Washington's optimism bubbles over despite middle-of-pack pick by media
Huskies predicted to finish third, Washington State Cougars fifth at Pac-12 Media Day.
Seattle Times staff reporter
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Universal Studios, where the Pac-12 held its annual football media day Tuesday, proved a fitting backdrop. Here in the land of make-believe, anything seems possible.
So while the attending media picked Washington third in the North Division in its annual poll, the Huskies said they have higher goals.
"I still don't think we are getting enough credit," said UW quarterback Keith Price. "Obviously we've got to earn it. In order to be the best, we've got to beat the best. I think we lost five games (to ranked teams) last year, so that's the next step as a team, to believe that we can beat those types of teams. I don't think last year we believed that we could beat those types of teams. But this year I can see that sense of urgency. And, hey, when people are talking about the Rose Bowl and it's not just me, that's a good sign."
Oregon was picked to win the North, followed by Stanford, with Washington State fifth. USC was picked to win the South and was an overwhelming pick to win the conference title game.
Still, despite media predictions of another middle-of the-pack finish, it was a day for optimism for the Huskies as UW coach Steve Sarkisian addressed the media formally for the first time this season.
Sarkisian piggybacked on Price's theme, saying the team's goal this year is to play 14 games — a reference to the 12 scheduled regular-season games, the Pac-12 title contest and a bowl.
"We think we're on the brink of something special," he said.
Sarkisian had no real bad news to report, saying that every returning player was eligible and that all but two of the incoming freshmen have been cleared both by the school and the NCAA to participate. The two still awaiting clearance are receiver Dwayne Washington and linebacker Cory Littleton. Sarkisian was optimistic both would be ready by the time fall camp starts Aug. 6.
He expressed similar optimism that some of UW's injured players who sat out spring drills will also be able to return, notably defensive end Hau'oli Jamora, guard Colin Tanigawa, receiver Kevin Smith and running back Deontae Cooper. All are recovering from ACL injuries — Cooper missing the last two seasons and the other three hurt in 2011.
Sarkisian said Jamora, who might have been UW's best defensive player when he was injured in the fourth game against Cal, will definitely be back. He said Tanigawa (hurt against Oregon State) and Smith (before the Alamo Bowl) might not be completely ready when camp starts and it's still too early to know if they will be ready for the season opener Sept. 1 against San Diego State, but that each has had swift recoveries. He also hopes Cooper will be able to take part in practice.
Jamora's return would be another boost for a defense that looms as the key to the season. After allowing a school-record 467 points, Sarkisian remade the defensive coaching staff, most notably firing defensive coordinator Nick Holt and two other defensive assistants.
New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox installed more 3-4 looks in the spring, when the defense seemed to show vast improvement.
Sarkisian is confident the improvement is real.
"I don't feel like this is going to be a long, drawn-out process," he said. "I think this thing can get turned around, and turned around relatively quickly. ... I thought the speed of our defense (in the spring) was definitely prevalent. I thought our coverage skills really jumped out at me. That is really one of the biggest things that has jumped out at me — it's their ability to cover. It's such a distinct difference from what we had the previous three years. That part is really encouraging."
So were the words of Price, whose record-setting sophomore season — when he threw 33 touchdown passes among numerous school season highs — was marred only by an ability to stay healthy. He suffered significant injuries to both knees. But a summer of hard conditioning has boosted his weight to almost 200 pounds from the 185 he finished at last season.
"Oh, man, it's going to be exciting," he said. "Man, my knees feel better than ever, like nothing ever happened. I can't wait. I feel like a freshman (physically) all over again right now."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @bcondottaPAC-12 MEDIA POLL
Following are the results of the preseason media poll (points 6-5-4-3-2-1, first-place votes in parentheses):
1. Oregon (117) 732
2. Stanford (5) 533
3. Washington 502
4. California (1) 382
5. Washington State 228
6. Oregon State 205
1. USC (117) 729
2. Utah (1) 514
3. UCLA (2) 435
4. Arizona 385
5. Arizona State (3) 353
6. Colorado 164
PAC-12 TITLE GAME CHAMPION:</strong> USC (102 votes). Others receiving votes: Oregon (18), Arizona State (3).