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Huard: What to watch in No. 8 UW Huskies’ opener at Rutgers

Jake Browning will be looking to get a big start towards another 40-touchdown season. (AP)

Coming off a Pac-12 championship and national semifinals appearance last season, Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies enter their season opener at Rutgers on Friday night as the Associated Press’ eighth-ranked team in the country. Here are a few things to keep an eye on when the Dawgs take on the Scarlet Knights, courtesy of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard.

A statement by Heisman hopeful Jake Browning.

Unlike a year ago where Browning had to build a viable case to be included in the Heisman Trophy conversation, he’s a preseason 15-1 odds prospect in 2017. His prowess for throwing touchdowns, which was legendary in high school and had him ranked third-best in the country a season ago, is the reason why. A telling and necessary statistic for him will be if he throws over 40 TDs again this year.

How the defense plays with Azeem Victor and Austin Joyner suspended.

Joyner, a defensive back, is a bigger loss for his own individual trajectory, but I think the team will absorb his loss fine. The lack of Victor is a big blow at linebacker, though, as D.J. Beavers is injured meaning there is no margin for another injury. As a result, the front four has to do their part to cover up the blockers and allow the depth players that will be in at linebacker to get comfortable and do their job.

A pair of under-the-radar secondary players.

Redshirt freshman cornerback Byron Murphy and redshirt junior safety JoJo McIntosh are two I can’t wait to see play. Murphy has been the talk on campus for months as he’s been preparing to fill enormous shoes after Kevin King and Sidney Jones moved on to the NFL. And with added weight and strength, McIntosh should be more of a force than he was in the Ringo Starr role he played a year ago in Washington’s NFL-laden secondary.

An opportunity presented by the departure of John Ross.

Watch wide receiver Chico McClatcher. He was banged up throughout most of the season last year, but like McIntosh in the secondary, Chico has added even more bulk and power and will be a nightmare to tackle in space.

A potential repeat of last year’s opener.

With no big names in the Huskies’ non-conference schedule, they need to do exactly what they did a year ago to impress voters early – dominate the Scarlet Knights in every phase, both through the eye test and on the stat sheet. Unlike a year ago when this games was on the Pac-12 Network, this matchup draws FOX Sports’ No. 1 crew because of the expectations Chris Petersen has built.