Who is the team poised to challenge Oregon and Stanford (or Stanford and Oregon, people get picky about which order they are written in) for the Pac-12 title?
USC? Can't ever count them out.
But what about Washington? According to ESPN Insider KC Joyner, the Huskies might have the best shot of the second-tier teams to make some noise and shake up the standings. Joyner lays out a series of statistically-backed arguments, and then reaches this conclusion:
All of these signs point toward Washington improving upon its 5-4 conference mark from last season, which dovetails with what could be a decline by Stanford and Oregon.
No team in college football returns a lower percentage of receptions (17.9 percent), and no team lost more sacks to graduation/early NFL draft entry than the Cardinal (44.5). Oregon may also take a step back since it lost head coach Chip Kelly, the architect of the program's ascension, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Those losses could very well lead to a situation in which a 6-3 or 7-2 conference mark could tie for the Pac-12 North Division lead at season's end. This won't be easy for the Huskies to reach, given that they do have a tough Pac-12 road schedule, with visits to Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State. However, if they can manage a 1-3 or 2-2 record in those games, the home-field advantage may be enough to vault this club to six or seven conference wins and thus give Washington a solid shot at winning the Pac-12 North Division crown.
As previously documented on the Pac-12 blog, the Huskies have a ton of production returning in the ground and air attacks. And we know the defense made big strides last year in its first season under Justin Wilcox -- both statistically and mentally.
I've said it before, I'll say it again tomorrow morning in Washington's Hope & Concern video, and I'll continue to say it until Boise State comes to town on Aug. 31 -- that game will have huge ramifications for the trajectory of Washington's season.
But for now, those of you with super-cool Insider access, allow Joyner to get your hopes up. We'll know at approximately 10:30 p.m. PT on Aug. 31 if all of the preseason hype is justified.