Well, I know this won’t be a popular way to start things off here this afternoon — ESPN.com Insider K.C. Joyner the other day included Washington as one of five teams that he speculates could be due for a fall in 2011.
This is an Insider story so you need a subscription to read it. But in short, Joyner points to the fact that UW ranked just 96th in scoring last year at 21.8 points per game and now has to replace Jake Locker; will lose three of its top four leading tacklers from 2010; and faces one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2011.
On the scheduling point, he cites Phil Steele’s ranking of UW’s schedule this year as the third-toughest in the country, though as is always the case, that’s a list that is loaded with Pac-12 schools at the top — Oregon State is No. 1, WSU No. 2 and UCLA No. 4.
All of that — a Locker-less offense, a still-building defense, a tough schedule — could make it tough for UW to duplicate the 7-6 record of a year ago.
The optimistic UW fan would counter that the offense could be improved this year with just about every other key player back, including WR and RB corps that could be among the best in the conference, if not the nation, and a line that may be more talented; and that the defense returns eight other starters and could be better up front and in the secondary.
As for the schedule, well that’s almost always something that looks daunting for UW this time of year.
As Steele’s rankings indicate, simply playing in the Pac-12 — and playing nine conference games — automatically raises the level of difficulty for all conference teams. Seven of the top 18 toughest schedules in Steele’s rankings are Pac-12 teams.
And it’s likely few, if any, other teams in the country will play as many teams that won 10 or more games a year ago as UW — five among its FBS foes (Hawaii, Nebraska, Utah, Oregon, Stanford) and six if you include FBS opponent Eastern Washington.
UW’s schedule ranks fourth in Steele’s ranking of 2010 opponent winning percentage at 62.7 percent, 96-57.
Conversely, that includes a lower-division foe (Eastern) and a non-BCS team that has some major rebuilding to do (Hawaii), as well as a conference team now taking a step up in competition (Utah). All won 10 games a year ago, but the latter two aren’t generally being expected to do that again this year, and obviously Eastern is a different situation entirely.
In fact, while the won-loss record of UW’s non-conference foes a year ago was 33-10, it could be argued Washington’s slate this year is the most manageable since 2006 (home to Fresno State and San Jose State and at Oklahoma).
Obviously, this is the time of year to fill the hours waiting for the season with lots of speculation. We’ll see in a few months who is right.
IN OTHER NEWS. …
— Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com unveils his annual hot seat rankings. He says UW coach Steve Sarkisian is as safe as possible.
— Dodd’s colleague, Brett McMurphy, examines how the hot seat rankings have turned out in the past.
— ESPN.com’s Ted Miller says UW is in “great shape” at running back.
— Scout.com’s Arizona State site has an exhaustive review of what all of the pre-season magazines are saying about Pac-12 teams (though I’ll continue with my series of what they are saying specifically about UW down soon).
All for now.