Washington or Stanford: Better 2012 Pac-12 Record?

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Can Brett Nottingham keep Stanford in the mix to win the Pac-12 North?

<p> Washington or Stanford: Which is the second best team in the 2012 Pac-12 North?</p>

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Assuming Oregon is the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 North, who would you pick second - Washington or Stanford?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I am sticking with Stanford here, though the gap is closing. My quick reaction at first was to pick Washington ahead of the Cardinal, but I’m not so sure anymore. Stanford is going to fall a bit without Andrew Luck and two elite offensive linemen, and Washington is not going to be a mess on defense like it was a year ago. That said, Washington still has to make up a three-game difference in the Pac-12 standings just to catch up to Stanford. It could happen. That said, for all its talent on offense with Keith Price, Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse, Washington was still seventh in the Pac-12 in total offense in league games. Not to mention the Huskies defense, which couldn’t stop anyone. On the other hand, Stanford’s going to have a solid defense, especially if Shayne Skov is on the field in his 2010 form. The Cardinal is not going to move the ball like it did under Luck, but I think David Shaw is going to be able to re-tool his offense around Stepfan Taylor in the running game. Stanford’s spot among the national elite may end this season, but Washington’s journey to the top of the Pac-12 is still a long one.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Give me the Huskies or give me death. Steve Sarkisian has the Huskies poised for their best season in over a decade this fall. He took a first-year starter and underclassman at quarterback and delivered the first winning season for Washington since 2002. Keith Price now enters his junior season having already dramatically outperformed the legend he replaced in Jake Locker. The roster as a whole has been dramatically upgraded, as is evident by how easily Coach Sark can replace star skill players like Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse with Jesse Callier, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams. And the program has clearly decided to dedicate more resources to producing a winner as the Huskies spent big money to lure talented coaches from all across the country this off-season.

Stanford, meanwhile, is heading in a much different direction. Two years removed from coaching savant Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw now faces his biggest challenge: Replacing all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck. The best amateur football player in the world left Palo Alto with every major school record a quarterback can hold, including winning 23 of 26 games over the last two seasons. Brett Nottingham might be a solid player, but fans will find out very quickly just how good Luck was under center. Additionally, gone are two two-time first-team All-Pac-12 offensive lineman and stud tight end Coby Fleener. Defensively, this team should be better than Washington, and I realize that the Cardinal recruited at a record level in 2012, but many of those player won't make a significant impact this fall. The in-conference schedules are similar, so this argument could be decided on the field in Week 5 when Stanford comes to Seattle to face Washington.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is one of the toughest calls to make in the Pac-12 predictions for 2012. Stanford has won 23 games over the last two years and has brought in top 25 recruiting classes in each of the last four seasons. However, former coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck were a key reason for much of that success. David Shaw did a good job in his first season as Stanford’s head coach last year, but the Cardinal now have to replace Luck and two first-team All-Pac-12 linemen in 2012. There’s no question Stanford is due for a fall, but just how far is the debate.

Washington has just 14 wins over the last two years and its defense was a disaster last season. The Huskies also suffered some key personnel losses going into 2012, including running back Chris Polk, defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu and linebacker Cort Dennison. However, Washington is a program headed in the right direction. Coach Steve Sarkisian is bringing in solid recruiting classes and hired an excellent defensive staff, pulling in coordinator Justin Wilcox from Tennessee and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi from California. The acquisition of Wilcox should bring immediate improvement to Washington’s defense, which will help an offense that should be one of the best in the conference.

The schedules are essentially even, but Washington hosts Stanford this year. Although the Cardinal has been the better team over the last few years, I think the Huskies will surprise and claim second in the North standings and finish among the top 25 teams in the nation.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with Stanford to finish second in the Pac-12’s North Division. Most pundits around college football will probably take Washington because of the Cardinal personnel losses and a tough schedule, but I think Stanford has built a strong program that will not fall very far this season. Obviously Andrew Luck leaves a huge void at quarterback, and the Cardinal will also miss top performers like left tackle Jonathan Martin, guard David DeCastro, and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas. While the offense may not be as potent in 2012, the defense could be better than last year’s quality group. Stanford has one of the top linebacking units in the country, led by All-America candidate Chase Thomas and leading tackler Jarek Lancaster. Shayne Skov should return to the group in late September, and AJ Tarpley was solid as well last season.

David Shaw will have a talented quarterback whether it’s Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes, and offensive linemen Cameron Fleming and David Yankey should lead a physical crew that will pave the way for outstanding running back Stepfan Taylor. Stanford plays hit-you-in-the-mouth football, like when the Cardinal steamrolled Washington for 446 rushing yards a year ago. While the Huskies do have an exciting signal caller in Keith Price, the defense is still a year away in Seattle. Both teams should be in the 6-3 range in league play, and I’ll go with Stanford to win the head-to-head matchup and finish as the runner-up to Oregon in the North.

How will Athlon predict the Pac-12 North standings for 2012? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

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