In a vote that surprised nobody but a few of the most obstinate Oregon Duck fans, the Huskies were chosen by the West Coast media as the overwhelming favorites both to win the North Division and the PAC 12 Championship in 2018. It is the first time since 2000 that the UW has been favored to win the PAC.
The poll, which was released as the conference’s annual Media Day commenced, had UW garnering 40 of 42 votes to win the North and 37 of 42 to win the conference. The other two North Division votes went one apiece to Oregon and Stanford. UCLA and USC each earned votes as overall champion.
PAC 12 voting media members have not put together much of a track record of success since conference expansion and the inception of the PAC 12 championship game in 2011. Over the seven seasons that they’ve voted on both division and conference champions, the consensus conference champion selection failed to even make the championship game four times. On one occasion, their pick did make the championship game but failed to advance. Twice they picked the conference champ correctly.
One of those two times happened last season when the media went against the grain by voting USC as the consensus champ ahead of UW, the team most fans had predicted to win the PAC. That turned out to be a pretty fair prediction and might be an indication that the voting media have gotten more savvy about making their selections.
For UW and Chris Petersen, the acknowledgement means very little. The expectations of the media, in fact, pale in comparison to those of the fans who have been chattering constantly about a “clear path” to the College Football Playoff in case UW somehow gets past their opening weekend contest with the #16-ranked Auburn Tigers.
The expectations surrounding the program going into 2018, whether they be media-driven or fan-based, are rooted in the overall upward trajectory that the program has enjoyed the past three seasons and the fact that so much experienced talent returns to the field. The Huskies return nine starters from their defense (not to mention another half dozen players with significant playing experience) and boast four four-year starters on offense (including QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, LT Trey Adams, and RT Kaleb McGary).
That said, there are still significant questions surrounding this team. The health of the key players in the secondary, the uncertainty around roles in the linebacking unit, the status of incoming receivers and their abilities to contribute, and the lack of an established pass rush are all issues that could derail the Huskies at some point this season.
The progress of other programs in the PAC is also a consideration. Though they have their own defensive questions, Stanford looks ready to pop as one of the best offenses in the conference if not the nation. Oregon has done a nice job of rebuilding its defense and has some interesting young talent across the board. USC, as always, is loaded with talent and has depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Any of these programs can make their own case for a PAC 12 championship this season. And that is even before we mention the darkhorse candidacies of teams like Utah, Arizona, and UCLA.
I look at today’s vote as a validation of the trajectory that UW has been on and the confidence that outside observers have in the coaching staff. There is almost certainly an element of familiarity bias given the well-established tenures and name brand recognition of players like Browning, Gaskin, and Adams. It’s certainly a reason to pop a beer and brag about the Dawgs to your friends.
But let’s be honest, we were going to do that anyways.