By Christian Caple The News Tribune
They won more games than any Washington Huskies team in the past 13 years.
They also lost their coach (Steve Sarkisian), hired a new one (Chris Petersen), and won a bowl game with an interim coach who used to be their quarterback (Marques Tuiasosopo).
It was an eventful 2013 season for the Huskies, who ended it with a 31-16 victory over Brigham Young in Friday night’s Fight Hunger Bowl. At 9-4, this is the winningest Huskies team since the 2000 squad that finished with an 11-1 record and won the Rose Bowl.
With a long, eventful season finally in the books, we take a look back at the highlights, lowlights, and what might lie ahead.
UW played four opponents that finished the regular season ranked in the top 25. The Huskies lost to each of them. So Friday night’s win over BYU probably felt better than any of UW’s previous eight victories, if only because of the events of the weeks that preceded it. There’s also the fact that it got them to nine wins and came against a team that entered the game with a similar 8-4 record.
A close second: Washington’s 69-27 thrashing of Oregon State in Corvallis the week before the Apple Cup, a game the Huskies absolutely had to win to salvage their goal of winning more than seven regular-season games.
A distant third: Beating Boise State 38-6 in the first game at renovated Husky Stadium.
This one is pretty obvious. Washington’s 53-24 beatdown at Arizona State was by far the worst game the Huskies played this season, as they more or less didn’t show up a week after a tough loss at home to Oregon. The loss to ASU put into serious question whether UW truly was ready to take the next step under Sarkisian.
Tied for second: A heartbreaking, 31-28 loss at Stanford that came down to the final seconds, and a discouraging loss at home to Oregon, UW’s 10th consecutive loss to the Ducks.
No doubt about this one. Bishop Sankey’s 1,870 yards rushing set a single-season UW record, and that seems like a number that could last even longer than Corey Dillon’s previous record set in 1996. Sankey said Friday night that he hasn’t decided yet whether to return to UW for his senior season. That seems unlikely after the kind of career he put together in three seasons with the Huskies. It wasn’t just Sankey’s numbers, but his durability and consistency, that made him UW’s most valuable player.
Also considered: Senior quarterback Keith Price, who played hurt most of the season but finished with 21 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.
He would probably also be the top candidate if we were to name a comeback player of the year — Hau’oli Kikaha, UW’s fourth-year junior defensive end, finished the season with 13 sacks after missing most of the last two seasons with a pair of anterior cruciate ligament tears. Kikaha was the Huskies’ best and most consistent pass-rusher all season, and set the stage for what could be a pretty big fifth-year senior season in 2014.
Also considered: Danny Shelton, whose presence in the middle of the defensive line shouldn’t be understated. Marcus Peters developed into one of the Pac-12’s best cornerbacks and finished the season with five interceptions. Shaq Thompson remained a game-changer at times, too.
John Ross’ offensive impact probably wasn’t as great as UW anticipated — 16 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown — but he showed flashes of brilliance in his freshman season, culminating with his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Fight Hunger Bowl. That by itself was an indication that bigger things should be expected from the speedster.
Who They’ll Miss
Price is the most glaring departure. Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams will compete for the right to replace him at quarterback. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is leaving for the NFL draft, and despite his decrease in pass-catching production this season, UW’s offense will miss having a tight end that big, strong and skilled blocking for its running game. Assuming Sankey ends up declaring for the draft, he’s obviously a big loss, too. Senior receiver Kevin Smith had a solid year.
Defensively, the secondary will take a hit, with cornerback Greg Ducre and safeties Sean Parker and Will Shamburger — three-fourths of UW’s starting defensive backfield — all graduating. Tre Watson is moving on, too, as is linebacker Princeton Fuimaono, who led the team in tackles this season.
The Huskies will also miss Travis Coons, who punted, kicked PATs and field goals, and also handled kickoffs for most of the season. Finding a suitable replacement will be among UW’s offseason priorities.
Who’s Coming Back
The entire offensive line, plus receivers Kasen Williams, Damore’ea Stringfellow, Jaydon Mickens, Ross and Marvin Hall. Running back Dwayne Washington will be a sophomore, Jesse Callier a senior, Deontae Cooper a fifth-year senior.
The bulk of a pretty strong linebackers group will be back — Shaq Thompson, John Timu and Travis Feeney — as will Shelton, Kikaha, Cory Littleton, Evan Hudson and Josh Shirley, all starters or contributors on the defensive line this season. Peters is the only key defensive back returning.