Washington is one of college football preseason darlings. Despite a 7-6 season in 2015, the Huskies have appeared on the brink of the top 10 of numerous preseason rankings.
Washington returns a load of starters from last year's team that started to show promise on the field. In addition, coach Chris Petersen enters his third year, and many expect him to bring the same success to Washington as he enjoyed at Boise State. However, my numbers cast a more gloomy picture for the Huskies. Let me show you.
The Power Rank's preseason college football model
My college football preseason model considers three factors in ranking teams: performance over the past 4 years, turnovers and returning starters. By this model, Washington ranks 26th, fifth best among Pac-12 teams. This translates to 7.6 wins, a prediction featured in my college football win totals report.
The Huskies excel in the returning starters department, as 15 players spread equally on offense and defense will take the field again this season. QB Jake Browning started as a freshman last season, and many expect a big improvement from the sophomore.
In contrast, turnovers hurt Washington's preseason rank. Over the past four season, the Huskies have had 29 more take aways than give aways. During this span, they have not had a single season with a negative turnover margin.
However, this positive turnover margin over the past four years has no ability to predict Washington's turnover margin this year. While these plays helped their past team performance, they might not get so fortunate again this year.
Finally, the primary input in The Power Rank's preseason model is team performance. For each of the past four years, this comes from my ranking algorithm that takes margin of victory in games and adjusts for strength of schedule.
By these numbers, Washington has ended the season in the top 25 once in the past four seasons. They went 9-4 in 2013, the only year in the past decade they have won that many games.
It's possible that Washington makes a leap beyond what their past performance predicts. However, you would see them excel in something like recruiting, which has not happened in Seattle. In my recruiting analytics, Washington ranks 33rd after the 2016 class.
You should never only use numbers when making a wager on a win total. There are always subjective adjustments to consider. Let's at two adjustments for Washington.
First, they get back receiver and kick returner John Ross III. He missed last season with an injury but gained strong 12.4 yards per target in 2014.
He should help an offense that ranked a pedestrian 57th last season by my yards per play adjusted for schedule. However, the onus for improvement rests on the arm of QB Jake Browning.
The second adjustment comes on defense. This unit ranked 9th by my adjusted yards per play last season, best in the Pac-12. However, they only ranked 36th against the pass while 4th against the rush.
The Huskies sacked the quarterback on 7.2% of pass attempts, only a little better than the 6% FBS average. Linebackers Cory Littleon and Travis Freeney, who registered 28.5 tackles for loss in 2015, do not return this season, a cause for concern.
Overall, these subjective adjustments most likely cancel for Washington, which makes me trust my preseason model.
Breaking down the schedule
Washington will win their first 3 games against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. They should also beat Oregon State and Arizona State at home.
The remaining schedule looks more difficult. My numbers project less than a 40% win probability against Stanford, Oregon, and Utah, three teams that rank ahead of the Huskies in my preseason rankings. Washington most likely wins one of these three games.
Against their remaining four opponents, Washington should face toss up type games (at Arizona, at California, USC and at Washington State). If they win two of these four games, this gives them at 8 wins for the season, under their projection for 9.