• Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Washington quarterback Jake Browning and the Huskies are the favorites to win the Pac-12 North.

  • Andy Cross / The Denver Post

    Washington running back Myles Gaskin has rushed for over 1,300 yards in each of the last three seasons.



Washington Huskies

Date with CU: Oct. 20, time TBA, at Husky Stadium in Seattle

Head coach: Chris Petersen, 5th year (37-17; 129-29 career)

Series: Washington leads, 11-5-1

Huskies in 2017: 10-3, 6-2 Pac-12; lost to Penn State, 35-28, in Fiesta Bowl

Returning starters: 17 – 8 on offense, 9 on defense

Offensive players to watch (2017 statistics): LT Trey Adams, Sr. (30 career starts at left tackle); QB Jake Browning, Sr. (230-of-336, 2,719 yards, 19 TD, 5 INT); WR Aaron Fuller, Jr. (26 catches, 291 yards, 1 TD); RB Myles Gaskin, Sr. (222 att., 1,380 yards, 21 TD; 19 catches, 232 yards, 3 TD); OG/C Nick Harris, Jr. (17 career starts); WR Chico McClatcher, Sr. (10 catches, 128 yards in three games); RT Kaleb McGary, Sr. (33 career starts at right tackle); TE Drew Sample, Sr. (7 catches, 71 yards); OG Jesse Sosebee, Sr. (10 career starts).

Defensive players to watch (2017 statistics): OLB Tevis Bartlett, Sr. (48 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT); OLB Ryan Bowman, So. (32 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks); DB Myles Bryant, Jr. (57 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU); ILB Ben Burr-Kirven, Sr. (84 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 INT); DL Greg Gaines, Sr. (30 tackles, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks); CB Austin Joyner, Jr. (40 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks); S Jojo McIntosh, Sr. (50 tackles, 1 INT); CB Jordan Miller, Sr. (23 tackles, 2 INT); CB Byron Murphy, So. (16 tackles, 3 INT in six games); OLB Benning Potoa’e, Jr. (27 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks); S Taylor Rapp, Jr. (59 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT).

Notable: Gaskin has 4,055 career rushing yards and need just 52 more to break Washington’s career record, held by Napoleon Kaufman (1991-94). … Gaskin has topped the 1,300-yard mark in each of his three seasons with the Huskies. … Browning has 9,104 passing yards in his career and needs 1,117 yards to break the school record held by Cody Pickett (1999-03). … Sophomore Hunter Bryant, arguably UW’s best tight end, might miss the upcoming season with what is believed to be a knee injury. He was an ESPN freshman all-American last year. Despite playing in only nine games before a previous knee injury, he was third on the team with 22 catches for 331 yards and a touchdown. … Washington was plus-20.1 on scoring average last year (36.2 points per game, 16.1 allowed). Nobody else in the Pac-12 was better than 10.5 (USC). … The UW secondary returns six players that made at least six starts last year. The Huskies typically have five DBs on the field at once.

It was just 10 years ago that the Washington football team finished 0-12, a rock-bottom point for a program that had struggled for several years.

Those days seem like a lifetime ago as the Huskies enter the 2018 season as one of the nation’s elite teams and a contender for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado’s opponents, with this installment focusing on Washington, which will host the Buffaloes on Oct. 20.

Entering year No. 5 under head coach Chris Petersen, Washington is the favorite to win the Pac-12 North and might be the conference’s best hope for a spot in the CFP.

The return of running back Myles Gaskin is a big reason for the lofty expectations. After three consecutive 1,300-yard seasons, Gaskin elected to put the NFL on hold and return for his senior season.

“Myles likes to go out there and work and practice and do that grunt work … and that’s what makes him special,” Peterson told UW media during the spring. “I think he’s such an underrated player.

“You just put the tape on and you watch him catch the ball and you watch him block and you watch him do all these things; I think he’s as good as anything that’s out there. We just need more people to really pay attention to this guy and I think he’ll do some really great things this year.”

If Washington meets expectations, Gaskin — and many of his teammates — are sure to get a lot of attention.

Washington is 22-5 overall (15-3 in Pac-12) over the past two years, and has a very early opportunity to put itself in title contention. The Huskies will face Auburn — another likely top-10 team – in the opener on Sept. 1.

The date with Auburn will be big not only for Washington, but for senior quarterback Jake Browning. A three-year starter, Browning has had a great career, but has struggled in some of the Huskies’ biggest games during his career.

“Jake needs to take the next step in his game,” Petersen said. “If he doesn’t, we’re not going to be the team that we need to be, for sure. He understands the urgency that every day counts.”

The 2016 Pac-12 offensive player of the year, Browning had a significant drop-off statistically last year, but will be counted on to regain his top form.

Fortunately for Browning, he has a great supporting cast, with the Huskies boasting one of the most experienced rosters in the country.

In addition to Browning and Gaskin, the offense has arguably the two best offensive tackles in the conference: seniors Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary.

Defensively, the Huskies’ secondary might be the nation’s best, and Greg Gaines is one of the top defensive linemen around.

Overall, the Huskies have the most complete roster in the conference, a head coach that ranks among the best in the county, and a star running back that is eager to help lead his team to new heights.

“I can’t say I’ve been much more excited about a football season as this one,” Gaskin told UW media in spring.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.