Why a top college football insider thinks UW Huskies are playoff contenders

Jun 16, 2023, 2:27 PM

UW Huskies Michael Penix Kalen DeBoer...

UW Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer chats with QB Michael Penix Jr. on Dec. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

After a 4-8 season that saw them fire their head coach before the year ended, the UW Huskies rebounded in a major way under new head coach Kalen DeBoer in 2022, going 11-2 and posting one of the best offenses in the country.

After that surprising year, the Huskies are seen as a top Pac-12 contender with DeBoer coming back along with star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and his two 1,000-yard receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan.

But Bruce Feldman, a college football insider for The Athletic and FOX Sports, thinks the UW Huskies could be far more than just a Pac-12 contender in 2023, as he explained to Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Wednesday.

“I think it’s a legit playoff contender right now,” he said. “I got a chance to spend some time around the program at the end of the spring and was impressed by what I saw. I think Kalen DeBoer has been a fantastic hire … I think all signs are really good with the direction of Huskies football right now. It’s an amazing flip of where it was a year ago at this point.”

Even with just four teams making the College Football Playoff, Feldman thinks the UW Huskies could make it for the first time since 2016? That was also the last time a Pac-12 team made the CFP.

“I do. I mean, look, if they win the Pac-12 and they can run the table, why not? I mean, last year, you saw how good that team was,” Feldman said.

What could help the Huskies or another top Pac-12 team, Feldman said, is that he thinks this is set up to be “a really good year for the Pac-12 on the field.”

“You have a lot of quarterbacks back, you have a lot of firepower, and if somebody can come out of that undefeated — and that’s a big if — but even if they don’t, even if you’re sitting at 12-1, I think you have a you will have a legit argument,” he said. ” … Again, it’s gonna take a lot of work, but I think as long as Penix is there (with) those receivers, I think there’s some good big big bodies on the defense and you’ve got two really good edge rushers (in Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui), so I think they have a shot.”

How many Kalen DeBoer types are there?

Brock and Salk host Brock Huard, a former UW Huskies quarterback who works with Feldman at FOX Sports covering college football, asked Huard how many Deboers are out there in the CFB world.

“I don’t know, Brock. How many guys went (67-3) as a college coach at any level?” Feldman said, referencing DeBoer’s record as head coach of NAIA Sioux Falls from 2005-09.

Feldman said he thinks the media oftentimes gets caught up on who a “sexy hire” can be, either because of how they talk or because of a high-end pedigree they may have rather than someone like DeBoer who was “wildly successful” coaching NAIA ball before becoming a D-1 offensive coordinator and later leading Fresno State to a 12-6 record between 2020 and 2021.

“I just think it’s hard for a lot of people – not just media people – but the search firms to kind of pin what that ‘it’ is about a guy like that,” Feldman said. “He brought a bunch of guys who worked with him for a long time – his core guys – on that staff, and I think he knows what it needs to look like. And because of that, I think there’s a comfort in that. And then the players have certainly responded, and I think we’re gonna find out a lot more about him nationally because now there’s expectations as opposed to last year coming off of what they were coming off.”

UW Huskies’ life after Penix

The UW Huskies return one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Penix, who led the country in passing yards and was also one of the more efficient passers.

Feldman thinks Penix’s play will only help DeBoer and the Huskies when it comes to quarterbacks going forward.

“I will say this: I’m sure it’s a lot easier to land an elite quarterback recruit – whether it’s from high school or the transfer portal – when the guy before is throwing for 4,000 yards and has been a Heisman candidate and is likely a first-round pick,” he said. “I think that all makes it a lot easier to convince people, right? I think it’s harder to get to that point than it is to sell it, and I certainly think the fact that when Nick Saban wants your offensive coordinator (Ryan Grubb) and he decides not to go and instead stay at the place he’s at, I think that’s another big chip in the Huskies’ and DeBoer’s pocket.”

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