It feels like the Pac-12 race could go in a lot of different ways this fall, especially considering Arizona State’s program is dealing with turmoil from an alleged recruiting scandal. The Sun Devils looked like a possible favorite in the Pac-12 South and could still win it, but USC and Utah are lurking while Oregon and Washington seem like the cream of the crop in the North Division once again.

Although Oregon won the Pac-12 championship last season, it’s easy to forget that Washington actually claimed the North title. The Huskies couldn’t participate in the conference title game due to COVID-19 and didn’t play another game. Now UW will be back with a vengeance under second-year head coach Jimmy Lake.

Still, Washington seems to be flying under the radar. CBS Sports’ college football experts singled out a few coaches who they see as the most underrated in the sport, and David Cobb highlighted Lake.

“Lake came in all the way back at No. 51 in our ranking of the 65 Power Five conference (plus Notre Dame) coaches this offseason, but I’m not buying there is a 35-coach gap between he and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, who came in at No. 16,” Cobb wrote. “Sure, Lake is just 3-1 as a head coach. But after eight seasons under Chris Petersen at Boise State and Washington, there is a reason he was immediately anointed Petersen’s successor.

“Washington’s defenses were fierce while Lake was the defensive coordinator, and the return of draft-worthy offensive players Cade Otton at tight end and Jaxson Kirkland at offensive tackle suggests there is buy-in to offensive coordinator John Donovan’s system and Lake’s culture. I see Lake following in the mold of fellow Pac-12 North coach David Shaw at Stanford, who has enjoyed a successful tenure after his promotion from a coordinator role.”

We’ll find out how real Washington is very early on, as the Huskies travel to Michigan in Week 2. UW figures to enter that game as an underdog, but they should have a real chance to win based on Michigan’s up-and-down performance recently under coach Jim Harbugh. 247Sports’ Josh Pate explained on the Late Kick podcast back in May why he likes Washington this year.

“They have question marks at quarterback,” Pate said. “And for that matter, a lotta people out west still don’t know what to make of Jimmy Lake at head coach. I get all of that and I could go along with that. But we’re taking a roll of the dice here so let’s assume those factors play out … we don’t have to get elite, but at least a plus sign at head coach and quarterback.

Get the fastest scores, stats, news, LIVE videos, and more. CLICK HERE to download the CBS Sports Mobile App and get the latest on your team today.

“Well then, all of a sudden, you’re like ‘Wait, is Washington going to be favored in every game they play?’ … Well, they don’t play USC or Utah from the south, so checkmark, checkmark. They get Arizona State at home. They get Oregon at home. They go to Michigan. I mean that’s probably, outside of the Oregon game, their toughest game. It’s out-of-conference, and it’s Week 2. And there are some people out there … some people think Washington will go into Ann Arbor and be favored.”

[Read More…]