Athlon Sports No. 12

It's no secret that Rick Neuheisel's top priority this spring was to develop a viable running game. Rich Alexis returns at tailback after a 688-yard campaign, but redshirt freshmen Kenny James and Shelton Sampson have explosive potential.

Neuheisel wants balance, but how can his passing game possibly be more effective? Quarterback Cody Pickett completed 60 percent of his passes for 4,458 yards and 28 touchdowns. Wide receiver Reggie Williams caught 94 balls for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he has Charles Frederick on the other end of the formation to draw away some of the attention.

Linebacker Marquis Cooper, the team's co-leader in tackles last fall with 100, heads up eight returning starters on defense. Manase Hopoi is back after posting a team-high 17 tackles for loss. Derrick Johnson and Roc Alexander are lock-down corners; Johnson nabbed five errant aerials last season.

Aerial circus: Washington put the ball in the air 621 times last fall, third-most of all D-IA teams.

Two-year wonder: Reggie Williams is the school's career leader in both receptions and yards — after just two years.

New standard: In 2002, quarterback Cody Pickett became the Pac-10's first-ever single-season 4,000-yard passer.

2002 results: 7–6 (4–4 Pac-10)

2002 Bowl Game: Lost to Purdue 34-24 in the Sun Bowl

Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense, no kickers

2003 Schedule:

A. 30 at Ohio State
S. 6 Indiana
S. 20 Idaho
S. 27 Stanford
O. 4 at UCLA
O. 11 Nevada
O. 18 at Oregon State
O. 25 USC N. 1 Oregon
N. 8 at Arizona
N. 15 at California
N. 22 Washington State

Schedule Analysis: The Huskies will have a tough time winning their opener in Columbus. The next five games will give Washington some momentum heading into a two-game stretch vs. Oregon State and USC that will ultimately determine if the Huskies can contend for the Pac-10 title. November looks do-able, especially with the Apple Cup at home.

Final Word: Washington desperately needs some offensive balance if they want to win the league as they did in 2000. The temptation to let Cody Pickett keep chucking it is there, but Rick Neuheisel knows he went 7-6 with a 4,000-yard passer a year ago. Defensively, the Huskies obviously need to improve on last year's performance, and the guess here is they will. Whether or not it will be enough to win a Pac-10 title remains to be seen, but remember USC has to travel to Seattle this year.

To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Sports Pac Ten edition, click on the magazine icon below. The Pac Ten and National editions are set to hit newsstands June 6.

#12 Washington

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