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University of Washington Huskies Football

Commentary: Credit Jedd Fisch for rebuilding UW roster, but is it enough for Big Ten?

New University of Washington head football coach Jedd Fisch smiles during a news conference at Husky Stadium on Jan. 16 in Seattle.  (Jennifer Buchanan/Seattle Times)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – There has been quite a bit of activity. The question is whether there has been a lot of achievement. That’s a play off an old John Wooden line, but in this case it pertains to Washington football coach Jedd Fisch.

The successor to Kalen DeBoer was thrust into a less-than-ideal position when he accepted the job on Montlake in mid-January. The former Arizona coach – who transformed the Wildcats from a 1-11 team to a 10-3 squad in three seasons – came on board after the winter transfer portal had closed, precluding him from landing a slew of potentially impactful players.

But the spring has been busy, and that goes beyond the “Dawgs after Dark” game that drew nearly 20,000 people Friday.

Recruits are coming in, some from big-name schools. The once-thin offensive-line room is becoming dense. But has a truly competitive team been built? One that can compete with the titans of the Big Ten? Let’s take a look.

Perhaps the most prized “get” during the offseason, or in Fisch’s case the most prized keep, was quarterback Will Rogers. The man who shined at Mississippi State – where he averaged 4,356 yards over his sophomore and junior seasons – originally committed when DeBoer was at UW but was sold on Fisch’s vision after a meeting. The college level isn’t that much different from the pros in that it’s nearly impossible to compete for championships without a standout quarterback, and Rogers has demonstrated the ability to produce against top-tier competition in the SEC.

But what’s around him? Watching receivers Rome Odunze (first round), Ja’Lynn Polk (second) and Jalen McMillan (third) get picked in the NFL draft last month was a source of pride for Husky nation. Accompanying that pride, however, was the fear that UW won’t replicate that level of offensive potency anytime soon.

Didn’t help that Germie Bernard, who was fifth in receiving yards for the Huskies last season (tight end Jack Westover, now with the Seahawks, was fourth), transferred to Alabama to join DeBoer.

Is talent still there? Sure. Receiver Denzel Boston, entering his sophomore season, had 127 yards on seven receptions in Friday’s spring game. A sign of what’s to come? Who knows? There’s always intrigue this time of year, but there isn’t much evidence that intrigue will translate to impact.

We know Fisch was able to take running back Jonah Coleman (871 yards on 128 carries last year) with him from Arizona. We know he did the same with fellow running back Jordan Washington and receiver Kevin Green Jr., who both recently announced their transfer from Arizona to Washington.

We know he was able to lure offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi – once the No. 1 recruit from Hawaii – here from Ohio State. That makes for 13 scholarship O-linemen on the team (there were fewer than 10 when Fisch took the job).

Still, those star-studded names are sparse. Convincing as Fisch was to some ex-Wildcats, you didn’t see players such as QB Noah Fifita or receiver Tetaiora McMillan hit the portal. That’s not a knock on Jedd – those two had plenty of reasons to stay in Tucson. But at this point, the depths of the Huskies’ talent is still a major mystery.

Yes, there should be some stability in the linebackers room. Alphonzo Tuputala and Carson Bruener returning for their senior years was vital for Washington. But the secondary? The pass rush? Lots of unknowns. And even with the increasing number of O-linemen, how much continuity will there be when most haven’t played together?

Again, just questions. Fisch deserves the benefit of the doubt based on what he did in such a short time with Arizona. His recruiting résumé is about as strong as it can get given the circumstances he was under. Yes, it would have been interesting to see what he could have done at UW had he arrived here at the end of the regular season, but the Huskies were busy competing for a national championship.

Dawg die-hards saw all the former stars who came out to the spring game Friday – including one Michael Penix Jr. What this program has done over the past couple of years has been one of the more pleasant surprises in Seattle sports history. Only potential problem is that it created a new standard – and not an enviable one to walk into for a new coach.

Credit Fisch for what he has been able to do. He has convinced a few key players to stay and a lot more to come. But whether it’s enough to trade blows with the best the Big Ten has to offer is to be determined.