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Washington Huskies 2015 preview: Can Cal finally break the streak?

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Chris Petersen returns for his second year at Washington with surprisingly low expectations after an underwhelming first year in the Pac-12.

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Chris Petersen's first year as the leader of the Huskies was a tumultuous one that included the suspension of his starting quarterback, the dismissal of a star cornerback, blowout losses and a couple near miss statement wins. The conclusion, a 30-22 Cactus Bowl loss to Oklahoma State, epitomized the up and down 2014 season the first year coach Peterson endured.

Cyler Miles, the incumbent starter who was suspended for last year's near loss to Hawaii, has recently announced his retirement from all football related activities. Meanwhile true freshman Jake Browning eagerly awaits an opportunity to showcase his talent during fall camp. However because Browning is a true freshman, he may benefit from redshirting his first year. The offensive line struggled at times last season and playmakers on both sides of the ball will be harder to find after Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton, and all-time sacks leader Hau'oli Kikaha found their way into the NFL.

Many people around college football expect Washington to perform in the lower end of the Pac-12 North as they re-group positional talent and face one of the toughest schedules in the country.

Opponent Schedule

Washington Schedule (Sb-nation)

Many of the Huskies' cynics will point to their grueling schedule as the single biggest reason as to why they will sink to the lower half of the Pac-12 in 2015, ignoring the graduation of many talented players and the unfortunate loss of their quarterback.

Looking forward to the season opener against a Boise State team eager to upset their former coach at Bronco Stadium, followed by tough road dates at Arizona State, Stanford and USC, nothing will come easy for the Huskies. Their home schedule certainly isn't a walk in the park either with the Arizona Wildcats coming to town in October followed by a home game against a tenacious Oregon team they haven't beaten in over a decade. Moreover, they'll face a Cal team that comes in as one of the most experienced teams in the entire Pac-12 and perhaps has one of the best offenses in the country.

Without a true starting quarterback and playmakers on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, Petersen's team has plenty to establish when they report to camp in late July.

Key Positional Turnover

Quarterback: Few have publicly questioned Chris Petersen's willingness to stick with Cyler Miles for the majority of last season, but after his departure from the team this spring perhaps those silent dissenters deserve more credit. Crucial game reps were lost for backup quarterback Jeff Lindquist and that leaves Washington with a glaring hole in perhaps their biggest position of need. The good news for Husky fans is that they brought in a huge recruit in the form of Jake Browning who has the potential to start as a true freshman. This is one of, if not the most interesting storyline to watch if Browning potentially gets his hands on the starting position.

Defensive Line: Not surprisingly, one of the Huskies most vacated units is also one of the most interesting to watch heading into the 2015 season. Last year the defensive line for the Huskies was widely regarded as one of the deepest and best in the Pac-12. The production defensive line coach Jeff Choate was able to generate from the likes of Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Evan Hudson and Drew Hudson was impressive. Undoubtedly, the defensive line will have a very different look this year with the departure of the senior led line. Sophomore Elijah Qualls must set the standard for the younger players. As well, Washington will be left counting on a couple of redshirt freshman Shane Bowman and Vita Vea to fill the void the departing seniors left.

Linebackers: You could make a case that the offensive line deserves more attention due to their lackluster performance and a couple key departures; however anytime you have to replace elite level talent like Shaq Thompson, that should garner your attention. Thompson was a five star recruit most notably brought to Washington by recruiting guru and former Cal defensive line coach, Tosh Lupoi. Thompson came in with an incredible amount of hype—played on both sides of the ball and delivered in almost every respect. One of the more forgotten stories was the quiet production of John Timu who led the team in tackles and co-anchored one of the most valuable defensive positions against spread offenses. Travis Feeney is in a position as the lone returning starter to provide an anchor for his team to build around, however he has often left coaches wanting more and lacks great coverage skills. Azeem Victor, a highly sought after recruit could be the young player to watch as this situation unfolds.

How Washington Matches Up Against Cal

The 2014 match-up between Cal and Washington was one of the ugliest performances by Jared Goff and the Cal Bears last season. To further rub salt in Cal's wound, the aforementioned Shaq Thompson played arguably his best game of the year against his brother's old team and his temporary team of choice as a high school recruit. Despite the game moving back to Husky stadium in 2015, the match-up should shift into the Golden Bears favor. Though Petersen's team went 4-3 last season, Cal comes into the match-up with the more experienced team, in particular the offense has depth that is unmatched not only in the Pac-12 but in the entire nation.

It is worth noting that Washington has won the past six match-ups against Cal, with a total point differential in those six match-ups of +99. You have to go back to September 2005 to find the last time Cal won a game against Washington in Husky stadium. All that being said, the two teams find themselves as polar opposites in the spectrum of the Pac-12 in respect to talent, experience and even expectations for the upcoming season.

The most intriguing contest will be how the young Husky defense matches up against a loaded Cal offense. The Huskies secondary has not been decimated by graduations and early departures the same way most of the other units on the defensive side of the ball have, however they will have their hands full with the Bears wide receivers.

Another interesting match-up will be how effective Tony Franklin can execute the run attack with a veteran back like Daniel Lasco and the powerful Vic Enwere. If Cal can establish the run early and often, it will be near impossible for the Husky secondary to hold Goff and the rest of the offense back. Most experts expect Cal's misfortune against Washington to finally end when the Bears travel to Washington this season.

What To Expect In 2015

Ultimately, the success of the Huskies this year may, once again, be the genius of coach Chris Petersen and his ability to get the most out of undiscovered recruits. He has succeeded with a lot of other teams with considerably less talent than the Huskies have this upcoming season. Despite returning one of the youngest rosters in the entire country, Washington fans should feel confident knowing they are in the hands of a great coach. The defensive secondary should see plenty of action as a veteran defensive unit gives way to some of the younger, up and coming players like Budda Baker and Sidney Jones.

2015-2016 Season Prediction For The Huskies: 4-8

As the Pac-12 continues to field more dynamic offenses, the pressure will be on the Huskies defensive unit to maintain rather than dismantle opposing teams offensive attacks. Due to significant roster turnover, uncertainty at the quarterback position and one of the most challenging schedules in the country, the Huskies are in for rough year. On the bright side, they are poised to build a strong foundation with their younger players and rebound quite nicely if Browning develops the way most expect him to by 2016.