The Washington football team makes you want to cry—tears of joy, if you happen to be a Husky fan. Either because of good fortune (fat chance) or some slick planning (more about that later), Washington seems a sure bet to be in the Rose Bowl for the third straight New Year's Day. Even the always low-key Husky coaches, including the lowest-key of all. Head Coach Don James, are finding it hard to wipe the smiles off their faces. James concedes, "Our chances look pretty good."
Pretty good? The main difficulty for the Huskies' staff is it can't seem to come up with that One Serious Minus coaches of powerhouse teams always find. So far the "best" they've been able to do is to mumble something about a certain lack of depth in the offensive line. Yeah, right. Washington has only four starters back at the five offensive line positions. Pity.
Last year the Huskies surprised everyone by winning the Pac-10. Then Washington went to the Rose Bowl and plowed under Big Ten champion Iowa. The score was 28-0. Returning from that 10-2 squad are 17 starters, eight on offense and nine on defense, and 11 other players who have started at least once. In all, 37 of last season's top 44 are still around. That's depth.
If Pitt should stumble, everything points to a national championship—it would be the first in any NCAA team sport at Washington—for the Huskies. "Everything" includes a schedule that must have been drawn up by Mister Softee. The Huskies open at home against Texas-El Paso, who have a terrific track team but are 6-51 on the gridiron over the past five years. Then come encounters with the likes of San Diego State, Texas Tech, Oregon and Oregon State. Best of all, the Huskies don't have USC on their '82 schedule. See how the lucky get luckier?
Last year, sophomore Quarterback Steve Pelluer was a definite cause for concern. He completed only 47% of his passes, which too often were delivered sidearm. But the brainy Pelluer—he has a 3.3 grade-point average in building construction, a program in the architecture and urban planning department that accepts only 10 students a year—came back in the spring and was vastly improved. He threw 296 balls in 17 spring practice sessions, connecting on 200—67.6%—and had only five intercepted. "I know how to learn," says Pelluer, "and the main thing I'm learning about throwing is when not to throw. You have to remember that you always get another chance." No wonder Quarterback Coach Ray Dorr says, "Steve has learned so much that I can hardly wait to line him up and see what happens."
A lot, no doubt, because Washington's receivers are among the nation's best. Senior Flanker Paul Skansi most likely will haul in the 112th pass of his career at Washington sometime around mid-season to become the Huskies' all-time leading receiver. Pelluer will also be throwing frequently to Split End Anthony Allen, who led the Pac-10 in punt returns (11.9-yard average) last year and is 11th on the school's career receiving list. Proof of the depth among receivers is that Split End Aaron Williams, currently 10th on the Husky alltime receiving list, figures to be No. 2 at his position. The Huskies also have a surfeit of classy running backs, led by Jacque Robinson, who last season became the first freshman ever to win the Rose Bowl MVP award, after rushing for 142 yards and two TDs.
On those occasions when Pelluer, Robinson & Co. don't produce six points, the Huskies can turn to Kicker Chuck Nelson for three. He led the Pac-10 in scoring last year (77 points) for the second straight season, while connecting on 16 of 20 field-goal attempts and 29 of 29 PAT tries. All of which Nelson, who has a 3.65 average in business administration—he's been on the conference all-academic team twice and the national team once—intends to improve on. "I'm learning how to kick higher, farther and straighter," he says. "And I'm also working on eliminating worry." Truth is, neither he nor the Huskies have any.
On defense it's more of the same. Cornerback Ray Horton, who has a vertical jump of 33 inches and was a starter last year on the Pac-10's second-best defense, says ominously, "I'm just now finding out about my position. Mostly I'm learning aggressiveness, because I've found out those aggressive receivers are trying to kick my butt up and down the field." Inside Linebacker Ken Driscoll, just 5'11" and 213 pounds, who led the Huskies in tackles in '81 with 151, is back too. And Outside Linebacker Mark Stewart, a sure first-round NFL draft choice (who has a 3.3 GPA and has been accepted by the Washington med school), continues to inspire the team with his intensity. Says Stewart, "I want to enjoy the season." For all Huskies, '82 is a year to enjoy.
With Horton at cornerback, James should get a jump on rivals.