The Washington Huskiescheck in at No. 25 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: Keith Price, QB
Price was terrific in his first season as Washington’s starting quarterback and should be even better in 2012. He finished with 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns, while adding three rushing scores on the ground. Price has more mobility than the stats showed last season, but was limited due to knee injuries. The junior recorded eight games of at least three or more touchdown tosses and threw only 11 picks in 362 attempts. Price needs to play better against the top competition, as he threw for just 247 yards against Stanford, 143 against Oregon and 125 against USC. Despite losing a couple of his top targets from last season, Price should have an opportunity to improve upon his 2011 numbers.
Defensive MVP: Sean Parker, S
Despite having a talented secondary, Washington finished 116th nationally against the pass last season. With a much-needed change at defensive coordinator, the Huskies have an opportunity to be one of the most-improved defenses in the Pac-12 this year. In his first season as a starter last season, Parker collected 91 tackles and picked off four passes. With another offseason under his belt, Parker should elevate his game to All-American status and will be Washington’s top defensive player in 2012.
Trap Game: at Arizona (Oct. 20)
No matter what Washington’s record is after the two-game stretch at Oregon (Oct. 6) and home against USC (Oct. 13), the date at Arizona won’t be an easy one. The Wildcats have won three out of the last five matchups against the Huskies, including the two in a row in Tucson. After playing tough back-to-back games against Oregon and USC, the Huskies could fall victim to Arizona in the desert on Oct. 20.
Upset Alert: at Washington State (Nov. 23)
Coach Steve Sarkisian has yet to lose to Washington State in his short tenure with the Huskies (3-0), but the stakes have been raised for this season’s game. Washington State made a splash with its hiring of Mike Leach as head coach, and should own one of the top offenses in college football this year. The Cougars nearly beat Washington in 2010 in Pullman, but lost 35-28. Washington State’s last victory in this series came in 2008 and there’s a lot of positive momentum going for the Cougars heading into this year. Washington is the better overall team, but the Cougars are hungry to break a three-game losing streak in this series.
Coordinator on the Hot Seat: Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator
No, Wilcox isn’t in any danger of losing his job, but Washington’s chances at finishing in the top 25 will rest on a much-improved defense. During his two seasons as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, the Volunteers showed progress, moving from 69th nationally in total defense in 2010 to finishing 28th last year. The Huskies have some talent to work with, but struggled to find consistency or improve in coach Steve Sarkisian’s first three years in Seattle. Wilcox is being counted upon to make a huge difference and all signs point to some much-needed improvement on defense in 2012.
Breakout Player: Kasen Williams, WR
Washington has a couple of players who could fill this spot, including true freshman safety Shaq Thompson, but Williams enters his sophomore year with a chance to emerge as one of the top receivers in the Pac-12. As a true freshman last season, he caught 36 passes for 427 yards and six scores. Williams did not have a 100-yard performance, but caught six passes for 79 yards and one touchdown against Oregon. With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar departing, Williams is clearly Washington’s No. 1 wide receiver for 2012.
Unsung Hero: Drew Schaefer, C
Despite having three starters back, Washington’s offensive line is going to be a question mark early in the season. Right tackle Erik Kohler and guard Colin Tanigawa were both dealing with injuries, leaving Schaefer as the group’s lone returning starter at 100 percent. The senior has started 30 games in a row, including all 13 at center last year. Considering the concerns on the rest of the unit, Schaefer needs to stay healthy for Washington’s offense to exceed last season’s production.
Biggest Game: Stanford (Sept. 27)
If the Huskies want to have any shot at finishing second in the Pac-12 North, they have to beat Stanford on Sept. 27. The Cardinal has won four in a row over Washington, including a 65-21 rout last season. With Andrew Luck and two All-Pac-12 offensive linemen departing Stanford, second place is there for Washington to take. The Huskies have tough games against Oregon and USC in the next two weeks following the matchup against Stanford. However, considering the matchup against the Cardinal is the Pac-12 opener, it’s a chance for Washington to stake its place in the North pecking order.
Revenge Game: Oregon State (Oct. 27)
Considering Washington had six losses last year, you could pick a few different games to fit this category. However, one game stands out on last season’s results as a puzzling loss. Washington lost back-to-back games against Oregon and USC in early November and followed that up with a 38-21 defeat at Oregon State. The Beavers won only three contests last year, but has beat the Huskies in the last three matchups in Corvallis. If Washington wants to improve upon its seven wins from 2011, beating Oregon State is a must in 2012.
Freshman to Watch: Shaq Thompson, S
The Huskies won a high-profile recruiting battle with UCLA, Oregon and California for Thompson and he certainly won’t be on the sidelines in 2012. Thompson ranked as the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100, and at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds already has the physical ability to play from day one. His impact may extend to more than just defense, as Washington’s coaching staff may look to get him involved in a handful of plays on offense. Even if Thompson doesn’t secure a starting spot in the fall, he will be a significant contributor to the Huskies defense in 2012.
Comeback player: Hau’oli Jamora, DE
After a strong performance in the 2010 Holiday Bowl, Jamora was poised to become one of the top defensive linemen in the Pac-12 last season. However, a torn ACL in the fourth game ended his season, leaving Jamora with just 15 tackles and one sack on the season. Although the injury was a setback for Jamora, it occurred early in the year and Jamora should be at full strength when the season begins. The sophomore will anchor one of the end spots in Washington’s new 3-4 approach and will be counted upon to be one of the unit’s top disruptors up front in 2012.
Newcomer to Watch: Travis Coons, K
Erik Folk has finished his eligibility in Seattle, leaving the Huskies with no proven kicker on the roster. Coach Steve Sarkisian dipped into the junior college ranks to fill this void, bringing in Travis Coons from Mt. San Antonio College. There’s a lot of pressure on Coons to perform right away, but having experience at the junior college ranks should help his transition to FBS play.
Position Battle: Running Back
Chris Polk’s decision to leave for the NFL leaves a huge void at running back. The depth chart is completely bare, as Washington returns two players with experience and a couple of intriguing options waiting for an opportunity. Jesse Callier is the leading candidate to replace Polk after rushing for 260 yards and one touchdown last year. However, he will be pushed by Bishop Sankey, who rushed for 187 yards and one score in 2011. If neither Callier or Sankey claim the top spot, coach Steve Sarkisian could choose to get an extended look at sophomore Deontae Cooper or athlete Antavius Sims. Cooper has missed the last two seasons due to knee injuries, so his ability to hold up to a full season of carries is a concern. It’s possible the Huskies could use a committee, but it seems more likely Callier or Sankey emerges as the No. 1 rusher.
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