Eric Parks, Staff Writer
At one point during the 2017 NCAA football season, both the Washington and Washington State were exceeding expectations. Both teams hit their high mark in Week 7, with the Huskies ranked fifth in the national AP poll and the Cougars were ranked eighth. As the season wore on, both teams dropped in the rankings and eventually lost their bowl games.
To begin the season, the Washington Huskies were ranked eighth in the nation and second in the Pac-12 behind Southern California, while posting a 6-0 record. Then they lost 13-7 against unranked Arizona State, and never fully recovered. Talk show hosts had said that the Huskies were a good, not a great, team with an easy schedule, a scenario that happens much more frequently in college football than it does in the NFL. Excluding their bowl game loss against Penn State, the Huskies played only one ranked team all season- Washington State, who was ranked thirteenth at the time. While the Huskies beat many teams by several scores, they inexcusably fell twice to unranked teams. Finishing the regular season ranked twelfth was well short of the team’s goal to make the four-team playoffs.
Over the past few seasons, the Huskies produced a large number of NFL players. This year, however, the Huskies will likely lose fewer key players to the NFL. The most notable losses are DT Vita Vea, C Coleman Shelton and WR Dante Pettis. Coach Chris Petersen will have plenty of talent to work with next year since RB Myles Gaskin will not declare for the NFL draft, and several key players will return from injury.
Washington State’s season was very similar to UW’s. The team started 6-0 which included a noteworthy victory over #5 USC 30-27, but then lost to unranked California and Arizona State by several scores each to fall out of the FBS playoff picture. Heading into the final week, Washington State was ranked four above their opponent, UW, at thirteen. The highly anticipated Apple Cup matchup was predicted to be a relatively close matchup, but the end result was not what Cougar fans were hoping for. The Huskies won 41-14, which sent the Cougars into their bowl game with no momentum. Washington State fell to Michigan State in that game as well, 42-17.
WSU’s future is cloudier than that of UW. The Cougars have much uncertainty surrounding the most important position, quarterback. Washington State’s starting quarterback in 2017 is graduating, and the presumed starter for 2018, Tyler Hilinski, died from a self-inflicted gunshot on January 16. Additionally, WRs Tavares Martin and Isaiah Johnson-Mack won’t be returning to the team next season, so the passing game could potentially see a sharp decline. The Cougars are also losing their defensive coordinator, linebackers coach, and many starters on defense. It’ll be hard to imagine Washington State ranking in the top ten at any point next season while they go through a transition period.
As a whole, the Pac-12 did not do well this year. The conference was 1-8 in bowl games this year, the worst mark for a conference in one year ever (with a minimum of five teams making a bowl game from the same conference). In order for any team in the Pac-12 to receive national respect, the conference as a whole will need to improve. Perhaps Washington and the conference as a whole will improve next year and allow the Huskies to make another run at the National Championship, but for now both the Huskies and the Cougars need to focus on replacing players who aren’t returning.