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State of the Program:

Steve Sarkisian took over the Washington Football program in 2009 with the team coming off an unheard of 0-12 campaign. Starting so low, the former USC OC clearly had a huge rebuilding effort ahead of him, and though the Dawgs have not yet broken through, the Huskies improved immediately under Sark (5 wins his first year) and went to bowls the last two seasons.

QB Keith Price was the Pac-12’s 2nd leading passer last year (trailing only Andrew Luck) as a 1st year sarter. Now as a Junior, Price looks to improve upon an offense that scored more points than any in the Pac aside from the big three (Oregon, Stanford, USC).

However, the defense at Washington has some serious questions. Most of us probably remember the outrageous 67 points Baylor scored on UW in the Alamo Bowl last December. Though 67 points was of course, an aberration, the Huskies were 2nd to last in the Pac in scoring defense and total defense, in 2011, surrendering 65 to Stanford, and 38 to gosh-awful Oregon State!

Star Watch: Price is a dual threat QB who threw 33 TDs last season and makes plays outside the pocket with his feet. He also has an extremely dependable target in fellow Sophomore TE, Austin Seferain-Jenkins. Jenkins is the Pac’s leading returning receiving TE and averaged more than 23 ypc last season.

The Huskies also have a genuine defensive star in cornerback Desmond Trufant, brother of Seattle Seahawks corner Marcus Trufant. The local (Tacoma) product lead the Pac in passes defended and pass breakups in 2011, and should be joining his brother in the NFL after 2012.

Roster Changes: The Huskies lose two of the top stars in the Pac this year in 1,500 yard rusher Chris Polk and the Pac-12’s leading tackler last season, LB Cort Dennison. To replace Polk, the Huskies will look to a pair of backs who combined for only 75 carries last year, Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey. Both averaged well over 5ypc last year in their limited action, but still have a lot to prove.

On the defensive side of the ball,  Dennison will be difficult to replace, but fortunately, the Huskies return their next 5 leading tacklers, and 8 of their top 10. They also made a significant defensive coaching investment in the offseason, adding D-line coach Tosh Lupoi who coached for Cal’s conference leading defense last year. The reported (Seattle Times) $500,000 salary UW will pay Lupoi is an astronomical sum for a position coach and indicates the huskies are getting serious about improving their defense.

Schedule:  The Huskies always schedule tough (that 0-12 year in 2008? It began with @#21Oregon, #15 BYU, @#3 Oklahoma, Stanford), and this year is no exception. The Huskies have one of the toughest schedules in the nation playing 5 Pac-12 away games, drawing USC from the South and that little matter of the trip to LSU.

In a six week span starting Sep. 8, UW plays @LSU, Stanford, @Oregon, and USC. It obviously gets easier from there, but four of the final six are conference road games that won’t be pleasant. Also, the Huskies are playing their home games at the Seahawks CenturyLink Field, which may detract from their home field advantage.

Prospects: Sarkisian is still making progress at UW, but with a daunting schedule, home remodel, and an extremely tough division, Washington will spend another year better than the bad teams, not as good as the best teams. If they avoid a critical misstep like last year’s loss to Oregon State, they’ll likely go bowling for the third straight year, but Sark’s rebuilding task is not over.