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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

July 19, 2007 at 12:58 PM

Raising Arizona too high? (and other stuff)

Lots of good questions and comments in response to yesterday’s item on my Pac-10 media poll, so let’s get to them:
QUESTION: So why do you have Arizona and Arizona State ahead of UW, anyway? Especially since UW won at Arizona the last two years.
COMMENT: No offense, but previous head-to-head doesn’t seem a real valid way to make a prediction on final placement in standings for the next season. OSU beat USC last year, as well, but no one’s going to pick the Beavers ahead of the Trojans this season. I just have never really used that as a gauge for a future prediction (though it does take on lots of relevance when making a pick for a single game between the two teams in question).
That said, it’s certainly legitimate to wonder why those two teams are generally picked ahead of UW, especially Arizona, since the Huskies did prove better than the Wildcats on the field the last two years.
But Arizona, remember, looked like one of the up-and-coming teams in the conference when it won three straight late in the year, including relatively dominant wins at WSU and Oregon, especially the latter game, which was a 37-10 win for the Wildcats. Arizona blew it by then losing at home to Arizona State with a bowl game on the line, but I think the Wildcats simply got tight in that game, finally playing with a lot at stake.
This year, Arizona returns all but one starter off a defense that ranked third in the Pac-10 in points allowed despite an offense that was rarely moving the ball consistently, and often put its own defense at a disadvantage. That number includes eight starters who are seniors. Add it up, and Arizona should again have one of the best three defenses in the conference along with USC and UCLA.
And the offense should be better with a coaching overhaul on that side of the ball resulting in a new pass-oriented scheme that seems to make sense given the fact that the team has some decent receivers, especially Mike Thomas, who I think may have a breakout year. The pieces just seem in place for Arizona to finally again have a winning season. If not, no question that there will be a lot of heat on coach Mike Stoops.
Personally, I think it’s much less debatable placing Arizona State ahead of UW. ASU has underachieved the last few years, no question. But there’s a lot of talent there, and think what you want about Dennis Erickson’s vagabond nature, but the man knows how to coach.
ASU returns 10 starters off an offense I think will make huge improvement under Erickson. Rudy Carpenter is in his third year as the starting QB, the RB tandem of Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring could be the best in the conference, and all five starters return on the offensive line, which to me is always a huge key in predicting success or failure for a team.
Defensively, ASU has some work to do, but the line should be a lot better and safety Josh Barrett may be one of the most underrated players around. ASU also has a fortunate schedule — eight of 12 games at home including the first four, which should build a lot of confidence.
ITEM: Aren’t you basing too much on returning starters? Don’t you think UW will be better off with some of the new starters than it was with a lot of the guys who started a year ago?
COMMENT: No doubt, there’s lot of reasons to be excited about players such as LBs Donald Butler and E.J. Savannah, QB Jake Locker, WR Marcel Reece, etc., all new starters. I’ve written many times I think UW has a chance to be better than it was a year ago. But I think returning starters in this case is more relevant when considering the rest of the Pac-10, especially teams such as USC, UCLA and Arizona that return basically everybody. I still think you’d always feel more comfortable with returning experience than potential, especially when facing a schedule like UW’s, which doesn’t allow for any “breaking in” time.
QUESTION: Won’t Byron Davenport make the secondary a lot better?
COMMENT: That’s certainly the hope, and the fact that he played at UCLA as a freshman indicates he has a lot of talent. But even with his addition, UW still has a lot of question marks in the secondary, too many to yet rate it a strength. Depth is the biggest problem in the secondary, and it’s likely to become a factor for a team that will play 13 games in 14 weeks.
QUESTION: Are there any parallels with this team and what happened to UW in 1969-70?
COMMENT: One of the biggest single-season turnarounds in UW history occurred in 1970 when it went 6-4 after going 1-9 the previous year. And yes, there is one big similiarity — the ’70 season introduced a new starting QB, Sonny Sixkiller, who changed everything. In fact, I think there are a lot of similarities between Sixkiller and Locker, something I plan to explore in more detail at a later date. Like is hoped will happen with Locker, Sixkiller breathed new life into the UW program from his first play, completing a long pass on his first attempt which I’ve been told led to one of the loudest roars ever heard in Husky Stadium (the ’69 team had disastorously attempted to run the wishbone and fans were ecstatic to see the Huskies again throwing the ball).
QUESTION: Won’t the UW defense be good enough to keep the Huskies in games while Locker and the offense mature?
COMMENT: It could. I think the front seven will be solid, probably better than a year ago, especially the front four. I think if he stays healthy, Greyson Gunheim could have a really big year. But I keep going back to the secondary, which is probably going to have to give some new players some significant time. How the secondary progresses will be one of the biggest keys of the season for UW, especially since the Huskies will face a number of good passing teams. For now, I think it’s too early to say that the secondary has it all figured out, even if there is reason for optimism with the infusion of talent like Davenport.
QUESTION: Is there any pecking order for the incoming running backs?
COMMENT: Nothing official yet, and there won’t be until a few days into camp, when the coaches finally get a real look at everybody. Speculation, however, is that the three California players — Willie Griffin, Curtis Shaw and Brandon Johnson — are more likely to play than the two local guys — Nate Williams and Brandon Yakaboski. In fact, it will surprise few if Williams and Yakaboski each make a position switch (especially Williams to the secondary).
ON ANOTHER NOTE, Scout.com is reporting that Delano Howell, the younger brother of Husky linebacker Dan Howell, has committed to Stanford. Delano Howell is considered one of the better defensive back/running back prospects on the West Coast this year, and Dan Howell once told me he was as good as Reggie Bush. One thing to note is that the two wouldn’t have played together at UW — Dan Howell is a fourth-year senior, meaning he could redshirt in case of major injury but is most likely to be gone after this year.

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