Caple: What DeBoer says Big Ten move means for UW Huskies football team
Aug 6, 2023, 2:32 PM
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
SEATTLE — The UW Huskies have a likely preseason top-10 team. They finished second in the Pac-12’s annual preseason media poll. They won 11 games last season and return a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, a pair of 1,000-yard receivers and a couple of pass rushers who should expect to be drafted next spring.
For now, at least, UW coach Kalen DeBoer would prefer to focus on all of the above.
That was the coach’s stance on Sunday when he made his first public comments since Washington’s decision to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten — along with Oregon, USC and UCLA — effective next summer.
“It’s an exciting thing for us to know and be able to put a plan together on what it’s going to look like down the road for us,” DeBoer said. “Certainly, the conference has had a lot of historic greatness on the field, every athletic program, but also in the classroom, academically. So, excited about that.
“I think for this team right now, the key is just focusing on the 2023 fall here, and enjoy the last season here playing in the Pac-12, which has brought a lot of great moments. This program and the Pac-12, a lot of pride, a lot of great times. The hope is to add to that. So this team is focused on now (and) really isn’t getting caught up in all of that. It really wasn’t a distraction to them because they know they can’t control it anyway. Making the most of the 2023 season, right now, is what this team is focused on, for sure.”
Indeed, it’s a strange time for a coaching staff to begin sorting through the implications of such a foundation-altering move. The Huskies begin the 2023 season in less than a month, and a decent chunk of their roster — 14 seniors, plus any early NFL Draft entrants — will never play a game as a member of the Big Ten.
Still, there are immediate implications to consider — namely recruiting. The Huskies and other Pac-12 schools have long combated the exodus of top West Coast talent to higher-profile programs in the SEC and Big Ten, and DeBoer acknowledged that the lack of clarity around the Pac-12’s future was beginning to surface in recruiting conversations.
— Washington Football (@UW_Football) August 6, 2023
“It was certainly a question that was getting asked a lot more,” he said, noting that UW’s assistant coaches had brought it to his attention, too. “They were kind of giving me a heads up that a lot more talk about what conference we were going to be in was brought up. When I had my meetings and time with the official visits (in June), it was something that was definitely being discussed a lot more.
“This really helps with a lot of that. I know our guys that are committed, and even many others, are excited about the announcement and excited about the future. It’s drummed up some interest again with some guys. It’s not like we feel we have a ton of spots (in the 2024 recruiting class), so those spots are competitive. But it’s exciting to see how the response has been in regards to recruiting.”
UW currently has 12 players committed in its 2024 class. DeBoer said at Pac-12 Media Day that he figures the Huskies will take only three or four more. One player they will certainly save a spot for? Jericho Johnson, the four-star defensive tackle from Fairfield (Calif.) Armijo. He recently announced a final four of Washington, Oregon, USC and Utah. If conference affiliation ever were a concern — the Trojans, after all, were already headed to the Big Ten — the Huskies’ Big Ten move puts them back on level ground.
The demise of the Pac-12, DeBoer said, is “unfortunate. Everyone here — most of you have a lot more history with the Pac-12 than I even do. Just so many great things that have happened through so many years.
“But from our end, we had to do what we felt was best for our student-athletes and the future of the UW. I give president (Ana Mari) Cauce, (athletic director) Jennifer Cohen a lot of credit, because these are not easy choices. But just thinking years down the road, it just came to a point where the resources that we need to provide for our student-athletes — going to the Big Ten allowed for a lot of that.”
This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.
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