupboard to work with. This may need to get worse before it gets better. Somehow. Down.

Colorado- From a pure talent standpoint, no team in the country has upgraded as much this offseason as the Buffs after Deion Sanders was hired as head coach. They are bringing 5 of my top-16 transfers among Pac-12 schools including #1 and #2 overall with CB Travis Hunter and QB Shedeur Sanders. It’s not enough for them to instantly compete for a Pac-12 title given how low they started but they should jump to at least average immediately. Way Up.

Colorado State University Rams Vs. University of Colorado Boulder Buffaloes Basketball Photo by Matthew Jonas/MediaNews Group/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

What percentage do you give this team to go 12-0 next year? -Dawgmanic

The 2023 schedule looks rough. Even with everyone coming back what is our chances at a Championship? -Dawgoner

These are somewhat similar questions and I’m going to go ahead and choose to believe the last question is referring to a Pac-12 title because unless you’re Alabama/Georgia/Ohio State it’s probably best for your mental health if you don’t think you have a realistic chance at a national title.

Next year’s schedule does indeed look pretty tough. This year Washington had most of their tough conference games on the road which means a loaded home lineup in 2023. When you have a good team it’s helpful because it raises the ceiling on your wins. If you’re good enough to beat good teams at home you’re probably also good enough to beat bad ones on the road. When you suck, it’s a bad thing because you could maybe beat a fellow bad team at home but can’t do it on the road and you’re also going to lose to good teams at home.

I decided to put together some very preliminary percentage chances next to the schedule (they haven’t come out with the ordering of games yet, we just know the opponents/locations). I’m generally pretty conservative on these type of things so here’s my initial estimates:

90%: Tulsa

80%: ASU, California, at Stanford

70%: at Arizona, Boise State, Washington State

50%: Utah, Oregon, at Michigan State

40%: at Oregon State

30%: at USC

You can quibble with the numbers but I think right this second it’s fair to say that there will be 7 games the Huskies can be expected to be substantial favorites, 3-4 which are a relative toss-up (within 3-point spread) and another 1-2 where UW is a legitimate underdog. If Washington reaches their ceiling or a key quarterback or two get hurt before they play the Dawgs then obviously that can change. Put it all together and it results in about a 0.24% chance of going undefeated.

Let’s say you think I am a complete negative Nellie and I’m 10% too low on UW’s chances in every single game. Bump it up that way and it would put the undefeated chances at 1.6%. That’s the high end for your optimism.

Of course you don’t need to go undefeated to win the conference. Lose only one game and you’re into the title game. It’s possible to make it there with 2 losses but you’re going to need to win a tiebreaker most likely. The Pac-12 is going to be very good next year and if any team comes out of it having lost only 1 game they should be guaranteed a CFP spot. It’s a tough ask though.

Has there been any word, statement or indication of leaning when it comes to Odunze returning or declaring? -dyork55

Officially, Odunze said that he is going to take some time to talk it over with his family and make sure they’re all comfortable with the decision he’s leaning towards. OC Ryan Grubb has said he thinks Rome is coming back. Obviously the trend so far this offseason is for Huskies to say they’re returning rather than going to the draft. But Rome has always seemed like the most likely to depart (except for maybe Penix) so we’ll have to see. His dad has also appeared pretty strongly to support entering the draft on Twitter so we’ll see whether family has extra influence on Rome’s decision.


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Should coaches rotate players and call plays to lower risk of depth transferring out? -To portal or not to portal

Not at the expense of winning games. If a player has already burned their redshirt and is 3rd on the depth chart maybe you’re a little more willing to give them one series per game. But maybe your star linebacker decides to transfer out because you keep playing the 4-star freshman who isn’t ready yet in his place.

In the end I think the most important thing for a coach is to make it clear that the players who perform the best in practice and games are the ones who are going to see the most time on the field. If a player knows that when they perform they’ll get a chance they’ll probably be more willing to stick around. And if they can’t perform it’s probably not the end of the world from the coach’s perspective if they decide to transfer out.

