It’s time for our third and final edition of the Pac-12 roundtable. We’ve already discussed breakout stars and the most intriguing teams of the league. Now it’s time to see if there is anybody out there that can contend with the Pac-12’s version of the “Big 3”. Back to join us are Pete and Ross from CFBZ as well as a host of great writers from the interwebs. We are joined by Dale Newton from The Duck Stops Here, Tim Tolman from The Saturday Edge and Kyle Kensing from Saturday Blitz and Arizona Desert Swarm.
Is this man ready to take the Huskies to the next level?
QUESTION: Which team outside of Oregon, Stanford and USC has the best chance to win the conference this year?
Dale: It’s wide open. Cal has recruited tremendously well for the last five years and has a lot of speed on defense. But the most dangerous team outside the big three might be the Washington Huskies, who’ve improved each year under Steve Sarkisian, and could take a big leap forward with a less imposing nonconference schedule (San Diego State and Portland State wrapped around a visit to LSU), a two-year starter at quarterback in Keith Price, and a defense that’s bound to improve under new coordinator Josh Wilcox, a motivator who gave opponents fits while at Boise State. Wilcox, a former all-league defensive back at Oregon, whose father and brother were also both Ducks, will be gunning for bragging rights in the family rivalry, and he’s a master of scheme and player development. The Huskies have plenty of talent on offense in Price, sophomore wide receiver Kasen Williams, 6-8, 260-pound tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and tailback Jesse Callier, who rushed for 5.5 yards a carry as a backup to Chris Polk last year. If Wilcox upgrades the defense, watch out for the Huskies. We’ll know early if they’re ready for the next level of success: they host Stanford on September 27th, travel to Oregon on October 6th, and host USC on October 13th in their first three weeks of PAC-12 play. Yikes!
Kyle: As mentioned Previously, I like Utah‘s chances. The South isn’t a good division aside from USC — three of the other four teams have first-year coaches. That combined with the Utes’ improvement should make them head-and-shoulders above the rest of the division, which leaves the Trojans as the roadblock.
I also like Cal in the North. Keenan Allen is a superstar at wide receiver, and the backfield of CJ Anderson and Isi Sofele is dangerous. I’m not too concerned about Zach Maynard, I expect him to improve vastly from last season. The question mark for the Golden Bears will be defense, which was gutted by graduation. If the reserves step up quickly, this is my pick to win the North (assuming Oregon is hit with NCAA sanctions).
Tim: It is tough to imagine any team outside of USC or Oregon winning the PAC-12 this season. Those two appear to be fringe National Championship contenders and at a level above everyone in the conference. However, of the next best teams in the league (CAL, Utah & UW), I believe Utah has the best chance to surprise. They return Jordan Wynn at QB and John White could be the best RB in the conference. They have arguably the league’s best defensive line and 7 starters returning to last years # 1 scoring PAC-12 defense. More importantly they have an extremely favorable schedule. They get USC and Cal at home, they don’t play Oregon or Stanford from the North and their road games are against ASU, UCLA, Oregon State, Washington and Colorado – 5 teams with a combined record of 25-40 and 0-3 in bowl games last year.
Pete: I’m optimistic about Washington. Steve Sarkisian’s offense leaves little doubt about its effectiveness, but the defense proved suspect. With former Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon joining the staff, along with addition of defensive line coach and recruiter extraordinaire Tosh Lupoi from Cal, the defense should be on the uptick.
The Huskies have a tough 2012 schedule, including a week two game in Baton Rouge against LSU and a stretch of three successive games against Stanford (home), Oregon (away) and USC (home). If they pull two wins out of that series, they could be on their way to a conference championship game.
Ross: I don’t really see anyone other than one of those three teams winning the league, but of the remaining teams Utah might have the best bet. The Pac-12 South is breaking in a lot of new coaches (UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State) and Colorado is still digging themselves out of the hole of the last few years. That leaves the Utes to challenge USC and they do get USC at home. They also don’t play Oregon or Stanford and their toughest road game is probably at Washington. If they can spring the upset on USC, they could have the inside track to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Kevin: I really like the Washington Huskies. That being said, I think they are still about a year away from contending for the conference championship. Their defense is going to need at least a full year under Wilcox and for Lupoi to recruit some more top notch talent (like he alreay did with Shaq Thompson).
I like the arguements that Ross and Tim made for Utah. They don’t jump off the page at me as a championship contender but you can’t deny the schedule making gods shined the light on them this season. According to Phil Steele, they have the 113th easiest schedule in the Nation. The next Pac-12 team on that list is Stanford at #96 and then Arizona State at #73. I think it’s safe to say that Utah has the easiest road to the Pac-12 Championship.