WASHINGTON HUSKIES (0-0)
at RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (0-0)
Kickoff: Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Washington -27.5, Total: 52.5
#8 Washington travels to New Jersey for a cupcake matchup start to their national title mission.
Head coach Chris Petersen’s third year at Washington was a rousing success, culminating in a CFP berth. Though the 24-7 semifinal loss to Alabama was a bitter end to the season, the Huskies have plenty of room for optimism this year. QB Jake Browning and RBs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman are all elite talents who return behind a dominant offensive line. The defense has questions to answer in the secondary, but has one of the nation’s best front sevens. Rutgers is 1-16 in conference play as a Big Ten team, and is rarely competitive against power conference teams. Their pathetic 2016 season featured September wins over FCS Howard and New Mexico, followed by nine-straight losses by an average of 30.4 points to close the year. Becoming the laughing stock of Division I men’s athletics is a small price to pay for the TV money, and it appears it will be a long time until legitimate power conference football is being played in Piscataway. Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill is the new RU offensive coordinator, inheriting a unit with some decent athletes, but poor QB options and a recent history of futility. The defense is equally poor. The secondary could be decent, but the linemen and linebackers will again be overwhelmed by most running attacks they face. In their only previous meeting, Washington torched Rutgers in Seattle to open the 2016 season, jumping out to a 48-0 lead and ultimately winning 48-13 and covering the 25-point line. Under Petersen, Washington is 9-0 SU & 6-3 ATS as road favorites, though they failed to cover their last three games when favored by more than 20 (Portland St., Oregon St. Arizona St.) last season. Since 2014, Rutgers is 0-8 SU & ATS when an underdog of 20 or more.
Washington’s offense racked up 41.8 points per game (8th in the nation) last season, and breakout star QB Jake Browning (3,430 passing yards, 43 TD) is a true Heisman hopeful. The RB duo of Myles Gaskin (1,510 yards from scrimmage, 11 TD) and Lavon Coleman (852 rushing yards, 7 TD, 7.5 yards per carry) might be the best backfield rotation in the country. Coleman’s bruising power runs are a perfect complement to Gaskin’s speed and athleticism. The offensive line should once again be stellar, anchored by versatile C Coleman Shelton and First Team All Pac-12 OT Trey Adams, who is 6’8” and surprisingly nimble. The only concern on offense for the Huskies is at receiver after the departure of WR John Ross (1,150 yards, 17 TD). WR Dante Pettis (822 yards, 15 TD) is up to the task of being a No. 1 option, and pint-sized WR Chico McClatcher, a former tailback, is a speedster who does damage from anywhere in the formation. UW held opponents to just 17.7 points per game (8th in FBS) and 4.6 yards per play (4th) in 2016. The secondary allowed 5.7 yards per pass attempt (4th in FBS), but three Huskies DBs were drafted by the NFL in April (CBs Kevin King and Sidney Jones, and S Budda Baker). S Taylor Rapp (53 total tackles, 4 INT) was the Pac-12’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, but he’ll be surrounded by unproven teammates in 2017. The linebacking group will be a strength, particularly up the middle with LBs Azeem Victor (67 total tackles, 3 TFL in 10 games) and Keishawn Bierria (70 total tackles, 5 TFL, 5 fumble recoveries), who, respectively, were First and Second Team All-Pac-12 performers last season. 340-pound DT Vita Vea (5 sacks, 6.5 TFL), a potential first-round draft pick, anchors the stalwart defensive line.
Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill takes over as coordinator for a Rutgers offense that finished last in yardage (282 yards per game) and second-to-last in points (15.7 points per game with four shutouts) last season. Gio Rescigno (889 passing yards, 5 passing TD, 5 INT, 2 rushing TD in 7 games) is the frontrunner to start at QB. WR Janarion Grant was limited to four games because of an ankle injury, but was granted an extra year of eligibility. He’s the best playmaker the Scarlet Knights have, with eight career return TD, and he’s an effective gadget player on offense, having tallied 348 yards from scrimmage and three TD in his four 2016 appearances. Leading receiver WR Jawuan Harris (39 receptions, 481 yards, 3 TD) also returns, and graduate transfer WR Damon Mitchell, who played QB, RB and WR at Arkansas, should add some life to the offense. Leading rusher RB Robert Martin (625 rushing yards, 2 TD) returns, as does RB Josh Hicks, who ran for 674 yards and four TD in 2015 before falling on the depth chart last season. RB Gus Edwards, a graduate transfer from Miami, is slated for an H-back role. A lot will be asked of inexperienced front-seven players this season after RU allowed 37.5 points per game last season (116th in FBS). DT Sebastian Joseph anchors the defensive line, and DE Kemoko Turay will see an increased role after showing promise as a backup last season. LB Tyreek Maddox-Williams was a solid contributor as a freshman last season, and LBs Trevor Morris (102 total tackles, 3.5 TFL) and Deonte Roberts (95 total tackles, 3 TFL) have experience. The secondary could be a strength, though teams may rarely need to throw against the Knights. Safeties Kiy Hester (6.5 TFL in 8 games) and Saquan Hampton (46 total tackles and 3 TFL in 7 games) will be effective if they can stay healthy, while CB Blessuan Austin (14 pass breakups) was probably Rutgers’ best defensive player in 2016.