Chris Petersen was disappointed, but not dejected. Jake Browning was frustrated, but not crestfallen.
The Washington Huskies believed they could beat Alabama in Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the Georgia Dome. They didn’t win, of course, losing 24-7 in a game dominated by the Crimson Tide defense.
So the Huskies weren’t happy in their locker room afterward. But they seemed able to view this season — the 12-2 record, the Pac-12 championship, a playoff appearance — in the proper perspective.
“If we’ve played as good as we can play, if we prepared as hard as we can prepare and we really did those two things, and then we just lay it on the line and someone beats us, we don’t like it,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “But we’ve got to be able to be OK with it and learn from it, and that’s always been our message. And so that happened tonight.”
There is reason to believe Washington can compete for the Pac-12 title again next season. Browning, who tied the single-season league record for touchdown passes with 43, will be back as a junior. So will tailback Myles Gaskin, along with four of the five offensive linemen who started Saturday’s game.
And while on defense, the Huskies will lose two senior starters and possibly several more underclassmen starters to the NFL draft — safety Budda Baker, cornerback Sidney Jones, defensive linemen Elijah Qualls and Vita Vea potentially among them, though none has made a decision yet — they are expected to return starting linebackers Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria, as well as a handful of other key contributors.
“That is a great team out there,” Qualls said of Alabama, “and this (UW) team is pretty damn good and can be great, there’s no doubt in my mind. We just need to get there.”
Petersen said afterward that “the bar has been moved forward” in the Huskies’ locker room, “but we don’t pick up with our new team next year right where we are here.”
Browning said he was thinking mostly of UW’s seniors who won’t be around next season. But Browning, too, took a moment to turn an eye toward the future.
“I don’t think anyone is really saying that they feel great right now, but (in) a couple days this will wash away,” Browning said. “We’ll see the film. You want to say thanks to the seniors and all that, but for a lot of young guys and everybody coming back you have to build on top of this.
“This (Alabama) is the best team in the nation right now and the hottest team in the nation, kind of the program that has run college football. We’re a couple plays away. You have yourself on film playing against the best. There aren’t many teams we’re going to see that are better than that. Now, just building on top of that.”
Browning said Petersen’s postgame speech was simple: He thanked UW’s seniors, and instructed everyone else to prepare for the offseason.
“Alabama is the type of program that we want to have at Washington,” Browning said.
“That’s the new standard.”
Baker, Jones, Qualls, Vea and receiver John Ross — all underclassmen — are each projected as potential first- or second-round NFL draft picks, should they declare.
Baker, a junior safety from Bellevue, said he would discuss his future with family and friends, and “hopefully have a decision soon.”
Qualls, a fourth-year junior defensive lineman, said he’ll try to seek as much input as possible before deciding.
“Everything’s a factor,” said Qualls, who is projected by CBS Sports as a second-round pick. “If I did leave, I’d miss these dudes, man. This is one of the best locker rooms I’ve ever been in. Honestly, these are some of the only people I can stand to be around on a consistent basis, even though they frustrate me sometimes, too. But I love these dudes, man. That’s definitely going to factor in. To leave these dudes would be hard.”
Ross and Jones are each projected by CBS Sports as first-round picks. Baker and Vea project as second-round picks, according to CBS.