The Rose Bowl-bound Washington football team has a lot of talent—far more than the three close losses on its 2018 ledger and an early exit from playoff consideration would indicate.
On Tuesday, the All-Pac-12 team verified what the preseason analysts and national pollsters initially saw in this group from Montlake: Six Huskies were selected to the first unit, three more were chosen to the second squad and four more received honorable mention.
Senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven led the way in rewards--he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He became the sixth UW player chosen as the league’s top defender, joining defensive tackle Steve Emtman (1990, 1991), linebacker Dave Hoffman (1992), linebacker Jason Chorak (1996) and defensive tackle Vita Vea (2017)—all eventual NFL players.
"It was so cool to see that happen," Burr-Kirven said. "It just means so much to be part of a tradition of so many great defensive players, especially to follow one of my own teammates."
A second-team All-Pac-12 pick as a junior, Burr-Kirven has accumulated 165 tackles to lead the nation, the highest total at Washington in nearly three decades, since linebacker James Clifford collected 168 in 1989.
The Menlo Park, Calif., native was joined on the first team by senior offensive tackle Kaleb McGary, junior center Nick Harris, senior defensive tackle Greg Gaines, junior free safety Taylor Rapp and sophomore cornerback Byron Murphy.
McGary, a four-year starter, and Rapp, a three-year starter, were first-team repeat selections for the Huskies from the previous season. Gaines, another four-year starter, moved up from the second team this time. Harris was an honorable-mention choice the year before as an offensive guard. Murphy, the Pac-12 championship game MVP, was a first-time honoree of any kind after missing nearly half of his freshman season to injury in 2017.
Myles Gaskin, the Huskies’ all-time leading rusher with 5,202 yards and all-time leading touchdown scorer with 60, was the most glaring omission from any school on the first team, something he achieved as a sophomore in 2016.
Gaskin ranks as the third all-time rusher in Pac-12 history and is the league’s first player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, and just the 10th NCAA player to accomplish that feat. Yet sophomores Enos Benjamin of Arizona State and J.J. Taylor of Arizona were picked ahead of Gaskin, who missed a pair of midseason games because of a shoulder injury.
Gaskin was joined on the All-Pac-12 second team by junior cornerback Myles Bryant and sophomore special-teams member Elijah Molden. Gaskin was relegated to the second team last year. Bryant was an honorable-mention pick in 2017. This is Molden's first award.
Senior quarterback Jake Browning, senior strong safety JoJo McIntosh, sophomore defensive tackle Jaylen Johnson and senior tight end Drew Sample were each honorable-mention choices.
Browning previously was an honorable-mention pick last season after his big year in 2016 in which he was the first-team QB and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore; McIntosh dropped a notch after he was a second-team selection last year; Sample matched his honorable-mention selection in 2016; and Johnson, a 12-game starter, received his first honors of any kind.
On a busy day for the football program, the UW athletic department announced the 2019 schedule—an usual lineup because it carries two bye weeks. The Huskies don’t play games on Oct. 26 or Nov. 16. The highlight of the ledger is the return of USC after a two-year absence.
The UW opens with three home outings, beginning on Aug. 31 against Eastern Washington, followed by games against California and Hawaii, before traveling to BYU on Sept. 21. Again, the critics will howl that the Huskies, if they challenge for a playoff spot, have a fairly light non-conference slate.
USC, which suffered through a 5-7 season and was left bowl-less, will visit Husky Stadium on Oct. 28. The UW travels to Stanford and Arizona the following two weeks, and then hosts Oregon on Oct. 19.
Following the first bye, the Huskies return to action and host Utah on Nov. 2, travel to Oregon State for the first of two Friday night games on Nov. 8, have a second bye week, travel to Colorado on Nov. 23 and close the regular season on Friday, Nov. 29, against Washington State in the Apple Cup at home.
Of course, the UW will finish off this season by playing its first game of 2019 against Ohio State on New Year’s Day in the 105th Rose Bowl, which will mark the final game for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer.