Editor’s note: Fifth in a series previewing each team in the Pac-12.

Under first-year head coach Kalen DeBoer, Washington exceeded expectations, finishing in a second-place tie in the Pac-12 standings in 2022 and a No. 8 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.

The Huskies will be vying for a conference title again this fall and, maybe, a spot in the College Football Playoff. 

Washington averaged 39.7 points per game with Indiana transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who returns this season after throwing for 4,641 yards — No. 2 in the nation — along with 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Penix passed up an opportunity to declare for the draft after last season. He is regarded as a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential first-round pick in next spring’s NFL draft. 

“I’m pushing him, our coaching staff is pushing him, (offensive coordinator) Coach Grubb is pushing him every day to just take those next steps,” DeBoer told the Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth on his podcast. ”’There’s a reason why you came back, there’s unfinished business.’ There’s a lot of things that we discuss but I think there’s also a piece where I kind of look at it and (say to myself) ‘just enjoy this journey. Let’s push and work but man I’m gonna enjoy what this guy brings to the table each and every day.’ It’s fun. It’s fun seeing his growth. It’s fun seeing who he can become above and beyond just being a great football player.”

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The Huskies have their sights on big things. When asked about being a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall, Penix told the Seattle Times: “I’m looking for a national championship. With a national championship comes those big awards. If we get that national championship, whatever comes with it, it is what it is. If I win, if I don’t win … as long as we win, I’m good.”

Penix should be even better in 2023. 

“Penix is primed for a major breakout in his final year of eligibility. In his first season at Washington, Penix posted 362 completions, 4,641 passing yards and 31 touchdowns — all surpassing his career totals from four seasons (including the pandemic-shortened 2020 season) at Indiana,” wrote Diante Lee of The Athletic. “Washington looks to push the ball downfield often, and Penix has shown his ability to work through a full progression and deliver passes with proper timing. On his deep passes, Penix throws with necessary touch, which helps him access the wide side of the field in ways that some college QBs lack the confidence to try.”

A year ago, the Huskies boasted the No. 2 offense in the country, averaging 515.8 yards per game. Penix also has a pair of 1,000-yard wide receivers returning — Rome Odunze (1,145 yards, seven touchdowns) and Jalen McMillan (1,098 yards and nine TDs). 

Meanwhile, Michigan State transfer receiver Germie Bernard joins the program as does running back Dillon Johnson, a Mississippi State transfer. 

Like most teams in the Pac-12, the Huskies are focused on improving their defense heading into the fall — especially their pass defense. Washington ended up No. 100 in the nation against the pass. 

Oklahoma State transfer cornerback Jabbar Muhammad is expected to shore up the Huskies’ deficiencies in the secondary. The same goes for cornerback Darren Barkins, who announced in late May that he’s transferring from rival Oregon to Washington. 

Edge defender Bralen Trice recorded nine sacks last season. He’ll play alongside Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Tuli Letuligasenoa. 

Perhaps the most challenging stretch of the season comes in November, when the Huskies visit USC and host Utah in back-to-back weeks. Washington hasn’t played the Utes since 2020 in a game that was also played in Seattle.

2022 record: 11-2 (7-2 Pac-12)

Utah ties

  • DL Voi Tunuufi (East HS)

2023 schedule

  • Sept. 2 Boise State
  • Sept. 9 Tulsa
  • Sept. 16 @Michigan State
  • Sept. 23 California
  • Sept. 30 @Arizona
  • Oct. 14  Oregon
  • Oct. 21  Arizona State
  • Oct. 28 @Stanford
  • Nov. 4 @USC
  • Nov. 11 Utah
  • Nov. 18 @Oregon State
  • Nov. 25 Washington State
Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze (1) celebrates after catching a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCLA Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif. | Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press