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Who is Michigan’s biggest threat from the Pac-12?

In the final year of the prestigious conference, will a CFP contender emerge?

Washington v Oregon Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

This season is the last year for several things in the world of college football. The last year of a four-team College Football Playoff (CFP) format. The last year with Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12. And sadly, the last year of Pac-12 football.

As of writing this, the Pac-12 is only contracted to have four member schools next season (Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford, UC-Berkeley), but by this time next year, all are expected to belong to another conference and the Pac-12 will cease to exist.

So, in its last year of existence, which team will claim the final conference crown for the “Conference of Champions” and make a push for the Playoff?

During the CFP era, the Pac-12 has historically performed the worst of any of the Power Five conferences. Only two Pac-12 teams have ever reached CFP and the last time one did, Barack Obama was President at the beginning of the season (Washington, 2016-17).

If the Michigan Wolverines make their third consecutive appearance in the CFP, who from the Pac-12 represents the biggest threat to bring the conference one more football championship before the clock strikes midnight?

The Washington Huskies were one of the quietest 11-win teams in the country last season. Behind the arm of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. — the nation’s runner-up in passing yards with 4,641 — the Huskies exploded on offense for a seven-win improvement from 2021 and only lost two games by one score apiece.

With Penix, two 1,000-yard receivers returning (Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan), and a few key transfer additions, Washington is expected to be even better on offense this season despite some offensive line turnover. But like most teams in the Pac-12, offense is never the problem, defense is.

Last season, Washington’s pass defense was ranked 100th nationally and fifth in the conference. To address this deficiency, the Huskies have added stud Oklahoma State corner transfer Jabbar Muhammad to help provide respectability in the secondary.

If Washington can hold up on the back end with the help of Muhammad, its front seven can be even more disruptive in 2023. On the inside, Washington is again expected to be stout following a season where the Huskies finished 27th against the run. But the strength of this defense is on the edge.

In a conference full of prolific quarterbacks, Washington’s answer is edge rusher Bralen Trice. Trice is coming off a season where he led the nation in quarterback pressures (per PFF) and is one of the best pure pass rushers in the country. This season, Trice will be complemented by Division II Sioux Falls edge transfer Zach Durfee who was the talk of the spring in Seattle.

Led by second-year head coach Kalen DeBoer, this team has an intoxicating belief surrounding them, but unlike last season, they are going to have to face the top two teams in the conference during the regular season.

In 2022, the Huskies dodged both USC and Utah on their schedule. This year, Washington plays at USC and against Utah in back-to-back weeks in November before the last scheduled Apple Cup game. Not to mention, the Huskies also retain Oregon on their schedule this season, albeit at home.

Both USC and Utah will be in contention for the conference title as the season could come down to the wire. In typical Pac-12 fashion, the conference will once again be decided by who can suck the least on defense and there is comfort in knowing that the more things change with this conference, the more they stay the same.