Welcome to the Huskies Insider’s first Twitter mailbag of 2015. Ideally, it won’t be the last, and given the level of participation on this first one, I don’t think it will be. Thanks to everyone who responded on Twitter with UW football and men’s basketball questions. Now, let’s answer them.
I guess it depends who the “critics” are. My guess is you’re referring to the Vegas oddsmakers who set the over/under for the Huskies’ win total at four. Or maybe you’re referring to the extraordinarily intelligent, worldly and attractive humans who vote in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, which predicted the Huskies would finish fourth in the Pac-12 North.
(I’m actually going to wander down a side road for a moment here. The whole “Vegas prediction” thing is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. For example, Bovada released its list of over/under bets for all FBS teams in early July, and when UW’s total was set at four, some folks quickly translated that to “Vegas thinks the Huskies are only going to win four games this season,” which isn’t necessarily accurate. First of all, an over/under line, just like any sports gambling line, is simply intended to encourage as much action as possible. It’s not a prediction. And in UW’s case, the payout is much, much more rewarding for those who bet the under than for those who bet the over -- meaning that Bovada considers the under to be a far riskier bet.)
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With all that said, I was one of the voters who pegged the Huskies for a fourth-place finish in the North, so if that’s your barometer, I would say that they’re being correctly rated heading into the season. This team has a lot of holes. They have almost no experience at quarterback (and obviously still haven’t decided on a starter), not much experience on the offensive line (and they just lost their only true veteran, Dexter Charles), and though I think they have some promising talent in that defensive front seven, they’re still going to experience a dropoff there after losing three guys to the NFL.
Combine that with a pretty tough schedule, and I think it would be unrealistic to truly expect more than six or seven wins from this team this season -- and even that might be an optimistic ceiling.
(I’d probably still bet the over on Bovada, though -- you know, if I was into that kind of thing.)
Put it this way -- if it’s Sept. 3, the night before the opener at Boise State, and the coaches are huddled around a conference table, chugging coffee and tearing their hair out because all three quarterbacks are so dead-even that they just can’t decide on a starter ... I think Lindquist would get the nod.
As the only guy who’s played in a college game, and the guy who has done the best job taking care of the football and avoiding turnovers during spring and preseason camp practices, Lindquist is the safe choice. So I think if this really comes down to the end and nobody has totally taken control of the job, Lindquist seems the most likely candidate. If the offense isn’t going to be explosive, it at least has to avoid catastrophic turnovers and give the defense a chance.
That said, Lindquist is likely going to have some kind of role in the offense regardless of whether he wins the job, just like he did last season -- and he’s also been practicing as the personal protector on the punt team. Chris Petersen likes him, Jonathan Smith likes him, and Petersen has a well-documented history of installing a series or two into the gameplan for guys who don’t start but go about their business in such a way that they deserve to be on the field. That’s Lindquist, for sure, so even if he doesn’t start, you’re going to see him play.
Based on how many repetitions they’ve been given in practice, I’d be surprised if freshmen receivers Chico McClatcher and Isaiah Renfro don’t see the field -- McClatcher especially. The former Federal Way star might be the fastest player on the team, now that John Ross III is out for the season due to injury. So I’d imagine McClatcher will get a shot to do some of the things they tried to do with Ross last season, even if his role isn’t particularly expansive. He’s obviously a candidate to return kicks, too. And Renfro has stood out as a solid athlete with good hands, and with just four scholarship receivers returning from last season, they’re going to need some help there.
Defensively, I could see linebacker Tevis Bartlett playing some this year. Petersen likes his toughness -- he raves about the fact that he was a wrestler in high school -- and he seems to be adjusting well enough. Benning Potoa’e certainly has the body to play right away, but we’ll see how quickly he learns the playbook.
(Oh, and with Charles out, we could see Trey Adams pressed into playing time, too -- he was at left tackle with the No. 2 offensive line during Monday’s practice -- though I would imagine the coaches would prefer not to play a true freshman offensive lineman if it can be avoided.)
There was about a three-day period recently where I thought maybe I’d put my money on Jake Browning, because he’s had a few really, really good practices. But then he threw three interceptions on Monday, and I’m not so sure anymore (not that I was particularly sure to begin with). I’m going to be lame here and predict Lindquist, if only for the reasons stated above. I do think he’s improved, too.
This has also been a really interesting position battle. Brandon Beaver seems to be getting a lot of first-team reps alongside Budda Baker, but he spent a lot of time with the first group in camp last year, too, only to be beat out toward the end. Jojo McIntosh, Brian Clay and Trevor Walker are all options, too. I could see a few guys rotating through that spot. McIntosh is a big hitter. Clay is a veteran. Walker showed some promise last season before tearing his ACL. Beaver is talented, but has struggled with consistency. I’m curious to see how it turns out. Nickel package will be interesting, too.
Interview access will remain mostly unchanged, as it was last season. The last practice we can actually watch is tomorrow (Thursday). After that, we simply gather in the media room toward the end of each practice (assuming availability is scheduled), wait for them to finish, then speak with players and coaches afterward. During the season, expect player availability on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (plus postgame), and Petersen availability on Monday, Thursday and postgame (plus Tuesday on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference).
I think that’s the big question with him -- can he be the kind of consistent, every-down back who can crack the 1,000-yard mark? A big piece of that is simply staying healthy, but he also needs to prove himself a reliable option in, say, 3rd-and-3 type situations. To borrow a baseball analogy: we know he can hit 450-foot homers. But can he bat .300?
If we set the over/under at 825 yards -- with the understanding that Lavon Coleman, Deontae Cooper, Jomon Dotson and even Budda Baker are probably all going to get some carries, too -- would you take that?
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On to some basketball questions now ...
I’d be something close to stunned if Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss aren’t in the starting lineup from Day 1, so I’d put them at the top of the list, for sure. Would expect Dominic Green, Noah Dickerson and David Crisp to play significantly, too. Can’t forget about Matisse Thybulle, either.
As for the scoring question, I think Murray is an obvious candidate. Chriss might not be a bad bet, either. My darkhorse pick is Green. Long athlete, good shooter, and is said to have a scoring mentality. But that’s the thing about this roster: so many of these guys have never played college basketball, so nobody really knows. Guess that makes the prediction part of it more fun, though.
Hmm. They play 12 nonconference games, so they’re guaranteed at least a 31-game season (Pac-12 tournament included). I don’t think a final record in the neighborhood of 17-14 sounds unreasonable, so I think at this point, I’d take the over. Lots of reloading going on in the Pac-12 this season. Lots of talented freshmen, too. But the Huskies have a few of those themselves. I don’t know that this is an NCAA tournament team, but I don’t envision this season being as frustrating as the last (and remember, even last year they managed to win 16 games).
I think this season would have to be an unmitigated disaster for Romar to lose his job. Taken at face value, the statistics don’t look good. As you said, if they miss the tournament again this season, that would be five consecutive years without a tourney appearance, and few coaches can survive such a drought.
But Romar might be one of them. The primary reason for this belief is simply that athletic director Scott Woodward does not want to fire him, for reasons he’s laid out several times before. He defended him last season even after things went totally sideways, and his references to both the 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes lead me to believe that the 2015-16 season isn’t being viewed by the administration as make-or-break. If they simply show signs of improvement this season, and play entertaining, competitive basketball with a core of mostly young players, my guess is that will be enough to keep Romar safe going into 2016-17. Now, if that’s the case, expectations will be much, much higher in 2016-17, and the consequences for falling short could be more severe. But I don’t think Romar and his staff are operating under any kind of ultimatum this season.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple