Huskies sitting pretty again in Pac-12, thanks to plenty of talent and easy schedule

Washington, which doesn’t face USC in the regular season, has the easiest schedule in the Pac-12. Four of its final five regular-season games are at home.

1. WASHINGTON HUSKIES

Coach: Chris Petersen, fourth year.

2016: 12-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12

Starters returning: 15 (8 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jake Browning, QB, 6-2, 210, Jr. — Despite suffering a shoulder injury in the second half of the season that required offseason surgery, the two-year starter threw for 3,430 yards, a league-record-tying 43 touchdowns, and nine interceptions in 2016. He was selected the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting.

Myles Gaskin, RB, 5-10, 191, Jr. — Improved on a breakout 1,302 yards and 14 TDs as a freshman with 1,373 yards and 10 TDs last year. Chris Polk and Napoleon Kaufman are the only UW players with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Azeem Victor, LB, 6-3, 230, Sr. — The AP Preseason All-American is the heart of UW’s defense. Three-year starter was the team’s top tackler with 67 (6.7 per game) before suffering a season-ending leg injury in Week 10.

Vita Vea, DE, 6-5, 340, Jr. – Backup lineman last season who started just five games but was projected as a second-round choice in the 2017 NFL draft.

THE SKINNY

The Huskies don’t play an opponent with a proven quarterback until Week 8 (at home vs. UCLA on Oct. 28), which should allow its young secondary that lost cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King and safety Budda Baker to the NFL plenty of time to gel. UW, which doesn’t face USC and Arizona in the regular season, has the easiest schedule in the Pac-12. Four of its final five regular-season games (UCLA, Oregon, Utah and WSU) are at home.

2. USC TROJANS

Coach: Clay Helton, third year.

2016: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Pac-12

Starters returning: 13 (5 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Sam Darnold, QB, 6-4, 220, So. – Started 2016 on the bench and finished a fairy-tale season with an epic performance (453 yards and 5 TDs) in a 52-49 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State for the MVP trophy. Darnold is 9-0 as a starter and projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

Ronald Jones II, RB, 6-0, 200, Jr. – As Darnold, Jones came on big late last season. He ran for just 285 yards and two TDs in first seven games and had 797 and 10 in the final six games to finish with 1,082 and 12.

Cameron Smith, LB, 6-2,…

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