The University of Washington football team begins its 2016 season this weekend. The Huskies host Rutgers Saturday at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
Sports commentator Art Thiel tells 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick the Huskies are expected to do great things this season.
The Huskies were 7-6 last year but Thiel said things are different now.
"They have a lot of good, young talent that got an introduction last year to Pac-12 football," he said "and they're maturing on both sides of the line into a very formidable outfit. It's been remarkable how fast this has come along.
"This is [coach] Chris Petersen's third year. And he has been credited not only with great recruiting but a strategy that's going to work suiting these players' talents.
"I think the key thing for Washington is that they've got a little bit of a favorable schedule — a very easy one with three non-conference games that should make it 3-0.
"And they also host the most formidable team in the Pac-12, which would be Stanford. If they win that, they could be on their way to, possibly, a Pac-12 North championship and even long-shot consideration for the four-team college football playoff.
"That's a lot of dreaming going on by Husky fans but I still think this is going to be Petersen's best team yet," he said.
Players To Watch
"I want to make sure the casual fans take a look at two players on offense and two players on defense because these guys are really top-shelf talents," Thiel said.
1. Quarterback Jake Browning
"The quarterback is Jake Browning, who was the first freshman to start his first game of his freshman year in Husky football history.
"He has really blossomed into a very mature, strong leader as a sophomore. The coaches are, privately, very excited about it."
2. Running Back Myles Gaskin
"He's also got a running back behind him, Myles Gaskin, who was the first freshman in UW history to rush for 1,000 yards last year. The two of them are very dynamic talents."
3. Safety Budda Baker
"On the defensive side, they've got two young guys that I think are going to be All-America players.
"The safety, Budda Baker from Bellevue High School, is really an extraordinary talent. I expect that after his junior year he'll be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft."
4. Linebacker Azeem Victor
"Another guy who might be able to reach that level is Azeem Victor, a linebacker from California, who is one of the most ferocious tacklers that I've seen in UW history.
"So, for casual fans, keep an eye on those four players this Saturday."
Winning Back Some Fans
Thiel said there's a financial battle being waged off the field. The UW Athletic Department is forecasted to lose nearly $15 million in operations this year.
"There's been a real overestimation of revenues over the last few years. Based on the Pac-12 Networks, which is that channel that they created several years ago that they thought was going to be a panacea for the financial pressure on big-time universities," he said.
"What's happened is that attendance has dropped almost 15 percent to an average of 61,000 a game. 61,000 is still a lot of people but it's below projections, partly because the fan base has become annoyed with the Pac-12 Networks' ability to control the schedule and start games, for example, this Saturday at 11 a.m.
"And they often don't announce that start time until a week ahead of time. College football fans love the social experience of these seven home Saturdays. They love to plan them in advance and gather people together.
"When they can't do that, it's just not worth it. They can watch it on TV on their 60-inch screen at home and be much more comfortable and spend a lot less money.
"If you annoy your fan base, they're going to annoy you back. And that's what's happening.
"So that adds to the urgency for Washington to be successful very fast to get back in the elite of college football and fill that stadium again," said Thiel.