Previewing The Pac-12: The Washington Huskies

July 24, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian talks to the media during PAC-12 Media Day at Universal Studios Hollywood. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

SB Nation Arizona is previewing each team in the Pac-12, starting with the Washington Huskies. The team returns 12 starters including QB Keith Price. Expect players like Kasen Williams and Bishop Sankey to emerge this season as Washington may be a dark horse in the Pac-12 North.

It is a good time to be a Washington fan, as the Huskies are coming off back-to-back bowl appearances and return one of the best quarterbacks in the conference.

When Steve Sarkisian took over the program in 2009, he inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2008 and a roster in desperate need of talent. Fast-forward three seasons and Sarkisian has amassed a respectable 19-19 record, including 14-13 in conference play and two consecutive bowl games.

If USC's Matt Barkley had not returned for his senior season, Washington would have the top signal caller in the conference in junior Keith Price. With Price at the helm, Washington could be a dark horse in the Pac-12 North.

Washington Football Preview

Offensive Starters Returning: 5

Defensive Starters Returning: 7

Key Players:

Keith Price, QB: Price had a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him throw for 3,063 yards and 33 TD's. Price was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 and was an O'Brien Award semi-finalist (top QB) in 2011. Price set UW single season records in completion percentage (67%) and passing efficiency (161.09). Price possesses an NFL body and arm and could be a heisman dark horse in 2012.

Desmond Trufant, CB: Trufant leads an experienced Husky secondary that returns three starters. Trufant as started every game the last two seasons and has five career interceptions. Trufant is also a reliable tackler, as the senior has 159 career tackles, including 64 tackles in 2011.

Breakout Player:

Bishop Sankey, RB: The sophomore saw action in 12 games last season, rushing for 187 yards and one touchdown, while backing up Chris Polk. Polk ran for 1,488 yards on 293 carries in 2011, also caught 31 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns. With Polk gone, Washington should look to Sankey to carry the load in 2012.

Offense:

Washington's offense in 2011 was historic, as the team scored 434 points, the most since 1991 when they won the national championship. Keith Price threw for over 3,000 yards, Chris Polk ran for over 1,400 yards and the team had three receivers with over 500 receiving yards.

Washington's 2012 offense will look a lot different than the one that averaged over 400 yards of offense a game in 2011. The Huskies return only five starters, and the team losses a lot at the skill possessions. Washington losses its top two receivers and its top rusher from a season ago as well as two starters off the offensive line.

Lucky for Steve Sarkisian, he as recruited very well over the last few years and Washington has the young talent to fill their voids. Freshman TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins returns after catching 41 passes for 427 yards a season ago. Sophomore Kasen Williams saw action in all 12 games at wide receiver, catching six touchdowns and compiling over 400 yards receiving. Williams will be looked upon as the top number one receiver this season for the Huskies.

Defense:

Washington returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including three players in the secondary. Safety Sean Parker returns after leading the team with four interceptions in 2011. Combine Parker with safety Justin Glenn and cornerback Desmond Trufant, and Washington returns one of the top secondaries in the Pac-12.

Washington returns two starters up fron, in DE Josh Shirley and DT Semisi Tokoahi. Shirley started seven games as a redshirt freshman and Tokolahi has seen action all three seasons he has been on campus.

Newcomer Shaq Thompson may see playing time this season. The true freshman safety was named All-American by Rivals.com and USA Today as a high school senior. Thompson was listed as the No. 1 safety in the country by Rivals.com and the No. 4 overall recruit in the country by the recruiting serivce.

Schedule:

Washington boasts one of the toughest non-conference schedule in the conference as the Huskies travel to Death Valley to take on the LSU Tigers the second week of the season. Once the team gets into Pac-12 play, the schedule gets a little more favorable as the Huskies get USC, Stanford and Utah at home.

Washington has a brutal three-game stretch early on in the season, as they play Stanford, Oregon and USC in consecutive weeks. Throw in the LSU game and we will know just how good Washington is by the middle of October. Washington does not play UCLA and Arizona State this season.

Prediction:

Washington will go 2-1 in the non-conference as they could bring back Major Applewhite and they would not win against LSU. I will say they will beat Stanford at home and lose to Oregon and USC. The schedule really favors the Huskies in the second half and they could very well be favored in each of their last six games. I will say they go 5-1 in that stretch and end up 8-4 on the season.

Next up in our series of Pac-12 team previews is the Oregon Ducks.

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