We continue our Q&A sessions with reporters who cover the Pac-12 this week with Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Bob has covered the Huskies for the Times for a number of years now and his blog is a go-to source for a vast amount of information and insight not just about the Huskies, but the Pac-12 as a whole too.
We were able to talk with Bob this week a little about the Huskies season thus far along with the overall landscape of the Pac-12 in 2012.
Can you think of a year where the Huskies have faced as many injuries as they have this year?
Off hand, both the 2004 and 2008 teams would probably compare --- and UW fans don't need reminding what happened those seasons. The 2004 season was probably the most I've seen UW hit --- the Huskies had five team captains and by the end of the year, four were out with season-ending injuries. But this year is pretty comparable with the worst, and especially at a spot where UW was thin with experienced depth, the offensive line.
Do you think playing at CenturyLink Field gives the Huskies less of a home field advantage?
Not really. I think from what you consider to be a home field edge --- crowd noise --- CenturyLink is just fine. It's genenrally regarded as about the loudest stadium in the NFL. Certainly, there's been a different atmosphere there the first two games with not being on campus, though it's also worth noting classes weren't in session for those games yet, either. So there should be more students and more of an atmosphere for the game Thursday. But in general, I don't think the stadium has had any impact on how UW has played this season.
Which game left on the Huskies schedule do you feel is the most crucial for them to win?
If you had to pick just one, I'd say this Thursday's against Stanford. Win it and UW gets to 3-1 and halfway to bowl eligibility by the end of September and as it enters the really tough part of its schedule. Lose it, and UW falls to 2-2 and now has to play five of the last eight on the road, with the next two against Oregon and USC and staring at potentially having a little bit of a hole to get out of to get to the post-season.
Do you think the Huskies defense looks improved from last year thus far?
Yes. It's far from a finished product, to be sure, and no one should have expected it would go from maybe the worse in school history last year, to one of the best around overnight. It's still going to take some time. But there have been some positive signs, notably in how the secondary has played and in not allowing as many big plays. UW had a real propensity a year ago to let small gains turn into big ones with missed tackles and being out of alignment and stuff like that. Those sorts of things have been reduced this year. That said, the Stanford-Oregon-USC trio of games upcoming will provide a much clearer picture of where the defense is.
What do you see as Washington's biggest challenge in getting back to being a regular competitor for the conference championship?
Depth and overall improvement on both lines. I think UW is getting close to having the skill players it needs, especially in the passing game. But it has to develop a more consistent running game on offense and get better and deeper on its front seven on defense.
Which of the Pac-12 teams that have surprised so far (Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona) do you think is most likely to finish near the top of the conference?
I'd also throw in Arizona State as a team that could do that, as well, and I might give the Sun Devils as good a chance in the South as UCLA or Arizona. Hard to really separate the three other than that ASU obviously is already 1-0 in conference while the others are 0-1.
As for Oregon State, I think it definitely has the goods to make a run in the North, though I'd just remain really surprised if anyone other than Oregon actually won the North. The Ducks just look like the best team in the division, and especially with getting Stanford at home this year, I'm not sure any team in the division can beat the Ducks. But at the moment, Oregon State definitely looks like a bowl team.
Do you think USC, Oregon and Stanford are locked in as the dominant teams in the conference for the near future?
For this year, yes. And I don't see any of the three going away anytime soon, as long as their coaching and current recruiting situations remain the same. But I think the gap is narrowing a bit between those three and the rest of the conference with the way it appears teams like UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State are righting their ships, and the way Oregon State, UW and Cal seem to be building from an overall standpoint.
Do you think as a whole that the Pac-12 can stack up against the SEC?
Sure. Now having writtten that, I'm sure an SEC fan would point to the LSU-UW game, or last year's LSU-Oregon game as examples of that conference's dominance. And I wouldn't argue that the SEC doesn't deserve to call itself the No. 1 conference right now given what it has accomplished. That said, when UW played LSU, one of our columnists looked it up and the Pac-12 is 12-12 against the SEC in games played since 2000, which includes things like USC sweeping Auburn in a two-game series, UCLA sweeping Alabama, etc. I think if you put just mixed up a lot of the teams and made them compete year-in, year-out against teams from the other conference, that the Pac-12 teams would be pretty competitive.