The 2011 University of Washington football season kicks off Saturday with a game against Eastern Washington at Husky Stadium.
There will be a lot of changes this year. And KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says that's a good thing.
One constant: the coach
Head coach Steve Sarkisian is entering his third season – and has kept his entire staff in tact. Art says, given the years of tumult in the UW football program, stability is what the team needs right now.
"The continuity that Sarkisian has established here is I think probably the Huskies' greatest asset going into their opener this Saturday."
Team leader and star quarterback Jake Locker graduated earlier this year and was drafted by the Tennessee Titans. The new starting QB is Keith Price – a junior out of Compton, Calif. Art says there is a lot of optimism surrounding this guy.
"He's a completely different style than Locker. But, so far, in the fall camp, there have been a lot of positive signs that Price is up for the job. One of the most amazing things about him is this kid is always smiling. He's a very upbeat, positive guy that has really impressed – not only with his athletic ability but with his leadership. So it's going to be fun to watch him grow and develop."
Price got the job over Nick Montana, the son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. Art says he shows a lot of promise for the future, but likely won't play this season unless Price gets hurt.
Other fresh faces
Two recruits from this area who will be starting as freshmen this season are wide receiver Kasen Williams from Skyline and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Gig Harbor.
"These two kids are exceptional talents. There's a lot of optimism about them being difference makers in the Washington offense."
Art says Seferian-Jenkins, Williams and Price are the players to watch this weekend.
Bowl bound again?
With all this new talent, Husky fans are hoping the team will make it to another bowl game this year. Art says it's quite possible.
They went to the Holiday Bowl with a 7-6 record last year and beat Nebraska. This year, they start off with a lighter schedule (Eastern Washington, Hawaii) before having a rematch with the Cornhuskers in Week 3. Art says it would be good for their bowl chances if the Huskies were able to get two wins under their belt before taking on a tougher team.
New division name
This season, the Pac-10 has become the Pac-12, with Utah and Colorado entering the division. Art says it will bring in more TV revenue. Next season, it may very well be the Pac-16. There's word that two teams from Oklahoma and two teams from Texas want to join.
So long old Husky Stadium
This is the last year for Husky Stadium as we know it. The lower bowl is going to be demolished in a $250 million renovation that will be ready in 2013.
"So, if there are people who are sentimental about old, broken-down benches, this is your year to go and sit in them. But I think it's going to be a great addition to the local sports scene to have Husky Stadium renovated."
This year's Apple Cup and next year's Husky season will be played at CenturyLink Field – the home of the Seahawks.
You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.