BRANDON GUSTAFSON

What’s next for UW Huskies? Top questions after title game loss

Jan 9, 2024, 11:44 AM | Updated: 12:44 pm

UW Huskies Kalen DeBoer Michael Penix Jr....

UW Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer talks with QB Michael Penix Jr. during a 2023 game vs. Utah. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The UW Huskies had an incredible 2023 season but ultimately came up short in their pursuit of a national championship, falling 34-13 to Michigan on Monday night.

Caple: Takeaways from UW Huskies’ CFP title game loss to Michigan

This Husky team will go down in the record books for many reasons, especially for winning a school-record 14 games this season, but next year’s team will look very, very different – notably on the leadership side as all four of UW’s team captains will not be back in 2024.

So what’s next for Washington? Here’s everything to know as the Huskies officially enter the offseason.

Kalen DeBoer and his staff

Kalen DeBoer is about to get paid.

UW’s second-year head coach is an incredible 25-3 at Washington and deserves a contract that reflects what he’s done with the Huskies these past two seasons. DeBoer was just 44th in the nation when it comes to head coaching salary in 2023.

According to UW athletic director Troy Dannen, who joined the school in October, a new contract been in the works for months but DeBoer’s main focus was trying to win the national championship. According to The Associated Press, Washington is aiming to ink DeBoer to a deal that will make him among the highest-paid coaches in the school’s new conference, the Big Ten.

Barring DeBoer leaving for a different powerhouse – and it’s worth noting that Michigan, with Jim Harbaugh’s future up in the air, would be the one big threat this offseason – he’ll be back leading the Huskies moving forward.

Another big thing when it comes to DeBoer’s new deal is his staff. It will take some effort to keep that group together, and keep assistants from maybe taking other jobs with better titles or more responsibility elsewhere.

The big name there is offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who earned not one but two contract extensions in 2022. He was a hot name last year, receiving offers from Texas A&M and Alabama to lead those offenses, which he turned down in order to remain at Washington under DeBoer.

At this point, it seems doubtful Grubb would leave Washington for a different offensive coordinator position. But a head coaching gig? That’s a different story, as Grubb told reporters this year that that’s his ultimate goal.

The coaching carousel has basically concluded, which seems to signal Grubb will be back at Washington.

A potential wild card? Fresno State, where Grubb was offensive coordinator under DeBoer before coming to Seattle.

Head coach Jeff Tedford recently stepped away from the Bulldogs program for health reasons, and it’s not the first time he’s done so. If Tedford retires, Grubb would be a natural target for Fresno State given he was an assistant there for five years.

The future of the offense

Quarterback

Washington got back to national prominence largely because of its offense. Aside from the coaching staff, the biggest reason the offense has been so great the last two seasons is quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

Huard: How title game loss impacts Michael Penix’s draft stock

Penix, who finished second in Heisman voting this year and was a captain these last two years, is out of eligibility and will be going pro, meaning the Huskies will have a new quarterback in 2024.

The expectation is that Will Rogers, a record-setting transfer quarterback from Mississippi State, will start next year.

Washington also has a young, talented quarterback on the roster who is likely the future of the offense in Austin Mack, a former four-star recruit who graduated high school a year early in order to get on campus and learn under Penix and the coaching staff.

Mack redshirted in 2023 and next year is when his true freshman season was supposed to occur. There have been rave reviews about his future, but it seems like he’ll be the guy starting in 2025 rather than 2024.

Skill positions

Penix was the beneficiary of arguably the best receiver group in America.

Rome Odunze was an All-American and may be a top-10 pick this year. He, like Penix, was a team captain. Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk also each had a 1,000-yard season these past two seasons.

Odunze is a near lock to go pro and Polk told ESPN’s Pete Thamel Tuesday that he’s declaring for the NFL Draft. It’s less clear whether McMillan will be catching passes from Rogers or Mack next year.

It seemed like this was going to be McMillan’s last year at Washington before injuries largely derailed his 2023 campaign. He ended the year strong over the Huskies’ final three games, but would a fully healthy 2024 help his draft stock in a meaningful way if he came back for a senior season?

As for Polk, he was UW’s No. 3 receiver in 2022 and had a bigger role this year, especially with McMillan hurt. Polk stepped up with a 1,000-yard season and will now go pro. Polk is No. 60 on Pro Football Focus’ big board.

The Huskies will also have new go-to tight ends next year as sixth-year seniors Jack Westover and Devin Culp will move on.