If we are preseason say number 7, how much more leeway does that buy us to take a loss in regards to the playoffs, compared to say starting 25th? -KPreston

I really don’t think it’s going to make a difference by the time we get to the end of the regular season. TCU started the year unranked this season. They lost their conference championship game. They still ended up with the #3 overall seed and are playing for the national title next Monday night. The Horned Frogs were unranked in the AP Poll after starting off 3-0. They jumped to 17th after going 4-0. They finally cracked the top-10 at #8 after a 6-0 start. In order to get to the top-5 they had to win their 9th straight game to start the season. When they eventually lost a game it dropped them from 2nd to 3rd.

Heading into the last week of the regular season the lowest ranked 1-loss team was Clemson at #8 and they started the season...4th. Fans may find it annoying in the early going that their team is ranked lower than they should be because of their preseason placement. But by the end of the season I think we’ve reached a point where people are educated enough about advanced metrics and worried about Twitter criticism that they aren’t completely biased. Resumes win out by the time we get to November.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Michigan State at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan State went 11-2 in 2021 with what seemed like a home run hire in Mel Tucker, things quickly went down hill and fans were quick to slander Tucker (including a massive extension). How do the Huskies avoid a similar situation? -Thevice3

Well Washington has already done the biggest thing which is get Michael Penix Jr. to return for the 2023 season. Whereas this year’s Husky squad was built around Penix and the passing attack, Michigan State back in 2021 was built around now Seahawk star Kenneth Walker III. He averaged a ridiculous 4.6 yards after contact per carry. He almost single-handedly beat Michigan with 195 yards and 5 TDs on the ground with an astounding 7 yards after contact per carry. Tucker brought in transfer running backs Jared Berger (Wisconsin) and Jarek Broussard (Colorado) to try to re-create the magic of Walker but neither exceeded 5 yards per carry in a bogged down running game.

Quarterback Payton Thorne was viewed as a potential Jake Browning type by MSU fans when he had Walker distracting defenses as he put up 27 TDs and 8.3 YPA in 2021. Last year once the running game fell off he plunged back down to 6.9 YPA which is where he was in the season before Walker’s arrival.

On defense Michigan State found a few key pieces like UNLV transfer Jacoby Windmon to add to the mix but an already leaky secondary only regressed after bringing back essentially the same group with one addition. It also didn’t help when several players got suspended following an ugly incident in the tunnel following the loss to rival Michigan.

The Spartans ended up finishing 4-0 in one possession games including home wins over Michigan and Penn State in 2021. They didn’t exactly regress as they were 2-1 in those situations in 2022 but instead there were just plenty of games where they weren’t competitive.

Both years they played a fairly tough schedule (rankings based on SP+). In 2021 they had the upset over #4 Michigan, beat #20 Penn State, and beat #9 Pitt in a bowl game in which the Panthers’ 1st round draft pick opted out (plus MSU got bludgeoned by #2 Ohio State). The non-conference saw wins over #24 Western Kentucky and #32 Miami. This year they lost to #2 Michigan, #3 Ohio State, #9 Penn State, #16 Minnesota, and #17 Washington. They also beat #15 Illinois. Going 1-5 against top-20 teams when you were 3-1 the previous season seems like a pretty easy way to see a significant backslide.

SP+ shows Michigan State as having fallen from 28th to 66th so it wasn’t just about the competition. But it’s not hard to see how the Huskies could regress even if they stayed a top-20 team. The Huskies went 4-1 in one-score games this season including a pair of last minute field goals against ranked Oregon teams. Next year Colorado is essentially getting replaced by Utah on the schedule and Kent State by Boise State. Go 1-1 instead of 2-0 in those harder games and have one of the Oregon/OSU games go against you in a close game and suddenly you’re at 3 losses even if you don’t drop a game in Arizona.

After watching the bast semi-final day in CFP history, how far off do you think the dawgs are from reaching that level of play? -Lockerstalker74

Well based on the 2 semifinals last Saturday it appears the criteria for making the CFP appears to be being able to both score at least 41 points on offense and give up at least 41 points on defense. Check and check for UW.