Spoiler alert: the UWDP staff is compiling its own preview of the Pac 12 which will include a high-level panel review led by Anthony and our annual Gekko Files series penned by me. The goal of this article is to share with you what the venerable experts of our industry are saying about the Pac 12 race now that we are starting to see official conference preview editions hit the news stands.
For the purposes of this review, I assembled the works of three different sources. Phil Steele is a well-respected analyst who relies on a variety of advanced analytics combined with his analysis of coaching congruency and roster experience to drive his predictions. He claims to produce, year-in and year-out, the most accurate forecasts across all of college football. He may be right.
Athlons is another reliable preview publication. I tend to favor the Athlons publication over many others as I really like the personality of the staff which, in my opinion, is comprised of authentic sports nuts. These guys don't always have the most analytical approach, but they see the game the same way that many other rank and file die-hards see it and the draw upon their intuition as much as data to make their picks.
Finally, I've included a preview from the USA Today which includes input from one of the best in the business, Paul Myerberg. Paul is in the middle of his awesome annual countdown (he's on #77 - and it is Troy in case you were wondering), so we don't have a full preview yet. However, we do have their forecast of the 2014 Top 25 which includes UW, so I went with it.
Let's start with Phil Steele - a man that has name brand recognition, is a columnist on ESPN.com and does an excellent radio segment with Bill King every Friday morning on Sirius XM radio. Here is how Phil sees the Pac 12 in 2014. My discussion follows.
|North||On UW ...|
Phil sees UW has having great experience on the offensive line and a solid D anchored by what he sees as a top 10 linebacking group in all of college football. He also professes a high level of respect for Chris Petersen. Question marks at QB, receiver and a road-heavy Pac 12 schedule temper his enthusiasm.
Overall, I was pleased to see that Phil has USC and Oregon neck-and-neck for the Pac 12 title. This tells me that he is looking pretty closely at the teams and not overly buying into the excessive hype that is proliferating around UCLA and Stanford. Given that Phile tends to consider experience of the O-Line and Strength of Schedule as very strong predictors of success, I was surprised to see him pick UW fourth in the Pac 12 - in particular behind Oregon State. This may be the lowest ranking you'll see of UW in any of the serious preview publications and speaks to the uncertainty that Phil perceives on the UW offense as well as with a road-heavy schedule that features Pac 12 trips to Oregon and Arizona. The good news is that UW gets both Stanford and UCLA at home while missing USC altogether. This makes, in my opinion, the Huskies path easier that what Steele is predicting.
Looking over the rest of his forecasts, it is hard to have much to quibble about. As you will see with most similar productions, analysts tend to be anchored to how the previous year ended even after applying whatever their methodologies are to their forecasting. The big surprise here is seeing UCLA forecasted at #3 in the South. The rationale here is consistent with Steele's methodology: a very difficult schedule and inadequate experience in the trenches. Steele is clearly not buying into the "UCLA as a championship contender" hype that seizing the nation.
By and large, the Athlons predictions for the P12 are consistent with Phil Steele's.
|North||On UW ...|
Athlons calls UW the "most intriguing" team to watch in the Pac 12 this season. They seem to favor Cyler Miles as the favorite at QB, but they allude to the fact that inexperience at this position is the one thing that is holding the Huskies back. In fact, they see UW squarely in a second tier below a group that includes Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC. That said, they do cite the Huskies as the one team in the North that "has the talent to push Oregon and Stanford" in the North.
Athlons is a bit more bullish on UW than was Phil Steele. Call this the "Chris Petersen" factor, if you will. It was interesting for me to review these predictions and note that the Athlons team had all but already awarded the starting QB to Cyler Miles (who they see as an up-and-coming player). As I noted, they refer to UW as the "most intriguing" team in the P12 due to the experience on the roster that Steve Sarkisian leaves behind and the prospects of what an upgraded coaching staff can do with that talent. However, they still see UW as a step away from the other elite teams in the Pac.
Looking across the rest of their predictions, Athlons clearly sees Oregon as a national title contender based on the presence of Marcus Mariota. They also like Stanford based on their "history" of beating Oregon, but the acknowledge that the D isn't what it was. They like UCLA despite what they see as a "difficult" conference schedule. USC is a close contender, but they worry about their depth issues. The rest of the conference fall out as most would expect to see them.
The USA Today team has published a projected Top 25 to start their year, but hasn't produced a pure Pac 12 preview quite yet. Here is where they see P12 teams in the Top 25.
|P12 in Top 25||On UW ...|
Paul Myerberg is doing his excellent annual countdown right now, so we don't have a full preview of the P12 yet. However, we do have their projected top 25. The USA Today really likes UW's overall level of talent ("deep and across the entire roster") and implies that the depth along the offensive line is a key differentiator. This publication is also jumping squarely on the "Chris Petersen Bandwagon" noting that he should be able to make "immediate waves" with the "wonderful situation" that Steve Sarkisian left him.
|(rest of Pac not listed)|
You may be starting to sense a theme amongst the analysts when it comes to the Huskies. Like the others, USA Today likes UW as a ranked team based on the depth left behind by Sarkisian and the potential that Chris Petersen has to make it all work better than the sum of its parts. I'll be curious to see Paul Myerberg's full preview of UW when he gets to it see what parts of the roster he's most bullish on, as we can't really tell from the snippet that we have in the preview.
I will say that while I think UW is ranked about right here, I think that the rankings of Stanford and UCLA in the top 10 may be a little gratuitous. While I think that both teams are in excellent shape and will make some noise, I do see them as somewhat closer to the emerging teams in the Pac - like ASU, UW and USC- then what this list implies. Speaking of which, USC at what is effectively #42 based on their "others" list seems remarkably low. I'm guessing that there is a Sarkisian penalty being levied against what looks on paper to be a pretty talented roster. That ought to make some UW fans chuckle.
I wanted to note an interesting little online article produced by NFL.com that I saw as I was preparing this piece. You can find it right here.
In the roundtable discussion between the analysts, they don't project the Pac 12 standings, but the debate a variety of topics including "best team in the North", "best in the South", "coach of the year", "top returning senior" and "breakout player". There is a lot of discussion in all of this with the panelists generally agreeing that Oregon is the class of the North, UCLA is the best in the South, Leonard Williams as the best defensive player and Marcus Mariota as hands down the best offensive player in the conference.
In fact, there is almost no mention of UW in the entire article - even in the sections that you may expect to see one of our guys pop up (as in "Chris Petersen as possible coach of the year" or "Marcus Peters as best defensive player" or "Hau'oli Kikaha as top returning senior"). However, there was some discussion of a Husky when "breakout player" candidates were discussed.
John Ross you may think? Nope. Jaydon Mickens? Again, no. What about Marcus Peters, Shaq Thompson or Danny Shelton. No, no, and no. The one surprising name that popped up came from Bryan Fischer (who many of you know and follow) who identified Cyler Miles as a possible breakout. Fischer, who clearly sees Miles as the winner of the QB competition, likes the track record that Chris Petersen has with QBs and thinks that the inherent talent of Miles matched against the talent built into the rest of the offense is the secret sauce for Miles.
Let's hope so.