The PAC-12 North looks to be wide open for the Stanford Cardinal in 2018, with the competition shedding talent heavily in the prior draft or still years away from mounting a real assault on the northern crown.
Quarterback Luke Falk has departed from the Washington State Cougars. The Oregon State Beavers are still years away from actually contending. Cal is a mess. Oregon cannot stop opposing offenses, allowing 35.5 points per game over the past three seasons.
Meanwhile, the talk of the PAC-12 is the Arizona Wildcats, led by quarterback Khalil Tate; a team Stanford will not see in the regular season. But that does not give the Cardinal a free pass this year as everyone has seemingly forgotten quarterback Jake Browning and the Washington Huskies.
Why were the Huskies forgotten?
The star-studded campaign of 2016, led by Browning’s 43 touchdowns, met a destructive end in the teeth of Alabama’s defense. After beating five top-20 teams in 2016, the 2017 schedule was less than impressive. Washington failed to play a ranked team till the Apple Cup at the season’s conclusion.
The offensive star power was lackluster ‘17 campaign and it shows in the numbers:
Browning - 3,430 passing yards and 43 touchdowns in 2016, 2,719 and 19 in 2017.
Dante Pettis - 822 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016, 761 and 7 in 2017.
Chino McClatcher - 5 receiving touchdowns in 2016, 0 in 2017.
Levon Coleman - 852 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2016, 402 and four in 2017.
Star receiver John Ross was gone for the NFL, taking his 17 scores from ‘16 with him. The only player to get better last season was running back Myles Gaskin, who went from 10 rushing touchdowns to 21. Despite a 10-3 season, Washington failed to capture the country in 2017 with their offense. Less star power and a weak schedule have kept them under the radar of most.
Why should the Cardinal look out?
In spite of Browning’s average year in ‘17, this is still the same quarterback who passed for over 3,000 and 40 just two seasons ago. Returning running back Gaskin brings back reliability to the 2018 backfield. Ross delivered a blow to the offense by leaving two seasons ago, but the group of Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, and McClatcher have spent the last two seasons building a rapport with Browning.
Browning has an All-PAC-12 running back and a receiving corps three deep who each caught double-digit receptions last season.
Washington is still miles ahead of any team Stanford will have to contend with in the North and possesses the best quarterback they will play all season.
By the time the Cardinal and Huskies meet on November 3, Washington will have already played Auburn, Utah, and Oregon. Wins there in dominant fashion could be enough to put Washington back in the national scope.
Washington vs. Stanford is the game that decides who represents the PAC-12 North in the conference championship, making it a game that should be circled on every Stanford calendar, a game that may decide the season for both teams.