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Big Ten Preview: Washington

Washington football and UCLA pile at the goal line in 2021. (Daily Bruin file photo. Design by Lindsey Murto/Design director)

By Kai Dizon

July 3, 2024 4:45 p.m.

This post was updated July 7 at 8:57 p.m.

UCLA is just weeks away from joining the Big Ten. After 96 years and 123 NCAA championships in the Pac-12, the Bruins are at the forefront of the Big Ten’s West Coast expansion. Prior to UCLA’s official move, Daily Bruin Sports will preview football, basketball and other top programs of each school.

2023 record: 14-1, 9-0 Pac-12, College Football Playoff National Championship appearance
Coach: Jedd Fisch

One of four Pac-12 teams making the jump to the Big Ten, Washington football is coming off its most successful season in the College Football Playoff era with its first-ever trip to the national championship.

But with success in the rearview mirror, the 2024 season will spell transition and revision for the Huskies.

Former head coach Kalen DeBoer inherited a four-win Huskies team and proceeded to win 11 games in his first season. In 2023, the Huskies won a Pac-12 title and headed to SoFi Stadium undefeated with a national title on the line. But soon after falling to Michigan in the title game, DeBoer left Seattle for Tuscaloosa, Alabama – becoming the heir to Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.

To fill DeBoer’s absence, Washington announced Jedd Fisch as the program’s new head coach in mid-January. Fisch got his first taste of head coaching duties with the Bruins – filling in after Jim Mora was fired in 2017. After a few seasons as an assistant offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in the NFL, Fisch returned to the collegiate ranks as the head coach of Arizona. The Wildcats finished 1-11 in Fisch’s first campaign but 10-3 last season – punctuated by an Alamo Bowl win over Oklahoma.

Then-offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch (right) speaks with former quarterback Josh Rosen (left) in 2017. Fisch was hired as Washington's head coach ahead of the 2024 season. (Daily Bruin file photo)
Then-offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch (right) speaks with former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen (left) in 2017. Fisch was hired as Washington’s head coach ahead of the 2024 season. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Brennan Carroll, son of Super Bowl XLVIII champion coach Pete Carroll, served as Fisch’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Arizona – and will continue to do so at Washington. And after coaching the NFL’s New England Patriots alongside his father, Bill Belichick, Steve Belichick will step in as the Huskies’ defensive coordinator.

While 10 players were selected in the 2024 NFL Draft and 21 players transferred out of the program, the Huskies gained 27 student-athletes through the transfer portal this offseason. Fisch recruited 12 of his 27 transfers from his former Wildcats, headlined by running back Jonah Coleman, who ranked top-five in the Pac-12 in both rushing and receiving yards among running backs last year.

The Huskies also snagged quarterback Will Rogers and wide receiver Jeremiah Hunter, from Mississippi State and California, respectively. They will attempt to fill a void left by quarterback and 2023 Heisman Trophy runner-up Michael Penix Jr. and wide receiver Rome Odunze – both top-10 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. The former led the nation in passing yards and the latter in receiving yards last season.

Rogers boasts a 138 passer rating over four collegiate seasons and threw for 4739 yards in his sophomore campaign – good for a 147 passer rating in the SEC. Similarly, Hunter racked up 2084 receiving yards across three seasons at Cal – with a career-high of 965 in the 2022 season.

Between the immense loss of talent, a 2024 recruiting class ranked 49th in the nation – 15th in the Big Ten – and a schedule including Oregon, Michigan, USC, Iowa and Penn State – replicating 2023’s success could be a tall order.

However, the Huskies seem to think they’ve got the right person for the job – signing the coach to a seven-year, $54.3 million contract. Fisch, after all, is no stranger to program instability.

Washington defenders converge as then-quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles at the Rose Bowl in 2022. (Daily Bruin file photo)
Washington defenders converge as then-quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson scrambles at the Rose Bowl in 2022. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Men’s basketball
2023 record: 17-15, 9-11 Pac-12
Coach: Danny Sprinkle

Washington announced in March that coach Mike Hopkins’ tenure with the Huskies would end after the 2023-2024 season, choosing to buyout the coach’s contract at nearly $3.1 million.

Despite leading Washington to a Pac-12 regular season title and March Madness appearance in his second campaign, the former back-to-back Pac-12 Coach of the Year held a 118-106 record after seven seasons with the Huskies.

Just weeks after effectively firing Hopkins, Washington saw another change to its staff when Pat Chun was appointed to replace athletic director Troy Dannen, who left for the athletic director position at Nebraska less than six months after his hiring in Seattle.

However, it wasn’t Chun – but interim athletic director Erin O’Connell – who hired coach Danny Sprinkle on March 25. Sprinkle, who is leading a Power-Four school for the first time in his career, reached the NCAA tournament each of the past three years – twice with Montana State and then this past season with Utah State.

The Huskies lost five players to the transfer portal this offseason, including two former four-star recruits, guards Wesley Yates III and Koren Johnson. With seven 2024 graduates, Washington will have just two returning players who started at least one game last season – forward Wilhelm Breidenbach, who started nine, and center Franck Kepnang, who started seven.

Washington men's basketball and UCLA battle for a rebound at Alaska Airlines Arena in 2014. (Daily Bruin file photo)
Washington men’s basketball and UCLA battle for a rebound at Alaska Airlines Arena in 2014. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Sprinkle refueled his roster with eight players from the portal – highlighted by forward Great Osobor. The Bradford, England local has stuck with Sprinkle since his freshman campaign in 2021 – being named the 2022-2023 Big Sky Top Reserve as a sophomore at Montana State and the 2023-2024 Mountain West Player of the Year at Utah State.

Guard Tyree Ihenacho transferred to Washington this offseason after spending his previous four collegiate seasons between North Dakota and James Madison. Last season, Ihenacho averaged 14.5 points, 5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game en route to second-team all-conference honors in 2024.

The Prior Lake, Minnesota local is joined by fellow transfer guards DJ Davis and Mekhi Mason, the former averaging 13.5 points per game for Butler and the latter 14 for Rice last season.

Including a pair of four-star recruits in guards Zoom Diallo and Jase Butler, Sprinkle put together the country’s No. 25 incoming recruiting class. However, the lack of returning faces and Power-Four experience leaves little to base next season’s expectations on.

It’s a blank slate for Washington. New conference, new athletic director, new coaches and new players.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it may be a while before the Huskies find themselves playing for a national title again.

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Kai Dizon
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