Washington Football: Will Huskies Challenge Oregon for 2012 North Title?

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Keith Price leads a dangerous Washington offense.

<p> Washington Football: Will Huskies Challenge Oregon for 2012 North Title?</p>

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 begins with No. 25 Washington. The Huskies are coming off back-to-back seven-win seasons, but the program appears to be on the right track. Washington's defense is still a question mark, but the offense will be explosive. 

Can Washington Surpass Stanford and Challenge Oregon for the Pac-12 North title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Around mid-October last year, I bought into Washington. Keith Price’s play early swayed me enough were I overlooked a porous defense that gave up 27 to Eastern Washington, 32 to Hawaii and 51 to Nebraska. The mirage was over by November. Washington’s defense should improve under Justin Wilcox, and the offense is bound to be explosive again. Still, I think there’s a tendency to forget how much ground Washington still has to make up on the way to the top of the Pca-12. Sure, Stanford’s going to take a step back without Andrew Luck, but the Cardinal still beat Washington by 34 points on the field and by three games in the standings. After the 5-1 start, Washington’s only wins thereafter came against Arizona and Washington State at home, and the Huskies still found a way to squeeze in a loss to lowly Oregon State. Washington may pass Stanford eventually, but Washington still has more holes on defense and Stanford has too strong a foundation for it to happen this year.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There really are two parts to this debate: A) Has Washington closed the rather large gap with interdivisional rival Stanford who has dominated the Huskies by a combined 105 to 21 over the last two seasons? B) If so, can they challenge the reigning three-time Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks? The answer to the first question is most definitely yes. Stanford is losing four of the top 42 selections in the NFL Draft on offense, including all-world signal caller Andrew Luck, and is two years removed from cult of personality head coach Jim Harbaugh. The heart and soul has been effectually removed from the Cardinal football program, so some sort of step back must be expected in 2012. Washington, meanwhile, is trending in a much different direction as a reworked star-studded coaching staff has elevated the overall talent level in Seattle. Quarterback Keith Price set school records in his first season under center and led his team to its first winning season since 2002. Both teams will finish around the 8-4 mark, so the deciding factor should be the head-to-head match-up that takes place in Seattle. A win in Week 5 over the Cardinal vaults Washington into contender status. For one week, at least. While the Huskies are clearly rededicated to becoming a top ten program once again under Steve Sarkisian, they are not ready to topple the Ducks' dominance just yet. Seven days after hosting Stanford, Washington must travel to Eugene to battle with Oregon. Coach Sark has made large strides in restoring Husky Pride, but this program is still another year away from defeating the three-time conference champions in Autzen Stadium.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The gap between Oregon and the rest of the North is very wide. However, the gap between Washington and Stanford is closing fast. The Huskies aren’t ready to beat Oregon, but they are ready to beat the Cardinal for second place in the division.

Even though Steve Sarkisian has a 19-19 record through three seasons, it’s clear the program is on the right track. Washington has brought in three consecutive top 25 recruiting classes, and the program is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances. Sarkisian made some much-needed coaching changes, bringing in Justin Wilcox to coordinate the defense and hiring one of college football’s top recruiters (Tosh Lupoi) to coach the defensive line. The Huskies ranked as one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 last season, but there’s enough returning talent to expect immediate improvement in 2012.

Even though running back Chris Polk will be missed, the Huskies will have one of the Pac-12’s top offenses. Quarterback Keith Price should build upon a successful sophomore campaign, especially with Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins returning as the top receiving weapons. The Huskies need to stabilize their offensive line and find a capable replacement for Callier at running back.

An obstacle that could prevent Washington from challenging for second in the North is a difficult schedule. The Huskies have a tough non-conference road game at LSU, while playing at Oregon and catching USC and Utah in crossover games with the South. The one break in Washington’s favor? They host Stanford on Sept. 27 in a key game for North positioning.

Considering Stanford lost quarterback Andrew Luck and two of college football’s top offensive linemen, the Cardinal are due for a step back this year. Washington has its flaws, but I think the Huskies will surpass Stanford and finish second in the Pac-12 North this year. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Washington is getting better, but the Huskies aren’t quite ready to make a big jump in the standings in the Pac-12 North. Oregon is clearly the team to beat, and I still like Stanford to finish in second, ahead of Washington.

There’s a lot to like about UW, most notably quarterback Keith Price and a young crop of pass-catchers like tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams. But there are also some serious issues with this team. I think the loss of Chris Polk will be huge. He was one of the more underrated skill-position players in the nation, and UW has no proven replacements. And what about the defense? I like the hire of Justin Wilcox, but you can’t ignore the facts: The Huskies were awful last year on defense. The secondary should be okay, but it doesn’t look like the defensive line or the linebacking corps has the type of athletes needed to make a significant improvement.

Again, I think UW is on the right path — the Huskies are in the preseason top 25, after all — but this is still a flawed team that isn’t ready to join the elite in the Pac-12. 

Mark Ross
Yes and no. I think Washington can surpass Stanford, but I don't think either will offer much of a challenge to Oregon this season. The Huskies appear to have all the pieces in place offensively, led by quarterback Keith Price. The problem, just like last year, is will they be able to stop anyone. Steve Sarkisian made plenty of changes to his defensive staff, but I still expect plenty of bumps in the road as they acclimate to a new system. Depth could be an issue as well, although Washington does have help on the way starting with this recruiting class.

With Stanford, my concerns center around one thing - and this is who is under center. There's a reason Andrew Luck was the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft and David Shaw and the rest of the offense don't have him to lean on any more. The quarterback situation for 2012 probably won't be decided until the fall and although the Cardinal should be able to run the ball effectively with Stepfan Taylor behind another solid offensive line, this year's version should not be confused with last year's. Stanford will need the running game and the defense to carry them this year, and I think that's too much to ask for in order to succeed in the Pac-12.

Who finishes second to Oregon in the Pac-12 North may very well come down to who wins the head-to-head match up between these two. Interestingly, that game happens early as Washington hosts Stanford on Thursday, Sept. 27. These two teams also have pretty much the same conference schedules, as UCLA (Stanford) and Utah (Washington) are the only Pac-12 foes they don't have in common this year. So in the end, the Bruins or Utes also could have a say in who claims second behind the Ducks.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Washington could have a special season with quarterback Keith Price leading the way, but I still project Stanford to be the top challenger to Oregon in the Pac-12 North. The Huskies offense has some quality skill players with Price throwing to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receiver Kasen Williams, plus four starters return on the line. All-conference running back Chris Polk will be missed, but Steve Sarkisian’s bunch should score plenty of points. The concern for UW is on defense, where last season’s 106th national ranking must obviously improve. There is talent on that side of the ball for new coordinator Justin Wilcox, with linemen Hau'oli Jamora and Josh Shirley and backs Desmond Trufant and Sean Parker leading the way. Stanford loses some key personnel and has a tough schedule, but the Cardinal program still looks slightly better than Washington. The Huskies are on the way back to national prominence, but it may take another season before they challenge for the North crown.

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