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College Football '98

Top 25 | The Master List | Conference Rankings | Lower Divisions

12 Washington

The Huskies have thrown those rebuilding plans away, thanks to a lefty quarterback who hasn't left

  Quarterback Brock
Huard, who returns to an even larger role, is the strength of the offense.    (John W. Mcdonough)
To Washington coach Jim Lambright there are no sweeter words in the English language than I'm staying. The problem is, in recent years Lambright hasn't heard these words nearly enough. Since 1995 four of his top players have left school early to enter the NFL draft, leaving Lambright each season to ponder what might have been. So when quarterback Brock Huard strolled into Lambright's office one morning last January and told the 56-year-old coach that he had decided to stick around for his junior year, you can forgive Lambright for nearly falling out of his chair.

"Extreme happiness is the only way to describe the way I felt," Lambright says. "I felt a whole lot better—I mean a whole lot better—about the upcoming season."

As well he should. Without Huard, Washington doesn't get within a whiff of the Pac-10 title. With Huard, the Huskies could very well surprise defending national co-champion Nebraska on Sept. 26, and are a serious threat to win the conference.

Huard likely would have been the third quarterback selected in last April's NFL draft, and popular opinion had him leaving Washington for the lucre. Now that Huard is staying, Lambright has rewritten his playbook to cater even more to his quarterback's talents. In 1997 Huard threw for 2,140 yards and 23 touchdowns and set the school single-season record for passing efficiency (156.4). Look for this year's totals to mushroom, because Lambright wants Huard to drop back and throw about 40 times a game, as opposed to his '97 average of 24 attempts.

"We're going to spread the field out with more wideouts," Lambright says. "We're going to put the offense in Brock's hands and see where he takes us."

Not a bad idea, considering that only four other starters return on offense. Three of those are back from an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the Pac-10, but Lambright needs to find replacements at every skill position except quarterback and fullback. One of the new starters will be sophomore split end Ja'Warren Hooker, who touched the ball only eight times in '97 but turned four of those into touchdowns (three receiving, one on a kickoff runback). In March he won the 55 meters at the 1998 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, and that speed will help stretch the field for Huard, creating space underneath for players like senior tight end Reggie Davis.

"The bottom line is winning," says Huard. "This season we'll have to find a different way to do that. If it means me throwing the ball more, them I'm excited about that."

The Huskies will need to score often, because their defense is as capable of surrendering points as their offense is of putting them up. Washington is projected to start just four seniors on D and will once again be a relatively undersized unit. What the team needs is for junior defensive tackle Toalei Mulitauaopele—who at 6'5" 320 pounds has the playmaking potential of former Huskies All-America Steve Emtman—to finally blossom and live up to his billing. In fact, the same could be said about a dozen or so defensive players. "We need to have young players emerge, no question," Lambright says. "But with Brock back, we'll always have a chance."

Now, if Lambright can somehow persuade Huard to come back for his senior season, there's no telling how far a more experienced Huskies team could go in '99. Let the speculation begin.

Lars Anderson

Fast Facts

1997 record: 8-4 (5-3, 4th in Pac-10)
Final ranking: No. 18 AP, No. 18 coaches' poll

1997 Averages Offense Defense
Scoring 33.5 21.5
Rushing Yards 161.3 118.8
Passing Yards 253.6 222.4
Total Yards 414.9 341.2

Pivotal Players

For the first time in his tenure, coach Jim Lambright allowed underclassmen to be candidates for co-captain. Quarterback Brock Huard and linebacker Lester Towns, both juniors, were among the four selected. Towns had five sacks and led the Huskies with 89 tackles in '97.... Last year, guard Chad Ward became the first true freshman to start on the offensive line since Jeff Pahukoa in 1987.

Key Games

Schedule strength: 15th of 112

Sept. 26 at Nebraska
By this game, the Huskers will have won 44 straight in Lincoln. Last visitor to win there? Washington, in '91.

Nov. 14 vs. UCLA
A game with Pac-10 championship implications, it also could be Huard's last at home.

Bottom Line

Though Huard will be fun to watch, the Huskies lack the depth and experience to be considered national title contenders.

Top 25 | The Master List | Conference Rankings | Lower Divisions

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