The Washington Huskies can win the 2011 Pac-12 championship by carrying the momentum from last year's Holiday Bowl upset over Nebraska.
The Huskies may surprise those expecting the program to take a step back without quarterback Jake Locker.
Here are seven reasons why the Dawgs can return U-Dub to the top of the conference.
Steve Sarkisian has restored enthusiasm and swagger to Montlake.
After suffering near the bottom of the conference for the past decade, Washington's culture needed a drastic overhaul, and heading into his third season, Coach Sark has the entire program believing it can rise back to prominence.
During the 2010 season, Sark and his staff proved they could finish close games, including a double-overtime win over Oregon State and two wins on the final play of the game (at USC and at Cal). Also, the continuity of Sark's tenure should allow the Huskies to implement more of his offensive schemes.
Defensive coordinator Nick Holt continues to construct a stout defense, shutting down Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl. Holt will enjoy more depth than his previous two seasons, allowing the vocal coach to play more of his aggressive style of defense.
Sarkisian and his staff have also proved they can win on the recruiting trail, bringing in one of Washington's best freshman classes in the past 15 years.
Handing the ball to Chris Polk will help Washington break in a new quarterback this season. The back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher is a bruiser in the backfield, and last year's Holiday Bowl MVP should be the focal point of the offense.
A slight meniscus tear in fall camp may keep Polk out of the season opener, but expect No. 1 to pound opposing defenses in Pac-12 play.
Keith Price and Nick Montana will have plenty of star receivers to throw to this season, and coupled with Chris Polk's dominance on the ground, Washington will hurt teams through the air.
Senior Jermaine Kearse leads the deepest receiving corps the Huskies have seen in a long time. Kearse topped 1,000 yards receiving last year, highlighted by a four-touchdown performance against Oregon State.
While defenses try to slow Kearse, emerging speedster Kevin Smith and incoming freshman Kasen Williams provide added weapons in the slot, while senior Devin Aguilar (top 10 in receptions in UW history) provides another threat on the outside.
Washington should also see contributions from junior James Johnson, who bounces back from an injury-riddled sophomore year. Johnson had established himself as a true freshman, making the Sporting News' Freshman All-Pac-10 team.
Impact freshman DiAndre Campbell rounds out the deepest receiving corps in the Pac-12.
Sean Parker was 1 of 14 true freshman for UW in 2010
Coach Sarkisian continues to recruit well, and the 2011 freshman class includes several blue-chippers that will have an immediate impact on the field.
Parade All-America National Player of the Year Kasen Williams has wowed coaches during fall camp and could start at wide receiver against Eastern Washington. Williams has great hands and exceptional leaping ability, which could give an already potent offense another big-play threat.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, considered by most to be one of the top tight end recruits in the nation, enrolled during the spring and showed why he had received so much buzz.
Seferian-Jenkins, a 6'6", 258-pounder with soft hands, will fill a huge void at a position that netted fewer than 10 receptions last season. Washington was once known as "Tight End U," and ASJ brings elite talent to the passing game, particularly in the red zone.
On the other side of the ball, safety James Sample, a standout at last year's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, will compete for immediate playing time in the secondary. Sample will be joined by freshman defensive tackle Danny Shelton and rush end Josh Shirley, who've both shown defensive coordinator Nick Holt that they are ready for big-time college football.
Senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, projected in some early mock drafts to be a first-round NFL draft pick, anchors a dominant defensive line in 2011.
While offenses worry about Ta'amu's 6'3", 337-pound frame busting through the middle, speed rushers Hau'oli Jamora (three tackles for loss in the Holiday Bowl as a true freshman) and newcomer Josh Shirley will give Washington its best sack totals in a decade.
Senior Everrette Thompson will also solidify the front line, completing a group that utterly dominated opposing offenses at the end of last season.
Nick Holt will also play 5-star recruit Danny Shelton at defensive tackle to help plug the middle and hopefully take pressure off two new starters at outside linebacker.
Senior kicker Erik Folk, younger brother of NFL kicker Nick Folk, proved his mettle by kicking game-winners in consecutive seasons against USC. Folk is a preseason All-Pac-12 selection, and his ability to make long field goals will be a strength for the UW offense.
Not many teams have a punting battle late in fall camp, but Will Mahan and Kiel Rasp refuse to let the other take the job. Both punters have huge legs, and Washington will rely on great field position to keep itself in every game.
Winning the Pac-12 will most likely mean beating Oregon, and Washington gets the Ducks for the final game at the current Husky Stadium.
The Huskies won't need any extra motivation against their border rival, but closing down the hallowed stadium by beating Oregon may prove too irresistible.
If Auburn (and Nick Fairley specifically) provided the blueprint for stopping Oregon's spread offense during last year's BCS championship game, then the Huskies have the kind of defensive line that could give Oregon the same problems Auburn caused.
Oregon has beaten Washington seven straight years, and the rabid Husky fanbase will be rocking Husky Stadium in November.