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Originally published July 26, 2011 at 5:59 PM | Page modified July 27, 2011 at 5:33 PM

Huskies predicted to finish third in Pac-12 North division

UW coach Steve Sarkisian acknowledged the pick shows some faith that the Huskies are headed in the right direction.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Pac-12 predictions

Here is the official Pac-12 media poll: (points 6-5-4-3-2-1, first-place votes in parentheses):

NORTH DIVISION

1. Oregon (29) 239
2. Stanford (13) 220
3. Washington 142
4. Oregon State 120
5. California 110
6. Washington State 51
SOUTH DIVISION
1. USC (24) 230
2. Arizona State (13) 207
3. Utah (4) 170
4. Arizona (1) 140
5. UCLA 89
6. Colorado 46

Oregon also got 28 votes to win the title game with Stanford getting 11 and Arizona State three.

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LOS ANGELES — The revealing of the official Pac-12 media poll Tuesday yielded yet another indication of the growing perception that Washington is returning to college football relevance.

After being picked ninth in 2009 and sixth in 2010, the Huskies were selected third on Tuesday.

Two caveats:

• The conference now has two divisions, so UW was third in the six-team North instead of overall;

• and the Huskies were a distant third behind two potential preseason top 10 teams in Oregon, which was picked to win the Pac-12 title, and Stanford.

While UW coach Steve Sarkisian repeated the coach's mantra that none of it means much, he acknowledged the pick shows some faith from others that the Huskies are headed in the right direction.

"I didn't think we'd be any higher," said Sarkisian, who led UW to a 7-6 record last season that culminated in a 19-7 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl — Washington's first postseason appearance since 2002 and first bowl win since the 2000 season. "To think that Stanford and Oregon are two top five teams in America, with where we are at, the simple answer is that we are getting some respect from the media, not just in our area but around the conference.

"But the reality of it is it doesn't mean a whole lot — we have to go play the games so I don't think for us the outside predictions are going to affect our expectations within. We'll just try to grow and continue to get better."

Chris Polk accompanied Sarkisian to the proceedings, the Huskies using the event to promote the junior running back who, with 1,546 yards this season, would become the leading rusher in school history.

Sarkisian called Polk "a pretty good horse to ride."

But UW's fate this season will also rest heavily on the man handing the ball off to Polk. Sarkisian named sophomore Keith Price the starter at the end of spring drills and reiterated Tuesday that he "will go into training camp as our starter."

However, Sarkisian said he expects redshirt freshman Nick Montana to give Price competition throughout fall camp, which begins Aug. 8.

"I'm going to give Nick Montana opportunities to battle and compete, and we need him to," Sarkisian said. "If things go according to plan, Keith should be pushed daily by Nick and that should make Keith a better player which in turn should make us a better team. The reality of it all is that we are probably going to need both of those guys before the end of the season, so we will give Nick opportunities with the ones throughout training camp and if Keith doesn't respond, sure, Nick could easily beat him out."

Washington opens the season Sept. 3 against Eastern Washington at Husky Stadium. It's the last season UW will play in the current configuration of Husky Stadium, which will undergo a $250 million renovation that will begin after a Nov. 5 game against Oregon.

Notes

• In the most noteworthy personnel news, Sarkisian said junior backup offensive lineman Daniel Kanczugowski will be academically ineligible this fall. He finished the spring as a backup center to Drew Schaefer. Sarkisian said starting left guard Colin Porter could be used at center, if needed.

• Sarkisian said he expects the team to be healthy for the beginning of the camp, saying as of now, just two players would likely be limited — defensive tackles Semisi Tokolahi and Sione Potoa'e. Tokolahi is still recovering from a broken and dislocated ankle suffered in the Apple Cup and Sarkisian hopes he can return to full duty by the start of Pac-12 play against Cal on Sept. 24. Potoa'e is recovering from a sprained knee suffered during conditioning. Sarkisian said it's not major but the team will be cautious to ensure Potoa'e is ready for the season.

• Every incoming freshman will be eligible for the season, Sarkisian said. The lone question mark revolves around JC transfer cornerback Antavius Sims, who still has to finish up classes at Ventura (Calif.) College. Sarkisian said Sims is "on track" but that it's not yet a done deal.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

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