Daily Focus: Is Washington the best returning team in the Pac-12?
Every week day in “Daily Focus,” Pro Football Focus looks at the top college football storylines and explains what they mean from a PFF perspective.
Is Washington the best returning team from the Pac-12? ESPN.com’s Kevin Gemmell detailed the extent of the hype surrounding Chris Petersen’s Washington team heading into 2016, which came to the surface during last week’s Pac-12 Media Days.
Just how good is this Huskies team? The truth is they do have a case for being the conference’s best team based upon their returning production. Quarterback Jake Browning had an excellent first season, even out-pacing fellow Pac-12 true freshman QB Josh Rosen of UCLA in terms of performance. Browning topped our lists of breakout QBs and dark-horse Heisman candidates on the strength of ranking 15th in passing grade among returning QBs, sixth in deep adjusted completion rate and second in adjusted completion rate under pressure. Browning is joined in the backfield by running back Myles Gaskin, who ranked fourth among returning backs in rushing grade during his true freshman season, and has the potential to be one of the nation’s best runners in 2016.
The defense is likewise well-stocked, starting up front with D-tackle duo Elijah Qualls and Greg Gaines, edge defender Joe Mathis and linebacker Azeem Victor. They also have one of the top returning seccondaries in the conference, led by cornerback Sidney Jones and safety Budda Baker.
With recent conference heavyweights Oregon, Stanford and USC all replacing key contributors at quarterback and other positions, there is perhaps more opportunity than usual for a team like UW to steal away the Pac-12 championship. They certainly have the core of talent to do it.
Sleeper candidates to win the Walter Camp award: The 40-player preseason watch list for the Walter Camp Award, given each year to the best player in college football, is out. You can see the full list here.
There aren’t too many surprises on there, with the top three players from our College Football 101 represented: Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey, Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett and LSU RB Leonard Fournette. Among the sleepers who didn’t make the list: UW’s Browning and Gaskin (see above) Tennessee DE Derek Barnett, who ranked No. 4 on our Top 101, and Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph, who has a chance at entering the Heisman race after earning the top passing grade in the country.
Where Colorado’s Sefo Liufao ranks among Pac-12 QBs: The Buffaloes’ starting quarterback has been cleared for summer camp, following his recovering from a foot injury.
This is a big development, as Liufao is one of the better returning QBs in the country, ranking 30th in PFF grades. He was particularly effective last year at throws to the intermediate and deep areas of the field, including ranking seventh among returning Power-5 QBs with a deep adjusted completion rate of 50 percent. Colorado is coming off a rough 4-9 season, but between Liufao and the secondary, there is some good returning talent on this team.