Outside of finding a new starting quarterback, the next most pressing need for the Washington football team in 2020 is to rebuild its offensive line.
The process began to take shape against Boise State at the Las Vegas Bowl.
Without much fanfare, redshirt freshman Victor Curne from Houston, Texas, lumbered onto the field to begin the second quarter and took over at right tackle. He didn't give up the position until late in the game. A huge guy with a massive lower trunk, he may not hand it over again.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds but seemingly much heavier than that, Curne moved people off the ball and pass-protected well as the UW piled up a 38-7 postseason victory.
On his first series, Curne shoved his Broncos defender down the field and sealed him off as Salvon Ahmed went around his right end on an 8-yard touchdown run. The new right tackle, as shown in the accompanying photo, was the first person to congratulate Ahmed in the end zone. It should have been the other way around.
"Victor Curne got his feet wet for some first real action and did a good job," departing Huskies coach Chris Petersen said following the game.
The coaching staff had to do some significant shuffling of the UW O-line for the Vegas Bowl with senior left tackle Trey Adams choosing to skip the game to protect his NFL interests and sophomore right guard Jaxson Kirkland ruled out and kept home with an assortment of leg injuries.
The Huskies moved senior Jared Hilbers from right tackle to left tackle and junior Luke Wattenberg and senior Nick Harris were available at their normal positions of left guard and center, respectively. Sophomore Henry Bainivalu replaced Kirkland at right guard for his second career start and senior Henry Roberts opened at right tackle for Hilbers.
Bainivalu, used more and more while appearing in every game this season, was selected UW offensive lineman of the game by the coaches. He's been properly groomed to step up in 2020.
Less obvious, Curne replaced Roberts for the Huskies' third offensive series and the young Texan logged his longest stint of the season in his seventh game. He looked light on his feet and hard for Broncos defenders to move.
Curne signed with Washington in 2017 after considering schools such as Arizona State, Colorado, Baylor, Missouri and Oklahoma State, among others. His commitment came the same day another Texas recruit, inside linebacker Nicholas Bolton, pledged to the Huskies. However, Bolton later backed out and accepted a scholarship from Missouri, and led the Tigers in tackles this season as a sophomore. Curne patiently waits his turn.
"The key factor that led me to choose UW over my other options was just the vision they had for me and the team," Curne told Scout.com at the time of his commitment. "I felt like they really were looking to develop me and get me to my fullest potential."
If the Huskies were to open the 2020 season today, consider the following starting offensive line, with three new faces, just one senior in the mix (with everyone's class standing updated here), and some altering of previous assignments:
Left tackle -- Kirkland, a 6-7, 323-pound junior, moves to the NFL money position after serving as a 25-game starter at right guard. He's the best of the bunch.
Left guard -- Wattenberg, a 6-5, 300-pound senior, is a 31-game starter combined at left guard and left tackle, who enters his fourth season as a first-teamer. He's been dependable.
Center -- Matteo Mele, a 6-5, 305-pound sophomore, played in five games this past season and started the UW's 51-27 victory at Arizona as a fill-in for an injured Harris. He appears ready to play more.
Right guard -- Bainivalu, the 6-6, 326-pound junior, made has second relief appearance as a starter in the Las Vegas Bowl and has appeared in 24 career games. He's positioned for full-time responsibility.
Right tackle -- Curne, the 6-3, 320-pound sophomore, played nearly three quarters of the Las Vegas Bowl and looked comfortable. It's his job to lose now.
Not be overlooked, the Huskies have a pair of oversized players waiting for their chance in 6-6, 346-pound Nate Kalepo, who was the backup left tackle in Vegas, and 6-6, 352-pound M.J. Ale, who was the backup at left guard. Both will be sophomores.
Jimmy Lake's coaching staff also signed five more offensive linemen three days before the Las Vegas Bowl, a group topped in reputation by 6-2, 312-pound guard/center Myles Murao from Torrance, Calif., who was ranked No. 2 nationally at his positions by various recruiting services.
"We have a lot of young talent," Petersen said. "There are some really good young players. We've recruited well to that position area."