Evergreen State programs on the move

June, 15, 2012
6/15/12
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For the past two seasons, the Pac-10 and then Pac-12 have seen Oregon and Stanford ensconced at the top. Also, USC announced it was back last year, and the Trojans now appear all but certain to go all High Noon with the Ducks -- perhaps twice -- to see who will own the conference in 2012.

Those teams are at the top. There really isn't much argument.

But which programs are rising in the Pac-12?

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireWashington is thinking about being an annual Pac-12 title contender again with Steve Sarkisian in charge.
You could make an argument for a number of teams, including all four with new coaches, as well as Utah, which has made a strong, impressive move up in the world from the Mountain West.

But I'll give you two, both from the state of Washington.

Think back to the not so distant past. In 2008, the Huskies and Cougs met in a game I covered because it was so pathetic -- we termed it the Crapple Cup.

After Washington choked away a win in Martin Stadium, it went on to finish 0-12 and dumped Tyrone Willingham. Washington State finished 2-11, its only other victory coming over Portland State, an FCS team.

It's fair to say those were the two worst AQ conference teams in the nation just four seasons ago.

The Huskies immediately began a climb back with the hiring of Steve Sarkisian. The Huskies beat USC in 2009 and finished 5-7. They won a bowl game after the 2010 season. They are back in the top 25 in recruiting.

Things have gone slower in Pullman, which is why Paul Wulff got fired and Mike Leach hired.

The Ducks own both at present. They last lost to Washington State in 2006 and have beaten the hated Huskies eight consecutive years by an average margin of 25 points. While neither looks like a threat to Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division this fall, fans should expect that to change over the next few years.

Sarkisian has enlisted an outstanding staff, hiring defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox away from Tennessee and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi away from some Bay Area school, I can't recall which. In 2013, the Huskies will play in a renovated Husky Stadium, which might end up as the best venue in the conference. Major across-the-board facilities upgrades -- and a few more wins -- should significantly bolster recruiting.

Will the Huskies ever match the dominant days of the Don James years again? Maybe not. But they certainly can compete for conference titles and again be a factor nationally. In fact, things set up pretty nicely for 2013, when QB Keith Price will be a senior and players such as defensive ends Hau'oli Jamora and Josh Shirley, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, safeties Sean Parker and Shaq Thompson and receiver Kasen Williams should be coming into their own.

As for the Cougs, the reason to project a rise is the seeming perfect fit with Leach in Pullman. As Texas Tech was to the Big 12, so is Washington State in the Pac-12. Only the Cougars have a better track record of winning -- see 30 wins and three consecutive top-10 rankings from 2001-2003. And the talent Wulff left behind is better than many think.

Further, Leach knows how to evaluate talent and recruit for a school like Washington State. Facilities upgrades orchestrated by AD Bill Moos also will help that cause.

Oregon, as long as Chip Kelly is around, is not going to go away. And Stanford also seems established under David Shaw. But the Huskies and Cougars won't make things easy in coming years.

They certainly aren't headed back to the Crapple Cup.

Ted Miller | email

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