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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, July 6, 2016 at 1:18 PM

It's the third year for Chris Peterson as head coach of the Washington Huskies and the former Boise State boss has yet to get the Washington program to the proverbial next level. The Huskies have been pretty good, going 15-12 in his first two seasons, but that's not all that different from the resume that got his predecessor Steve Sarkisian derisively labeled "Seven-Win Sark". There are indications though, that this might be the year Washington wins its first conference championship in sixteen years.

There's building optimism about the Huskies' chances to win the Pac-12 and be a darkhorse contender for the College Football Playoff. It starts with the fact that there's no obvious alternative - Oregon and Stanford, who have won the league every year since 2008, are in rebuild mode. Those are Washington's principal obstacles in the North Division. The South is occupied by USC, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State - good programs to be sure, and with the capacity to be great. But they haven't put it all together. So the question can be asked "why not Washington?"

Why not indeed. Washington is a 13-2 bet to win the conference title, a better price than you can get on any of USC, Stanford, UCLA and Oregon. That alone makes the Huskies worth evaluating. But simply saying "why not Washington" and quoting a nice price doesn't make a team magically capable of winning important football games. So let's turn to the positive reasons to really like this Huskie team.

It starts with defense. Washington ranked 13th in the nation last year in points allowed and were the best in the Pac-12. They have eight starters back from that unit. In an age where stopping the passing game is paramount, the Huskies have an all-conference corner in Sidney Jones and an all-conference safety in Budda Baker. On the other corner, Kevin King is a talented athlete.

It's dangerous to travel through the air in Washington.

Nor is going on the ground a lot easier. Washington has a pair of stout defensive tackles in Greg Gaines and Elijah Qualls. This is imperative in trying to win a head-to-head game against a physical Stanford team, which is the one game on the schedule the Huskies probably can't afford to lose.

Washington hosts Stanford on September 30, a Friday night game and futures bettors will almost surely need to make up their minds about the Huskies before that game. Washington opens with three non-descript games, though a home game with Rutgers at least provides fodder for evaluation. A September 24 game with Arizona will be the first real test. With the Huskies getting some love in preseason magazines and different websites, it's not likely they'll stay under the radar very long.

So college football bettors need to decide quickly if the offense will be championship-worthy. Last year, in games against Oregon and Stanford, Washington only averaged 17 points per game. That won't cut it in today's game. Peterson had freshmen at both quarterback and running back. Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin looked good last season and come back with a year of experience under their belt. If you believe in Peterson and in the natural progression of a player from his freshman to sophomore year, there's reason to be confident.

This could finally be Washington's year. We'll know for sure after that September 30 game with Stanford. But don't wait that long before you make up your mind on the futures market.

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