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Preseason roundtable: bold predictions

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Before the Washington football team starts fall camp on Aug. 2, read our writers' best takes on the upcoming football season. Today, Alec Dietz, Josh Kirshenbaum, Andy Yamashita, and Josh Eddy give their bold takes before 2019 gets underway. Read the Daily's thoughts on the UW's biggest strengths here, our thoughts on the UW's biggest question marks here, who UW's potential breakout candidates will be here, and which matchup will be the toughest for UW here

Alec Dietz - The Pac-12 South will have more than two bowl-eligible teams

The struggles of the Pac-12 South have been well-documented in recent years, especially given the late collapse of the perennial powerhouse USC. While the Trojans have often been the flag bearers for the southern division, they failed to even post a winning record last season. If you look at conference win totals over the last four years, all three of the top teams (Stanford, Washington, and Washington State) are from the North. 

Four of the bottom six are from the Pac-12 South. The only Pac-12 South schools with a winning record in conference over the last four years are the Trojans and Utah. However, the South has normally been good enough to produce at least a few bowl teams, and had five of them in 2017 with Pac-12 champ USC leading the way. But last season, the division had just Arizona State and Utah. 

This year, I expect that number to go up, with a few teams that look much improved from a year ago, or should be at least. Utah seems to be the only given in the Pac-12 South, as the division champs from 2018 didn’t lose much from last year and should look to push for a conference crown again. The rest of the division is much less clear, and a lot of questions surround the likes of USC, Arizona, UCLA, and the rest. 

Will Khalil Tate return to his pre-Kevin Sumlin production after a year in his system? Can USC bounce back from their worst season in years? Can ASU’s Eno Benjamin continue his tear through the conference after a superb freshman season? Can Chip Kelly get the Bruins going in Westwood? 

I think at least a few more of these teams will answer the call in 2019, giving the South more than two bowl-eligible teams.

Josh Kirshenbaum - At least one true freshman will burn their redshirt

With the new rule instituted last year, allowing players to appear in up to four games without burning a year of eligibility, some thought we’d see a jump in the amount of true freshman seeing the field, at least in some capacity. It didn’t really, though; after eight true freshman played in 2017, that number only rose to 10 last season, though all 10 preserved their year. Only four even played all four of their allotted games.

This year, that’s going to change. There might not be an increase in the number of freshmen playing, but somebody is going to break out in a way that the coaching staff simply can’t keep them under the limit. The only question is who.

Perhaps the best guess would be at inside linebacker. The Huskies have 11 linebackers on their roster. Of those, five are true freshman and four are redshirt freshmen. Last season, not including Jackson Sirmon and MJ Tafisi, who stayed under the redshirt limit in their freshman seasons, Washington used six inside linebackers. That included Ben Burr-Kirven, the nation’s leading tackler, and Tevis Bartlett, one of the most experienced players the UW defense had.

Doing the math, Jimmy Lake would have to have every redshirt freshman play much better than every true freshman this year, and avoid any long-term injuries, to avoid giving a true freshman extra time.

Away from the linebackers, other candidates to play as true freshman could include kicker Tim Horn and defensive backs Cameron Williams and Asa Turner.

Andy Yamashita - The Pac-12 will miss out on the CFP Playoff again

At this point, maybe it would be more of a hot take to say the Pac-12 will have a representative in the College Football Playoff.  

But just like the last two years, I think the Conference of Champions will once again miss out on the Playoff, and I’ll go even farther by saying it will only have one New Year’s Six representative. Simply put, no Pac-12 team seems to be in a position to really challenge for the two spots that will go to schools not named Alabama or Clemson. 

In my eyes, only four Pac-12 teams have a slightly realistic chance: Oregon, Utah, Washington State and Washington. 

Oregon has a tough test out of the gates with Auburn, and has to travel to Stanford, Washington, and USC. The Cougs could boost their CFP resume with a win away at Houston, but they have to come to Seattle for the Apple Cup while also replacing Gardner Minshew. The Utes meanwhile have a weak non-conference schedule and have to play the Huskies and Trojans away from Salt Lake City.  

That leaves the Dawgs, who may have the easiest schedule in the conference with the Ducks, Trojans, and Utes all at home. But a weak non-conference schedule combined with the Pac-12’s reputation means Washington may have to be perfect just for CFP consideration.

Whoever wins the Pac-12 will have a chance to play on New Year’s Day, but the none of the teams seem to have the combination of resume and likely wins necessary to make the New Year’s Six without the conference crown, let alone the CFP.

Josh Eddy - Washington wins its third Pac-12 title in four years

The Huskies still remain one of the most talented teams in the conference, but there are still a plethora of questions swirling around this team: Will Jacob Eason be as advertised? Will he even win the job? Who fills Myles Gaskin’s production? Will the new defensive personnel rise to the Washington standard of years past? There was so much turnover from past season it’s understandable to be skeptical of Washington’s chances to repeat as conference champions.

I think that all (or most) of those big questions will be answered, with Chris Peterson and the rest of the coaching staff reloading talent the way they’ve done it so well of late. The infrastructure is set to become a Pac-12 dynasty and there’s enough talent and experience in the locker room to be an elite team once again.

The most formidable opponent to Washington is Oregon  and Justin Herbert. This year’s matchup could very likely determine the winner of the Pac-12 North. This year it's on Montlake and Husky Stadium is gonna be rocking for that one, a place that’s seen wins at 19 of its past 20 hostings. As long as the purple and gold can find their way back into the Levi’s Stadium, I trust the coaching staff to devise a game plan to improve to 3-0 in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Reach the Daily Sports Staff at Twitter: @UWDailySports

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