The Pac-12 had a quiet offseason in the coaching carousel, as Washington and USC were the only head coach jobs to open.
After five years and a 34-29 record in Seattle, Steve Sarkisian was hired at USC. Sarkisian never coached a team that won more than eight games in the regular season at Washington, but the Huskies made considerable improvement under his watch. Washington was 0-12 under Tyrone Willingham in 2008 and went 5-7 in Sarkisian’s first year. The Huskies were never able to push Oregon or Stanford for the North Division title but four straight bowl games was a good rebound after a sluggish tenure under Willingham.
Petersen replaced Sarkisian at Washington after a 92-12 stint at Boise State. Replicating that record in the Pac-12 will be a challenge, but all signs suggest Petersen is up to the task. Under Petersen’s direction, the Broncos won 10 games in seven consecutive seasons from 2006-12.
Both of the Pac-12’s first-year coaches seem to be setup for immediate success. Washington and USC can be a factor in their respective divisions, and both have to be considered legitimate conference title contenders.
Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.
Chris Petersen or Steve Sarkisian: Which New Coach Has a Better Season in 2014?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a tough one. I think USC and Washington will both be in the mix for nine (and maybe more) wins in 2014, so there’s not much separating these two teams. I’m tempted to take Washington since I think the Huskies have a good shot at finishing ahead of Oregon or Stanford this year. However, even though I like Washington’s chances to surprise, I’m going to take Sarkisian. USC returns 14 starters, including eight on a defense that ranked second in the Pac-12 in points allowed. The Trojans also have an edge over the Huskies at quarterback and running back, although I think Cyler Miles is going to be a solid signal-caller in Seattle. USC’s schedule isn’t particularly friendly, as road trips to Stanford, Arizona, and UCLA will be tough. Washington should go 4-0 in non-conference play, and with home matchups against Stanford and UCLA, Petersen’s team will have a chance to make some noise in 2014. As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Huskies finish ahead of Oregon or Stanford in the North. However, if UCLA is the favorite in the South, then USC isn’t too far behind. I’ll take the Trojans – but I’m also very intrigued about this year’s Washington squad.
Kyle Kensing, (@Kensing45), CFBHuddle.com and BleacherReport.com
USC has a higher ceiling than Washington in 2014. However, Washington has a much wider margin for error.
When the NCAA first levied sanctions against USC, 2014 was the most obvious season to pinpoint as the program's rock-bottom. Two 10-win seasons and recruiting classes consistently heavy on talent, even if they were light on numbers, kept the ship steady. The situation Sarkisian inherits is not nearly as dire as it could have been, but the roster is at its thinnest.
The Trojans will walk a tightrope all season. Just a few injuries can derail USC from its goals.
Chris Petersen faces more question marks in his starting lineup than Sarkisian, particularly on the offensive end. Replacing Keith Price, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey is a tall order. However, Petersen starts with the foundation of an experienced offensive line and deep, talented defense. That suits Petersen.
His Boise State teams were often built from stellar offense lines and stout defenses. Filling the skill position roles isn't as urgent. And while the candidates may not match Price, Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins, Sarkisian left a stocked cupboard.
With a collectively clean bill of health and the right breaks, Sarkisian finishes with a better record than Petersen. But such good fortune is rare in college football. For that reason, I like Petersen in 2014.
Of course, since the Huskies play one more game--the result of a Hawaii road trip--the two teams could conceivably finish with the same record in the loss column, but USC with the better win percentage.
Both teams should enjoy a fair amount of success under their new leadership, but I am really looking forward to seeing what Chris Petersen can do at Washington. His track record (92-12) during his eight seasons at Boise State speaks for itself and all eyes will be on him as he makes the move to a major conference. Petersen has plenty of talent to work with, as Steve Sarkisian did a fine job restocking the Huskies' roster and rebuilding a program that hit rock bottom under Tyrone Willingham. I think UW's defense is going to surprise some people and as long as Petersen can settle on a quarterback and develop some sort of running game, the Huskies should win plenty of games. In fact, while USC is probably considered the closest challenger to frontrunner UCLA in the Pac-12 South Division, I am expecting Washington to serve the same role to Oregon in the North. Considering this division also includes two-time defending league champion Stanford, I would think that result would count as a pretty successful first season in Seattle for Petersen. And I know it's something Huskies fans will gladly take.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Due to the incestuous coaching implications, watching both USC and Washington compete this fall should be fascinating. The two won't play unless they meet in the Pac-12 title game — which isn't THAT out of the question — so "better" likely has to be defined by where each finishes within their division and shouldn't necessarily be based solely on win-loss record. First, the Huskies play 13 games and don't have one difficult non-conference game. Meanwhile, USC plays 12 games and includes three non-conference games against bowl teams Notre Dame, Fresno State and Boston College. So unless Washington finishes ahead of either Stanford or Oregon in the North, Coach Sark and the Men of Troy get my vote for "better first season" — even if UW has more wins. Look for USC to compete for a division title and for Washington to hold firm to third place in the North. The slight edge goes to USC.