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CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: Spring storylines for each ’23 UW Huskies football opponent

May 3, 2023, 6:17 PM

UW Huskies Oregon Pac 12...

The line of scrimmage between the Oregon Ducks and UW Huskies on Nov. 12, 2022. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

With spring practices in the books, we offer a thought on every team the UW Huskies will face this year. What were the spring storylines on other Pac-12 campuses?

Boise State (Sept. 2, Husky Stadium)

Jordan Kaye of the Idaho Press described the personnel available at the Broncos’ spring game thusly: “What Boise State put on the field Saturday was a shell of what it will put on the field for its season opener on Sept. 2 against Washington.” They were without at least 10 potential starters due to injury — not a terribly uncommon spring theme, though perhaps not in such numbers — though starting quarterback Taylen Green was among the healthy. He completed 9-of-20 for 176 yards and a touchdown, though it was sophomore running back Ashton Jeanty who really excelled, carrying twice for 82 yards and catching three passes for 85 yards. He scored three touchdowns. Between the athletic Green, Jeanty and leading returning rusher George Holani, the Broncos could really test UW’s defensive front.

Tulsa (Sept. 9, Husky Stadium)

If you follow UW recruiting, it sounds like you’ll see a familiar face at linebacker for the Golden Hurricane: Julien Simon, the Tacoma native who signed with USC in the 2021 class and transferred this offseason. Returning starter Braylon Braxton is an intriguing athlete at quarterback. Another unresolved matter: first-year coach Kevin Wilson still needs to hire a defensive coordinator after Matt Guerrieri left for the co-DC job at Indiana. Otherwise, Wilson was upbeat about his first spring, telling the Tulsa World: “We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m very encouraged.” Tulsa fired coach Philip Montgomery after last season’s 5-7 finish.

Michigan State (Sept. 16, Spartan Stadium)

The story of spring for MSU: Payton Thorne, a two-year starter at quarterback, entered the transfer portal, and so did top returning receiver Keon Coleman. Will the Spartans choose between Noah Kim and Katin Houser to be their 2023 starter, or try to replace Thorne’s experience via the transfer portal? Thorne and Kim appeared to be the frontrunners for the starting job, based on reports out of East Lansing. Losing Coleman is a blow, too, with star receiver Jayden Reed gone to the NFL and Germie Bernard gone to Washington. Still lots for the Spartans to sort out after last year’s 5-7 finish.

California (Sept. 23, Husky Stadium)

TCU transfer quarterback Sam Jackson V flashed his athleticism at Cal’s spring game, ripping off a 27-yard run and also connecting with top returning wideout Jeremiah Hunter for a 37-yard gain. The Golden Bears badly need that kind of juice in their offense under first-year coordinator Jake Spavital. It sounds like Justin Wilcox isn’t done reshaping the roster, though, so it’s hard to know what to make of Cal’s spring. Jackson, Hunter and Jaydn Ott form a solid offensive trio to build around, but the Golden Bears need to find some offensive linemen before I’ll believe a renaissance is nigh.

Arizona (Sept. 30, Arizona Stadium)

Anyone else surprised to see attendance reported at 23,273 for the Wildcats’ spring game? Jedd Fisch sure seems to be winning the PR battle there. Losing star receiver Dorian Singer to USC was a blow, but Jayden de Laura still has Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan to throw to, and if he’s asked to throw the ball as often as last season, those guys could put up 1,000 yards each. Oregon transfer Justin Flowe has stepped right in at linebacker, and it sounds like UW Huskies transfer Daniel Heimuli has a chance to start alongside him. Arizona’s defense is littered with other Power 5 transfers, too, as Fisch hopes that an influx of new faces will help revive a defense that was among the nation’s worst last season.

Oregon (Oct. 14, Husky Stadium)

Hard to script a better spring-game atmosphere than what the Ducks had on Saturday, with an estimated crowd of 44,000 at Autzen Stadium — including many recruits and former players — on a sunny, cloudless afternoon in Eugene. Like the UW Huskies, Oregon is aiming for defensive improvement to pair with a veteran, explosive group of returning offensive playmakers (Troy Franklin is Oregon’s best returning wideout since …?). South Carolina transfer Jordan Burch, a pass-rushing defensive end, should aid that effort.

Arizona State (Oct. 21, Husky Stadium)

New coach Kenny Dillingham wasn’t too pleased with his alma mater’s spring-game turnout, saying afterward that he was “expecting more,” and that the crowd was “not what a football town should be.” Will his Sun Devils look more this season like what a football team should be? Drew Pyne transferred in from Notre Dame and ASU ultimately landed four-star prospect Jaden Rashada, but it was returning part-time starter Trenton Bourguet who starred in the spring game and might be the guy to beat for the starting quarterback job. Cameron Skattebo had a nice spring game at tailback after transferring from Sacramento State, where he was Big Sky offensive player of the year in 2022. Look for a more stable offensive showing from the Sun Devils this year.