Josh Cuevas, who transferred to Washington this season, and Quentin Moore seem like the two most likely players to step up, along with Tre Watson, a transfer from Fresno State.

Keep an eye on Ryan Otton, a redshirt freshman this season who is the brother of former UW standout tight end Cade Otton, a second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a few years ago. The younger Otton was the No. 4 tight end in the 2022 recruiting cycle, according to ESPN.

At running back, the Huskies will either have their horse back in the mix, or will turn to younger players in 2024.

Dillon Johnson rushed for over 1,000 yards despite dealing with multiple lower-body injuries this year. The junior tailback could come back for a senior season, but given the shelf life of running backs at the NFL level and the bumps he took this year, going pro would make a lot of sense.

If Johnson leaves, Will Dixon and Tybo Rogers, the latter of whom was a true freshman this season, would be in line for more playing time next year.

But don’t forget about Cameron Davis, who was in line to be UW’s No. 1 back this season before suffering a season-ending injury in camp last summer. He rushed for 522 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2022.

Offensive line

While this group didn’t end the year on the best note, Washington’s offensive line under coach Scott Huff won the Joe Moore Award as the best O-line in the nation. How many of those guys will be back, though?

Standout left tackle Troy Fautanu is expected to go pro and is likely to be selected in the first two rounds.

Right tackle Roger Rosengarten could also go pro after a Pac-12 honorable mention season, but he had a rough championship game against Michigan and also has two years of eligibility left. Could a move to left tackle be in his future with Fautanu leaving? Rosengarten blocked the blindside for the lefty Penix, but both Rogers and Mack are right-handed.

Center Parker Brailsford is back as he was just a redshirt freshman this year, but could Week 1 starting center Matteo Mele come back at either center or guard? He was a senior but missed all but two games due to an injury, so perhaps he could be granted another year of eligibility.

Starting guards Nate Kalepo and Julius Buelow are both NFL eligible as they’re juniors, so they have decisions to make, too: Go pro after playing for the Joe Moore Award-winning line, or come back for one more season?

The Huskies signed a potential 2024 starting tackle in the transfer cycle in Drew Azzopardi from San Diego State, who started six games at right tackle for the Aztecs and appearing in 12 games. He will be a redshirt sophomore in 2024.

Add it all up and the Huskies may lose over 10 notable contributors on offense this offseason, with at least five being locks to leave.

What about the defense?

The UW Huskies’ defense was not the strength of this team, and the numbers back that up. That makes this unit even more of a question mark next year considering what it’s set to lose.

Defensive line

The Huskies’ D-line will look almost entirely new in 2024.

Starting defensive ends Bralen Trice (a team captain) and Zion Tupuola-Fetui are gone, as are defensive tackles Tuli Letuigasenoa and Ulumoo Ale and edge rusher Sekei Asoau-Afoa.

The Huskies have some talent on the edge that could step up next year, such as Jacob Lane, Zach Durfee and Voi Tunuufi, but interior defensive line is more of a question mark. That’s why it’s no surprise Washington added a pair of transfer defensive tackles in Sebastian Valdez from Montana State and B.J. Green from Arizona State.

Linebacker

All-Pac-12 linebacker Edefuan Olofoshio will not be back for the Huskies. Same with Ralen Goforth.

That group should still have veterans back in the mix at inside linebacker, though, as Carson Bruener and Alphonzo Tuputala were juniors in 2023, as was Drew Fowler, a special teams standout. Washington also landed veteran Vanderbilt linebacker Ethan Barr in the transfer portal.

Washington also has five freshman or redshirt freshman linebackers set to come back next year.

Secondary

Safeties Asa Turner and Dominique Hampton were seniors, and while Turner may get one more year due to missing time with injury this year, UW will likely have a new-look secondary next year.

The biggest question for Washington is whether the team will have top cornerback Jabbar Muhammad, who was one of the team’s best defenders last season. The junior could easily go pro and get drafted this year.

The Huskies will likely have some veterans back in the mix such as Elijah Jackson, Mishael Powell, Thaddeus Dixon and Kamren Fabiculanan, but Muhammad is the biggest and best name of that bunch. He would certainly give a suspect Washington defense more help in a year where so many top players will not be there anymore.

More on the UW Huskies

• Analysis: Missed opportunities sink UW Huskies’ offense vs Michigan
• Instant Reaction: UW Huskies come up short of national title
• Recap: Michigan overpowers UW Huskies 34-13 as Harbaugh delivers title
• Hold call looms large as UW Huskies lose to Michigan in CFP title game

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