Washington receiver Kasen Williams is one of the Huskies' top returning players. Williams is shown celebrating Washington's win over Stanford last season. (Otto Greule Jr., Getty Images. / September 27, 2012)
Today at No. 43: Washington
Coach: Steve Sarkisian (26-25 entering fifth season; 26-25 overall)
2012 record: 7-6 (5-4 in Pac-12, fourth in Pac-12 North Division)
Look back: Washington had endured five consecutive losing seasons before it hired Steve Sarkisian to take over as its head coach. Sarkisian posted a 5-7 record his first season in 2009, but he has since rattled off three consecutive 7-6 seasons. It hasn't been an easy journey for the Huskies in the Pac-12's highly competitive North Division.
Last season, the Huskies opened the year by earning a 21-12 win over a solid San Diego State team that easily could caused headaches for Washington. After a blowout loss at LSU, Washington surprised many with a 17-16 upset of then-No. 8 Stanford. The win snapped a four-game losing streak against the Cardinal. Washington suffered key losses against Oregon, USC and Arizona before regrouping for big wins against Oregon State, California and Utah late in the season.
Washington ended the year with a pair of close, frustrating losses. The Huskies missed a 35-yard field goal as time expired against Washington State, sending the annual Apple Cup into overtime. Washington gave up an interception in overtime and Washington State connected on a field goal to earn the 31-28 win. Washington was in the mix to beat then-No. 20 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, but the Broncos ultimately held on for a 28-26 win over the Huskies.
Offensive starters returning: 10
Offensive starters lost: 1
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: DB Desmond Trufant, DB Justin Glenn, OL Drew Schaefer
Top returnees: QB Keith Price, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LB Travis Feeney, DL Andrew Hudson, DB Sean Parker, RB Bishop Sankey, DL Danny Shelton, LB Shaq Thompson, LB John Timu, WR Kasen Williams
Strengths: Washington is tied for eighth nationally for the most returning starters in college football analyst Phil Steele's rankings, bringing back 17 total starters from a team that posted a 7-6 overall record last season and lost two of final two contests by a total of five points.
Washington's defense was arguably its biggest strength last season, ranking No. 27 in pass efficiency defense (115.4 rating allowed) and No. 31 in total defense (357.4 yards allowed per game). The defense returns all three starting linebackers and will be adding Alabama transfer Travell Dixon at cornerback.
On the offensive side of the ball, QB Keith Price enters his senior season as an experienced leader. He averaged 207.2 yards of total offense per game. He'll get significant help from a strong offensive line and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who earned first team Freshman All-America honors earlier in his career. RB Bishop Sankey and WR Kasen Williams also are both capable of delivering big plays.
Weaknesses: Washington's offense simply has to produce more in order for the Huskies to move up in the Pac-12 standings, especially in the North Division that has traditionally featured high scoring teams. The team ranked No. 88 nationally and No. 9 in the Pac-12 last season in scoring offense, recording just 24 points per game. Washington earned equally tepid yards in the air and on the ground, ranking No. 84 in rushing offense (142.4 yards per game) and No. 81 in passing offense (212.9 yards per game).
Outlook: This could be Sarkisian's best Washington team to date. The Huskies face a tough schedule, including a season-opening rematch with 2012 bowl foe Boise State and back-to-back games against Stanford and Oregon. However, college-football analyst Phil Steele projects the team will earn at least eight wins for the first time since 2001.