Stanford (Oct. 28, Stanford Stadium)

If you thought the guy who coached Jake Browning to 229 touchdown passes at Folsom High School would install a similarly up-tempo offense upon taking the head coaching job at Stanford, well … you’re right! Troy Taylor’s first spring had players remarking on the offensive pace, one that Taylor used at Sacramento State last season to go 12-1 and advance to the FCS quarterfinals. So while the Cardinal still have a ton to figure out after last year’s 3-9 finish — including who will be the starting quarterback between Ari Patu and Ashton Daniels — you should at least expect a more modern style of play. Hard to find many reasons to be optimistic about Stanford’s defense, though, after the Cardinal ranked 125th in FBS in yards per play allowed last season. There is some individual star power there, but the jury is out on team progress.

USC (Nov. 4, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum)

Caleb Williams is still Caleb Williams, but the Trojans did have a number of new transfers on both sides of the ball — Singer, tailback MarShawn Lloyd, linebacker Mason Cobb, edge rusher Anthony Lucas, defensive lineman Jack Sullivan — to mix in this spring, and they’ll welcome at least one more impact transfer, Georgia defensive tackle Bear Alexander, this summer. Keeping with the theme of ex-Huskies popping up on this year’s schedule, former UW cornerback Jacobe Covington had two interceptions in the Trojans’ spring game. Like other conference frontrunners UW and Oregon, USC has a lot of defensive questions to answer this season, one that could be critical for the future of coordinator Alex Grinch.

Utah (Nov. 11, Husky Stadium)

One focus for the defending conference champions is on the backup quarterback competition, because returning starter Cam Rising is recovering from an ACL tear and may or may not be available for the Utes’ opener against Florida. If he can’t go, it sounds like redshirt freshman Brandon Rose would be the guy, as he finished spring ahead of Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson, per Joshua Newman of the Salt Lake Tribune. It sounds, too, like tailback Ja’Quinden Jackson, converted from quarterback last year before breaking out in the season’s final few games, is only continuing his ascension as one of the Pac-12’s most intriguing playmakers.

Oregon State (Nov. 18, Reser Stadium)

Did you see what DJ Uiagalelei said about his former offensive coordinator at Clemson? The Beavers’ new transfer quarterback seems to think Jonathan Smith’s system is a better fit for his skills. The star of OSU’s spring, though, might have been a different quarterback: true freshman Aidan Chiles. John Canzano wrote recently that Chiles turned a lot of heads this spring, and he had a pretty stellar afternoon in OSU’s spring game, too. Could he challenge DJU for the throne this season? Maybe not, but I’ve liked Chiles’ game ever since the Huskies pursued him out of Downey High. He’s done nothing but rise ever since.

Washington State (Nov. 25, Husky Stadium)

This isn’t to suggest Cam Ward has anything to worry about, but there seems to be a growing contingent of WSU fans who are curious to see what backup quarterback John Mateer might look like in an actual game, considering some of the throws he made this spring. It sounds like Ward had a pretty solid spring himself, limiting mistakes and making good decisions, but Mateer, a redshirt freshman from Little Elm, Texas, might be a good name to store away for the future.

Another name that emerged for the Cougars this spring, and who should make an immediate impact this season: JUCO transfer receiver DT Sheffield. WSU lost a couple starting receivers to the transfer portal, but between Sheffield and incoming transfers Kyle Williams, Josh Kelly and Isaiah Hamilton, the Cougars should be OK there. The big question offensively: how much has the offensive line improved since allowing 46 sacks in 2022? That’s more difficult to sort out in the spring, though coach Jake Dickert did tell the Spokesman-Review: “The No. 1 offensive line continues to keep Cam upright and allow him to go through his progressions.”

This article was originally published at OnMontlake.com, the new home for Christian Caple’s full UW Huskies football coverage. Subscribe to On Montlake for full access to in-depth UW coverage.

More from UW Huskies insider Christian Caple

5 players who will be crucial to UW Huskies’ defensive fortunes
7 questions to ponder after UW Huskies’ spring practices
Have UW Huskies found new O-line starters?
• Should Huskies move Voi Tunuufi over with Sav’ell Smalls moving on?
• Ranking UW’S 2023 schedule from least to most challenging

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Caple: Spring storylines for each ’23 UW Huskies football opponent