Washington or Oregon State: Who Will Finish Higher in the Pac-12 North in 2013?

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<p> Washington or Oregon State: Who Will Finish Higher in the Pac-12 in 2013?</p>

The pecking order in the Pac-12 North is pretty clear. Oregon and Stanford should be the top two teams in the division, while Washington and Oregon State are likely battling for third place.

Washington had a disappointing 2012 season, as the Huskies had hopes of being a top-25 team. However, despite a much-improved defense, the offensive line struggled, and quarterback Keith Price was never able to get on track.

Oregon State was one of the Pac-12’s biggest surprises last season, finishing with a 9-4 record and spending a good chunk of the season ranked in the top 25.

Both teams could be top-25 teams in 2013 but expect a close race for third place in the Pac-12 North.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Washington or Oregon State: Who Will Finish Higher in the Pac-12 North in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This is tough, mainly because they both have their strengths and their obvious flaws. I’m going to go with Washington, but I don’t feel strongly one way or another. The Huskies’ defense improved dramatically under Justin Wilcox last season, and only one of his top nine tacklers from last season returning. One of those, Shaq Thompson, is a potential superstar. On offense, I’m willing to accept last season’s inconsistency as an outlier. Keith Price, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Kasen Williams and Bishop Sankey are too good for the Huskies to rank ninth in the Pac-12 in yards per play. A healthy offensive line will be key to putting Washington’s offense back on track. Meanwhile, I’m concerned about Oregon State’s quarterback situation. Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz can both win games, but the Beavers would be better off to have one clear answer at quarterback. I also think the departure of Jordan Poyer, a lock-down cornerback, could be overlooked. This should be the season the Huskies’ get out of their 7-6 funk.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Both coaching staffs deserve kudos for huge turn arounds on the defensive side of the ball a year ago. Both the Beavers and Huskies developed into two of the stingier defenses in the league and should both be able to continue that trend, each could contend in the North in 2013. Yet, Stanford and Oregon are still the cream of the crop in this division, so it seems more likely that these two will be left to battle for third place. With similar schedules likely resulting in at least three Pac-12 losses each — against Oregon, Stanford and at Arizona State — both Oregon State and Washington are left to win tricky swing games if they expect to finish .500 or better in the league. Mike Riley's bunch gets USC and Washington at home while road trips to Cal and Utah are intriguing. Steve Sarkisian's squad has to travel to UCLA and Oregon State while Arizona comes to town early in the year. U of W gets a slight schedule advantage overall that is negated by the fact it will have to face the Beavers in Corvallis. This debate will be settled on the penultimate Saturday of the regular season (Nov. 23) where Oregon State will win a close battle against Washington in the friendly confines of Reser Stadium.

Kyle Kensing, Editor at SaturdayBlitz.com, (@kensing45)
The 2012 season was a return to normalcy for Oregon State. Mike Riley may have been on the hot seat after consecutive losing campaigns in 2010 and 2011, but in winning nine games, last year's Beavers did what Riley-coached teams do best: defy expectations. Oregon State loses some difficultly replaced players, namely cornerback Jordan Poyer and wide receiver Markus Wheaton. However, Riley returns 15 starters. Only three Pac-12 teams return more -- among them is Washington.

Washington is in its own run of consistency, though three straight 7-6 finishes may not be the kind of consistency Steve Sarkisian is seeking. Most anyone following the Pac-12 recently has awaited Washington's breakout campaign. The pieces are there in 2013 for it to finally come to fruition.

On paper, UW is the more attractive pick. The defense improved by leaps and bounds under Justin Wilcox. Bishop Sankey established himself as one of the nation's premiere rushers. If Keith Price can regain the spark he showed in 2011, the UW offense should be among the conference's most exciting.

But precedent favors Oregon State. Riley's continued defying of expectations is tough to bet against. Both teams will factor into the Pac-12 North title race, but OSU finishes ahead of UW. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Washington and Oregon State both have a strong case to be ranked inside of the preseason top 25 and should have a tight battle for third place in the Pac-12 North. The Huskies return 16 starters from a team that won seven games and lost two contests by three points or less. The Beavers bounced back after a disappointing 2011 campaign, winning nine games and finishing 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Washington has a difficult schedule, catching Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA in crossover play, with road games against Oregon State and Stanford. Oregon State plays Utah, Colorado, USC and Arizona State from the South and hosts Washington and Stanford this year. Even though the schedule is slanted in favor of the Beavers, I think the Huskies will find a way to finish higher in the North Division. A big part of Washington’s struggles last season was its offensive line, which allowed 2.9 sacks per game. However, the offense has too much firepower to struggle in 2013, especially if quarterback Keith Price gets back on track after a subpar 2012 season. The Beavers return most of their core from 2012 but have to replace both starting defensive tackles, receiver Markus Wheaton and cornerback Jordan Poyer. These two teams could finish tied in conference wins next year, but I think Washington edges Oregon State for third place in the North.


Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
I think these two teams are going to be neck-and-neck pretty much all season, so it wouldn't surprise me one bit if their head-to-head matchup on Nov. 23 decides who finishes above the other. And even though that game takes place on Oregon State's home turf, I am going to take Washington to finish ahead of the Beavers in the Pac-12 North standings this fall. Both teams have quite a bit of talent and experience returning, but in my opinion, the Huskies have a clear edge at the most important position of all - quarterback. Despite Keith Price's struggles last season, there's little denying the senior's talent and potential. His offensive line was decimated by injuries in 2012 and as long as that history doesn't repeat itself, Price should be able to put up some big numbers this season, especially with the weapons he has to work with. In fact, Washington has a chance to be a surprise team in the Pac-12, if not the nation, as its schedule includes the season opener against Boise State, crossover games in the Pac-12 on the road against Arizona State and UCLA - two of the expected South division contenders -  and a home game against Arizona. There also are the Huskies' back-to-back dates with Stanford (road) and Oregon (home) on Oct. 5 and 12, with the Cardinal and Ducks expected to be in the thick of the national title chase. If Price and the offense can do their part and the defense can continue to improve, Washington should not lack for chances to impress and shine in 2013, including finishing ahead of Oregon State in the Pac-12 standings.


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