In some ways, I'd love to save Washington for last in this series of looks at WSU's fall opponents via the outstanding Bill Connelly at SBNation.com -- after all, whether the team has realistic bowl hopes or not, it's always all about building to the Apple Cup.
But then again, there's also something strangely satisfying about reviewing expectations for Washington so soon because Connelly is going in reverse order of four-year F/+ average rank, and the Huskies are the 11th in his series. I mean, it's been really hard being terrible these last few years, but at least we've been able to ease our pain with a little schadenfreude.
Of course, Husky fans will gleefully point out that they finished 7-6 last season after exacting retribution on Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, signifying that they have forever left the problems of the last few years behind as they follow their great prophet Steve Sarkisian to the promised land.
Then again, the numbers suggest that this is a team that perhaps just got a little bit fortunate last year -- it's all in how you want to look at it:
It's time for another game of Are You An Optimist Or A Pessimist?
What pessimists see: a team that has risen a bit too quickly in two years and had very little margin for error in terms of reaching a bowl last season. The Huskies were outscored by almost 100 points last year, and they lose both the face of their offense and perhaps their three best defensive play-makers in Aiyewa, Foster and safety Nate Williams. Plus, there are a ton of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep.
What optimists see: a team whose YPP margin suggests the blowouts were somewhat fluky, a team whose turnover margin was dinged significantly by an unlucky number of fumble recoveries, and a team with downright solid recruiting rankings (those freshmen and sophomores are on the depth chart for a reason -- they're good).
Because the Apple Cup is so far away, and because both teams' rosters are so young, it's tough to project just how this game might shape up come November.
But I think it would be safe to say that the game is going to come down to exactly what it came down to last time, at least when Washington has the ball: Containing Chris Polk (and, to a lesser extent, Jesse Callier). It's reasonable to expect whoever is quarterbacking UW by the time the Apple Cup rolls around -- Keith Price or Nick Montana -- to perform at about the same level as Jake Locker did last year, which was hardly superlative.
Defensive line plays better, linebackers tackle better, defense likely allows a lot fewer points.
As for what this season holds for Washington? You can put me on the pessimist side, at least in the early part of the season. Replacing Locker, Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa will be no small task, and I think it's probably 2012 before Washington realizes its considerable potential.