Seventh-ranked Washington is being discussed as a national championship contender entering Friday’s season opener at Rutgers, but coach Chris Petersen prefers the word “rebuilding” over “reloading.” The Huskies went 12-2 last season and lost in the College Football Playoff semifinals to Alabama, but Petersen is attempting to decrease the hype surrounding the Jake Browning-led squad.
“Because you start from scratch,” Petersen told reporters about why rebuilding is the proper term. “This is not even kind of the same team it was last year. The program is similar in the things we believe in. But this is a new team, so we rebuild the team every year. We rebuild a new team every week, because you’re different week-to-week.” Washington will be without preseason All-American senior linebacker Azeem Victor against Rutgers after he was suspended for a violation of team rules - sophomore cornerback Austin Joyner received two games for his own violation. Rutgers coach Rob Ash will be looking to make progress in his second year after the team lost its final nine games last season, and the fact that standout kick returner Janarion Grant received a medical redshirt from the Big Ten certainly didn’t hurt. Grant, who suffered a season-ending broken ankle last season, is tied for the all-time NCAA record with eight return touchdowns — five coming via kickoffs and three on punts.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Washington -27.5
ABOUT WASHINGTON (2016: 12-2, 8-1 Pacific-12): Browning is recovered from offseason surgery on his passing shoulder after matching the Pac-12 record of 43 touchdown passes and finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting last season. The backfield is stacked with junior Myles Gaskins (1,373 yards in 2016) and Lavon Coleman (852 yards, school-record 7.5 average), while senior Dante Pettis (53 catches) is now the go-to wideout after collecting 15 receiving scores last season, tying for third-most in school history. The Huskies will miss the suspended Victor but have three other standouts in junior defensive tackle Vita Vea (five sacks), senior inside linebacker Kieshawn Bierria (national-best five fumble recoveries) and sophomore free safety Taylor Rupp (four interceptions).
ABOUT RUTGERS (2016: 2-10, 0-8 Big Ten): Fifth-year senior Kyle Bolin, a graduate transfer from Louisville, won the starting quarterback gig and will be making his seventh career start. Bolin, who has passed for 2,104 career yards, has sophomore wideout Jawuan Harris (39 catches) to throw to, while seniors Robert Martin (1,822 career rushing yards) and Gus Edwards (a transfer from Miami) will share the ball-carrying duties. Junior linebackers Trevor Morris (102 tackles) and Deonte Roberts (95) are the leaders of the defense, while promising junior cornerback Blessuan Austin had 14 passes defensed last season for a unit that allowed just 186.5 passing yards per game.
1. Washington scored a school-record 585 points last season but totaled just 20 in its two defeats (USC, Alabama).
2. Former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is the new offensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights.
3. Pettis has recorded five career punt-return touchdowns, one shy of the Pac-12 record held by California’s DeSean Jackson (2005-07).
PREDICTION: Washington 55, Rutgers 13