Take 2: Is Washington a contender?

The Pac-12 blog isn't quite sure what to make of Washington yet. Sometimes, the Huskies look unstoppable. Other times, they can't stop themselves from looking bad. They have a big North Division showdown with two-time defending champion Stanford on Saturday in Seattle. We'll probably learn a lot more about them from that game. But for now, Kyle Bonagura and Kevin Gemmell debate whether the Huskies are a contender in the Pac-12 North.

Kyle Bonagura: First, let’s define contender. This isn’t about forecasting whether Washington will be at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 5, it’s about whether the Huskies should be mentioned among the potential candidates. At this point, that’s an important distinction.

Not much the Huskies have done in their first four games under coach Chris Petersen indicates they are ready to overtake Oregon or Stanford, but regardless of how up-and-down and generally underwhelming they have looked, it’s still too early to write them off. We’re dealing with a 4-0 team loaded with talent and coached by a man with a career record of 96-12. It doesn’t take much imagination to foresee an improved, more consistent version of the Huskies once conference play opens this weekend against Stanford.

That said, they better make significant strides in a hurry, because as Petersen said Saturday after the Georgia State game, they’ll "get run out of the stadium," in the Pac-12 if they turn in another performance like in the first half of that game. Trailing Georgia State 14-0 at halftime? Not exactly an indicator of success to come.

Side note: Who thought the Big Ten team (Illinois) would turn out to be the easiest game on a schedule that includes an FCS team (Eastern Washington), an FBS team without an FBS win in its history (Georgia State) and a team that went 1-11 last season (Hawaii)? Go figure.

If both Oregon and Stanford had been without fault to this point, it would be easier to forget about the Huskies, but that hasn’t been the case. Oregon’s close game with Washington State showed the Ducks are susceptible to upsets, and Stanford’s loss to USC already puts the Cardinal in a hole. Plus, Washington has a favorable schedule: it misses USC and Utah, and has Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA at home.

The reality is that it is still too early to draw any major conclusions about any team -- especially with the lack of consistency across the board -- so to unequivocally say right now, before it has played a conference game, that Washington won’t be a contender is premature. But check back again after Saturday night.

Kevin Gemmell: I see what you did there, Kyle. I believe politicians call it a non-denial denial. And you’re not wrong. However, simply agreeing with you would not make for a very spirited Take 2. So instead, I’m going to endear myself to Washington fans for at least a couple of days.

Heck yeah I think Washington is a contender in the North.

The Huskies are by no means favorites. That distinction belongs to the team that has beaten the Huskies 10 straight years or the team that has won the North the past two years. However, right now Washington is doing two things better than both of those teams. They are getting to the quarterback and they are keeping their own quarterback upright.

For as much as this is a quarterback-driven league, your quarterback can’t do much with Danny Shelton going all Captain Insano on him. The Huskies boast the nation’s top two sackers in Shelton (seven sacks, 9.5 tackles for a loss) and Hau'oli Kikaha (six sacks, 7.5 TFLs). And they are tied for second best in the conference in sacks allowed with five.

The Huskies are doing work on the lines.

Obviously, those numbers will get tested Saturday night against a Stanford team that has dominated the line of scrimmage the past few seasons.

Washington is probably the toughest team to get a handle on so far this season. I tweeted Saturday during the fourth quarter -- somewhere around their 35th point of the second half -- that when Washington is bad, it’s really, really bad. And when Washington is good, it’s really, really good.

If Petersen can find a way to harness the really, really good, this is absolutely a team that could take advantage of a Stanford team that has looked equally inconsistent and an Oregon squad that is still dominant but has shown cracks.

Offensively, I think the Huskies are a little too slanted toward the run with a 67-33 run-pass ratio. But I suspect that number will become more balanced as quarterback Cyler Miles continues to grow. His receivers are too good for him not to.

Full disclosure, if you look at the predictions posted this morning, you will see I picked Stanford to win. Simply because there is the chance that the really, really bad Washington shows up. That is always going to be a concern until the Huskies show us otherwise. But if the really, really good Washington shows up, look out North. Because at their best, they can hang with anybody in the league.