SEATTLE — Chris Petersen was finally persuaded by his gut.
For years, Petersen was perfectly content. Yet something about Washington — the facilities, the setting, the conference, the history — all combined to finally give Petersen the feeling he needed to make a move.
So gone was the comfort of being at Boise State. And accepted was the task of accelerating Washington’s rise.
“I felt it had to do with growing and stretching myself a little bit, and the opportunity in Washington, being the special place that I thought,” Petersen said. “But it’s really hard to kind of tell you why.”
Whatever the underlying reason, Petersen’s challenge is to try to put Washington back in contention for a Pac-12 Conference title. Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the foundation of the Huskies program, inheriting a winless team and returning it to respectability. Washington won nine games last season for the first time since 2000, but remained stuck behind Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North.
Petersen’s job is figuring out a way to leap over the Cardinal and Ducks.
“We’re behind. I’ve been saying that from the start,” Petersen said. “We’re the only new staff in the Pac-12, and because we came in late, we put our guys behind. So every day, every practice and every meeting, it’s just critical we’re all locked in.”
Here are five things to watch with the Huskies:
QB QUANDARY: Petersen is known for his development of the quarterbacks at Boise State. That will be tested early at Washington. The Huskies are one of two Pac-12 teams without a returning starting quarterback. Cyler Miles was the presumptive starter for this season but he was suspended from the team for spring practice and is suspended for the opener because of his involvement in an off-field incident. That leaves Jeff Lindquist or Troy Williams to start against Hawaii. Miles should eventually win the job, but the time he missed in the spring puts him behind in his development learning Petersen’s system.
SECONDARY TO NONE: Marcus Peters looks like he could be the next Washington cornerback to become a first-round draft pick. He’s coming off a sophomore season during which he had five interceptions and was second-team all-Pac-12. But the rest of Washington’s secondary is new. Jermaine Kelly appears to have the nod at cornerback opposite Peters, with Brandon Beaver and Trevor Walker at safeties. Yet to be determined is how freshman Budda Baker could fit. Baker was the top recruit landed by Petersen in his first recruiting class with the Huskies.
LINEBACKER U: Thompson has received the bulk of the notoriety after being an all-Pac-12 honorable mention selection last season and a preseason all-American choice by some publications. But Washington’s depth at the position goes beyond Thompson. Travis Feeney and John Timu both return, and Hau’oli Kikaha will move from defensive end to outside linebacker as the Huskies take on more of a 3-4 look.
“We should be pretty solid,” Thompson said.
RUN, RUN, RUN: Bishop Sankey completed one of the greatest careers by a Washington running back when he rumbled for a school-record 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. The next leading rusher for the Huskies was Dwayne Washington with 332 yards. Washington returns, along with Deontae Cooper, but the running back to watch could come from the defensive side as Thompson occasionally gets carries. Thompson could become this year’s version of Myles Jack, who played on both sides of the ball for UCLA last season.
SOFT LANDING: Petersen could not have asked for a much better schedule to get his Washington tenure started. After opening in Hawaii, the Huskies don’t leave Seattle until the middle of October. They open the home slate with FCS power Eastern Washington and follow with home games against Illinois, Georgia State and a Sept. 27 showdown with Stanford that could help determine the challenger to Oregon in the Pac-12 North. If all goes to Washington’s plan, the Huskies could be 6-0 when they travel to Eugene to face the Ducks on Oct. 18.