No. 11: Washington

Amidst all the usual Pac-12 suspects, it’s time to round up an unusual suspect.

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The projection here is that it’s the Huskies’ turn. A pair of six-loss seasons in Chris Petersen’s first two years might not suggest that they’re ready for their biggest season since Rick Neuheisel guided them to the Rose Bowl an 11-win season in 2000.

But Petersen, who was 92-12 in eight years at Boise State, seems to have Washington, which has managed fewer than six losses only once (2013) since 2001, poised for a breakout year. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here. [/membership] [membership]

That won’t be easy in a league where Stanford, USC, UCLA and Oregon are all legitimate top-25 candidates.

The anticipation in Seattle starts with a defense that has adopted the politically debatable ``Death Row’’ nickname. Seven starters return to a unit that allowed the fewest points (18.8) and fewest yards (351.8) in the Pac-12 last fall.

The secondary, among the best in the nation, features two all-conference stars (CB Sidney Jones and S Budda Baker), plus senior CB Kevin King.

The D line also is solid. Two new outside linebackers are stepping in, but Petersen seems to have stocked his cupboard.

A lot of Washington hype stems from its strong finish. The Huskies beat Oregon State, Washington State and Southern Miss by a combined 141-48 in their final three games.

Learning how to beat quality opponents is the next step. The Huskies’ progress will be revealed on Sept. 30 and Oct. 8, when they play Stanford at home and travel to Oregon in the most imposing of their five Pac-12 road games.

The combo of quarterback Jack Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin will be in the spotlight. Both are coming off excellent freshman debuts. Browning passed for 2,955 yards, fifth in the Husky record book, and Gaskin ran for 1,302 yards, second among 2015 freshmen. A veteran offensive line should serve and protect the skill guys well.

Receiver John Ross, a gifted kick returner who was sidelined last fall by a knee injury, has shown signs he’ll be healthy enough to give the Washington offense another gear.

With all of the strides and excitement around the Husky program, a big year is hardly a given. Stanford is attracting more buzz in the Pac-12 North, and deserves it. Oregon remains as flashy as its electric uniforms.

To the south, USC and UCLA seem to have their acts together.

Is Petersen, who did a marvelous job of taking Boise State to breath-taking heights, ready to start accomplishing big things in a big conference?

The signs are pointing that way.

Herb's Countdown so far: No. 16: Georgia, No. 15: USC, No. 14 Michigan State, No. 13 Iowa, No 12 TCU [/membership]