The season is two days away, so let’s fire up a conference preview! More comprehensive previews abound, so if you want a rundown of UCLA’s secondary, you’ll have to check somewhere else. For this preview, I’m telling you two things: which player from each team I would want on the Huskies, and how scared I would be if the Dawgs were playing given team tomorrow. I’ll rate that 1-10, with one being an almost certain win for the Dawgs and 10 an almost certain loss. I’ll also go through the teams in the divisional order I’d expect them to finish. So I guess you get three things! Enjoy.
1. Arizona State
Player I Want (PIW): This is the easiest choice in the conference, because DT Will Sutton might be the best player in the conference. He’s one of the best pass rushing tackles in recent memory, and has a chance to win conference defensive player of the year for the second time in a row. That hasn’t happened since Mr. Steve Emtman. Sutton would fit perfectly next to Danny Shelton, transforming the Husky D Line from a bit of a worry to a huge strength.
Scare-o-meter: 7. ASU took a big step forward last year, and I think they’ll continue to move up. They have some issues, but they also have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. Taylor Kelly was one of the best QBs in the conference last year, and DJ Foster and Marion Grice is the top running back duo in the Pac-12. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish as low as third in the south, but I’m betting they fight off a tough early schedule to make the Pac-12 Championship Game.
PIW: Also an easy choice: Marquise Lee, the best receiver in all the land. Lee brings me to an interesting point in deciding on these players. The best player on a team isn’t always the guy who would help the Huskies the most. Defensive lineman Morgan Breslin, for instance, plays at a position of greater need for UW. In close calls, UW’s need wins out. Sometimes the greatness of one player far outweighs the utility of another, though. Anyone who would turn down a chance to see Marquise Lee on their side every Saturday is crazy.
Scare-o-meter: 6. As usual, USC has as much talent as anyone in the conference. They have three questions holding them back: 1. Who’s QB? Max Wittek and Cody Kessler are both expected to play on Thursday. 2. Running back is uncertain, with Silas Redd injured. Lots of talent here though. 3. Lane Kiffin is still coach. He’s a complete x-factor. Still, aside from losing Matt Barkley and a few others, this is a roster that was expected to challenge for a national championship last year. They could be a load if a QB emerges and Kiffin doesn’t sabotage them.
PIW: LB Anthony Barr came out of nowhere last season to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. He’s the quintessential guy you don’t want to see lined up across from you. The guys terrifying. He’s a sure high draft pick who decided to come back. Having him at rush end for the Huskies would be a thing of beauty.
Scare-o-meter: 6. UCLA made a lot of progress last year under Jim Mora. They have a couple of holes this year, notably at running back and in the secondary. There’s good talent everywhere else, and QB Brett Hundley might become the best in the league. I’m betting UCLA regresses slightly, but any of these top three could win the south and it wouldn’t surprise anyone in the least.
PIW: RB Ka’deem Carey led the nation in yards and was an All-American, if you hadn’t heard. He’s great, but I’m not sure he’s notably better than Bishop Sankey. While I like a couple of their linebackers, the Huskies are loaded there. LT Mickey Baucus might be a slight upgrade, but no one else on the roster is close to Carey in talent. No reason to pass on the top running back in America for middling guys.
Scare-o-meter: 4. Arizona pummeled UW last year, but the Huskies always lose in Tucson. QB Matt Scott is a huge loss. I think Arizona will improve greatly under Rich Rodriguez, but I don’t think that’ll happen this year. They’re probably a bowl team, but not by much.
PIW: This is tough. Not a lot of great choices. S Eric Rowe is a good player, at an area of weakness for UW. LT Jeremiah Poutasi is the other contender, and my pick. He’s young and honestly might not beat out Micah Hatchie or Ben Riva, but the Huskies have no depth at all after those two. The Utes don’t have a ton of talent.
Scare-o-meter: 3. I thought Utah would be good last year, but I was extremely wrong. It’s becoming clear that Utah needs to build up its talent base and depth before they’ll be major Pac-12 contenders. If QB Travis Wilson takes a step forward, they’ll have solved their biggest problem of late, but Wilson is no guarantee. Unfortunately, UW doesn’t get to face the Utes this year (or next).
PIW: WR Paul Richardson missed last season with a knee injury, but if healthy, he’s one of the best receivers in the conference. I don’t think he’s better than Kasen Williams, but they’d be an incredible pair.
Scare-o-meter: 2. Colorado was absolutely terrible last year. They have a new coach and a few guys with talent, but it’s going to take a while before they’re a threat, much less a contender. At least they have Ralphie.
PIW: There is no limit of good options here, but RB/WR De’Anthony Thomas has to be the choice. He’s small and might not be able to handle a lot of carries, but he’s a threat to score and/or do something absolutely ridiculous every time he touches the ball. The Huskies could use more playmakers, and DAT is among the best in football.
Scare-o-meter: 9. I won’t dwell on this, but until UW beats the Ducks, there’s little reason to expect them to. The series has been so lopsided lately, it’s ridiculous. Oregon has a few holes and a new coach, so they might take a step back. I wouldn’t bet on it. Ducks suck.
PIW: Tons of great choices here, too, especially on defense. For me, it comes down to OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds and DE Ben Gardner. Reynolds would be a great fit, but I want pass rush, so I’m picking Murphy and setting him loose at rush end. He had 10 sacks last year and nearly beat the Huskies with an incredible interception return for a touchdown.
Scare-o-meter: 8. Stanford has a ridiculously talented defense and offensive line. QB Kevin Hogan looks like a star. My question with Stanford is who will score the ball. They lost their star RB Stepfan Taylor and elite TE’s Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. They haven’t had good WRs in years, and that doesn’t look to change significantly in 2013. I expect the running game to be fine if slightly less productive, but I think the lack of receivers could hold them back a little. Not much, but a little.
We’ve already previewed the Huskies, but Shaq Thompson and 7. Call me optimistic.
4. Oregon State
PIW: The Beavers have a lot of talent, but Scott Crichton is one of the better defensive ends in the country. WR Brandin Cooks and CB Rashaad Reynolds are tempting as well.
Scare-o-meter: 7. OSU is extremely even with UW, while striking me as very different programs. The Beavers were bad in 2011, a little overrated in 2012 and have some holes. They also have lots of talent and one of the best coaches around. They should be an intriguing team to follow this season.
PIW: Cal has some nice skill players, but DT Deandre Coleman is an easy pick. He’s a monster at nose tackle and a Seattle boy who got away.
Scare-o-meter: 3. I could see Cal surprising people under a new coach. They have plenty of talent left over from Jeff Tedford. They also were quite bad last year and are starting a true freshman quarterback. Keep a skeptical eye on them.
6. Washington State
PIW: Not a lot here. The Cougs have some nice receivers, but S Deone Bucannon is probably their best player and fills a need for the Huskies.
Scare-o-meter: 3. I expect the Cougars to be slightly better this year. I’m doubtful they could reach .500, but it’s not crazy talk. I’m betting on four wins. I’m hoping they fall apart again and Mike Leach does something crazy and then leaves. Boo Cougars! Thank you for reading this extremely unbiased journalism!