With fall camp set to start tomorrow for Washington football, the 2014 college football season is officially about to begin. With expectations high for not only the Huskies, but many of the programs in the Pac-12, finding an edge in such a difficult conference can be a struggle. In order to predict the future of how the 2014 season will unfold, one must look to the past to uncover the mystery of success in the Pac-12. For this, I will analyze the difference in rushing offense vs passing offense over the last three years (the start of the Pac-12 championship game and division of the conference) in its effectiveness in creating a winning football team within the Pac-12 conference.
The obvious starting point is to look at the winners of both the North and South divisions and how the statistics flush out. Since the creation of divisions within the conference, every team that has participated in the championship game has finished no worse than fifth in the conference in rushing. Starting with Oregon and UCLA in 2011, Oregon finished 1st in rushing while UCLA finished 3rd. The next year, Stanford faced returning South division champions UCLA. They finished 5th and 3rd in rushing respectively. Stanford returned to the championship game last year while finishing 4th in the conference in rushing offense and faced Arizona State who finished 5th.
Conversely, the passing games of these teams did not always carry their respective teams to victory. In 2011 Oregon finished 9th in the conference in passing while UCLA finished 11th. In 2012, Stanford finished 8th in passing and UCLA finished 4th, the highest mark of a championship contending team. Last year Stanford finished 11th in passing and Arizona State finished 5th.
Now, it should be noted that the lack of passing is an obvious by-product of the increased effectiveness of the team’s running games. Except in the cases of the 2012 Bruins and the 2013 Sun Devils who both possessed extremely effective and balanced offenses, it seems natural that if a team exceeds heavily in one category it would detract from the opposing category.
However, it should be noted that the highest a Pac-12 champion has finished in passing was 8th, achieved by Stanford in 2012.
So what does this all mean?
All of this should point to the fact that in order to be a winning team within the conference, it is your rushing game that needs to be potent, not necessarily your passing game. The next question is then, do the conference records support this claim?
The answer is emphatically YES. Over the last 3 years, the win-loss record of teams that finished in the top-3 in rushing in the Pac-12 had a conference record of 55-26. In stark contrast to that, the teams that finished in the top-3 in passing had a conference record of 27-54.
Despite the fact that the Pac-12 boasts more talent at the quarterback position than any other conference, it is the running back position that seems to be the more important contributor to offenses.
But how does this apply to the Washington football team?
Over the last five years, Steve Sarkisian changed the philosophy of the Washington football program by establishing an offense that had a potent running attack. Prior to Sarkisian taking over in 2009, the Huskies had only one 1,000 yard rusher (Louis Rankin: 1,294 yards in 2007) since 1997 when Rashaan Shehee ran for 1,055 yards. During his tenure, Sarkisian produced a +1,000 yard runner, starting with Chris Polk, and had a back that finished in the top-5 in individual rushing yards every year he was coach of the Washington football team. All of which culminated in a historic season in 2014 for Bishop Sankey in which he ran for 1,870 yards, a program record for a single season. Interestingly enough, the Huskies’ 9 wins was the most since they went 11-1 en route to a Rose Bowl victory in 2000.
Now it is up to Chris Petersen and the Washington football program to continue this upward trend in the rushing game. Sankey is gone and now it is up to the likes of quarterback Cyler Miles, as well as Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper, Lavon Coleman, and the rest of the running backs to pick up where their predecessors have left off.
If the Huskies want to contend for a Pac-12 championship, it is imperative that the running game picks up right where they left off from last season. This Washington football program has came a long ways since the Tyrone Willingham days and will most likely go even further during the Chris Petersen era. Dwayne Washington has all the potential in the world to be even better than Sankey after it is all said and done. If the Huskies plan on winning the PAC-12 any time soon, it is clear that he will have to be.
All facts and figures regarding conference statistics can be viewed by visiting: ESPN
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