Pac-12: Washington State Huskies

We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 5.

Saturday, Sept. 28
  • Arizona at Washington
  • USC at Arizona State
  • Colorado at Oregon State
  • California at Oregon
  • Stanford at Washington State
My choice: USC at Arizona State

Why: We have two games this week that I believe are equal in entertainment value: Arizona at Washington and USC at Arizona State.

But since we visited Seattle in the season opener for that nip-and-tuck game against Boise State (and I have a sneaking suspicion we'll get up there again in the next couple of weeks), we cruise to the desert (temperatures should be a little more mild in late September) for our second consecutive game featuring Arizona State. This game also gets the nod because it's intradivision, whereas the UW-UA game is cross division.

Looking at that game briefly, however, no doubt revenge will be on Washington's mind after a 52-17 drubbing at the hands of the Wildcats last year in Tucson, Ariz. I believe it's going to be a much closer, much more entertaining game this time around and -- if I may be so bold as to offer an early prediction in June -- I expect both teams to be undefeated at the time, making for a fun matchup.

But we turn our attention back to ASU, now into Hell Week, Take 3. After back-to-back bruising games against Wisconsin and Stanford (don't think those won't take a toll), the Sun Devils have yet another challenging matchup against the Trojans. Both USC and ASU have a chance to grab an early foothold on the South Division with a victory -- the real determining factor for picking this game this week. And when we look at the South participant in the Pac-12 title game in December, we may very well point to this week as the reason why one team is in and another is out.

The Trojans exploded for 28 second-half points last season in a 38-17 home win over the Sun Devils. This is obviously going to be a different USC team than we saw last season. And as noted in Week 2 of this series, quarterback play is going to be a season-long storyline for the Trojans. Is the starter against Hawaii still starting? Or are the Trojans still playing mix and match?

We're going to know a lot more about ASU by this point in the season -- specifically just how mature this team is. Have the Sun Devils lost two straight to Wisconsin and Stanford? Are they 2-1? 3-0? Coaches preach short memories, but if the Sun Devils are 1-2 out of the gate -- in a year where the hopes are high -- this game could either get them back on track or push them further down the ladder.

After what should be a 4-0 start, things pick up for the Trojans with back-to-back games against the Arizona teams and then a trip to Notre Dame. Plenty of momentum can be had by going into the desert and improving to 5-0.

There are lots of intrigue and unknowns with this one. And from a pure entertainment standpoint, you've got two of the best pressure teams in the country from last year (with their marquee pressure guys, Will Sutton and Morgan Breslin). Stanford and ASU ranked first and second, respectively, while USC was fourth. Extra Icy Hot for the quarterbacks is on standby.

The reason USC switched to the 3-4 was so it could limit and contain some of the perimeter speed in the league. ASU has plenty of speed. So it should be fun to see how USC's new scheme matches with the Todd Graham/Mike Norvell offense.
All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Player series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too.

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.

Washington: S Sean Parker

2012 production: Tallied 77 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions with six passes defended. He also forced three fumbles.

Why Parker is so important: As stated above, quarterbacks are excluded from this series. But we never said anything about excluding the quarterback of the defense. And that's exactly what Sean Parker is for the Huskies -- a quarterback at safety who headlines a surging secondary.

There are a lot of different directions to go with the Huskies. Running back Bishop Sankey is an obvious choice. He's a 1,400-yard rusher who has quickly climbed from by-committee option to A-list playmaker. Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are strong options as well.

Defensively, there are some good linebacker options in Shaq Thompson, John Timu or Travis Feeney. All could fill this space.

But Parker, who was selected by his teammates as a captain last year, is the guy who makes everything click.

"Tremendous player. Great leader. Really exemplifies what we want back there," said head coach Steve Sarkisian.

As documented, the Huskies' defense made huge strides in 2012 -- particularly in the secondary -- in their first year under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. And if they hope to be a Top-25 team -- as many have them slated -- that defense will have to keep improving. Parker will have to keep improving.

He stepped up in some of Washington's biggest games last year. He forced a fumble, had five tackles and a tackle for a loss in the win over Stanford. Against Oregon State he broke up three passes and had an interception that stopped an early drive deep in Washington territory.

This year's schedule isn't quite as daunting. But they still play in the Pac-12 North and they have to travel to Arizona State and UCLA -- not to mention the home opener against Boise State in a rematch of last year's bowl game. But there is plenty of leadership on the Huskies this year and Parker, an all-league honorable mention pick last season, is considered the leader of the leaders.

He's started in all 13 games each of the last two seasons and has been through the peaks and valleys of the program. The Huskies have a chance to ascend to peaks they haven't reached in a decade. If they do, chances are Parker plays a huge role in getting them there.

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