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2014 Stanford Opponent Previews: Petersen-led Huskies are threat to Cardinal in North

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Let's prepare for the 2014 kickoff by looking ahead at the teams the Cardinal will face this fall

Otto Greule Jr

Seven. That's the number of total points that have separated Stanford and Washington the last two years.

While the Huskies have been trying to break out of the middle of the conference and into the top tier, they've set the Cardinal in their sights and almost succeeded in knocking them off twice in a row. However, one kickoff return for a touchdown - seven points - gave Stanford the edge in last year's matchup.

2013 Record: 8-4, 5-4 Pac-12, defeated BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl

2014 Expectations: The 2013 Huskies were close - oh, so close - to breaking into the top of the conference, but just fell short, dropping games to Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State. Then they lost their head coach, Steve Sarkisian, to USC. But instead of the usual script after losing a quality head coach, renewed optimism is the story for Washington in 2014.

Now, Washington returns a sizable amount of talent (their last 3 recruiting classes, according to Rivals, were 36th, 18th and 21st) and adds new head coach Chris Petersen and his 92-13 record.

While the transition leaves some questions for the Huskies (what exactly will the offense look like?), UW brings back their best players on all three levels of their defense, and they face a favorable schedule. They get Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA at home, and their nonconference foes aren't a murderer's row: Hawaii, Illinois, Eastern Washington and Georgia State. As such, Washington is seen as a team that could possibly finish second in the Pac-12 North, ahead of Stanford.

However, the Huskies did lose just about every big name on offense: Keith Price, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Cardinal killer Bishop Sankey are all gone. On the plus side, the Huskies do return dangerous wideout Kasen Williams after a broken leg ended his season last year, and new QB Cyler Miles gained a little experience as a spot starter in 2013.

Should Washington either exceed expectations or struggle to gel in Petersen's first season at the helm, 2014 should at a minimum answer some questions about just what kind of a threat the Huskies will be for years to come in the Pac-12 North.

Best Player: Linebacker Shaq Thompson. (Although corner Marcus Peters is seen as one of the best in the country, I'll pick Thompson because he creates a little more havoc.) Thompson, the Huskies 2nd-leading tackler a year ago, is one of the most athletic linebackers you'll encounter in the Pac-12. He was a freshman All-American back in 2012, and should give the Cardinal coaching staff pause when gameplanning.

He's number 7 in your program:

Predictions vs Stanford: The Huskies' home showdown with Stanford - their Pac-12 opener - will be rocking, as it's the Cardinal's first visit to new Husky Stadium. However, I'm unsure if that's enough to carry the Huskies past Stanford this fall.

Although Petersen's tactical mind can definitely match up with David Shaw, I'm left wondering if the Cardinal got Washington's best shot last year, with Keith Price playing like Super Mario with a fire flower and Bishop Sankey absolutely steamrolling the Cardinal on the ground. Breaking in a new quarterback and a new scheme against the Stanford defense won't be easy. Apparently Washington's weakest spot on the defensive side of the ball is the corners and safeties, which may leave Stanford with a substantial matchup advantage. As such, a critical element in this game should be whether or not Stanford's offense can build a few substantial drives against the Washington defense.

Right now, I expect the Cardinal to win this one, but my thoughts may change after getting a closer look at the Huskies the first few weeks of the season.

100 words of visceral, inobjective, biased hate: That moaning sound you hear is the Washington fanbase so deeply engorged in self-pleasure that they can't even muster the energy to leave their computers for a cup of free-trade coffee. "We so should have beaten Stanford last year! Chris Petersen is elite!" There's nothing that can lift your spirits quite like the deep satisfaction of trolling people over "fake injuries" when you've been forced to eat white dog poop by Oregon for the past decade. At least you aren't the winner of the yearly Pacific Northwest Smug Bowl? However, these are the kind of people who talked themselves into Jake Locker being a good quarterback, so go ahead and get your hopes up, UW fans. At this point, you should be used to being underwhelmed on the field and oversatisfied off it.