The Washington Huskies have surpassed most pundits predictions including my own lofty ones early this year. Husky fans had a good feeling about this season but few expected the dominant performances the Dawgs have delivered in the last two weeks against the traditional Pac-12 powerhouse teams of Stanford and Oregon. The Huskies have a well-earned bye week this weekend so now is a good time to look at the past, present and future of this football season for Washington.
Thus far the Huskies have obliterated opponents on both sides of the ball. So far the Huskies have outscored opponents 297-85 this season for an average margin of victory of 35 points. Only Michigan and Ohio State currently have larger average margins of victory. The only close game was on the road in Arizona which has traditionally been a tough place to play for the Huskies in the past decade. However, they squeaked out an overtime win and have outpaced even the highest expectations the past two weeks. Granted, UW had one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the FBS this year but they have made the most of their non-conference “warmup” games and have proven themselves now in Pac-12 play to be legit title contenders.
Though the the Huskies highest pre-season poll had UW at the number 8 spot, most sports analysts dismissed the hype behind the resurgent Huskies as just hype. A mediocre record from last year left most outsiders telling the Huskies to prove they deserve to be talked about as a top team. They have proved it. Phil Steele made a bold prediction in late June that the Huskies could win the national championship. Nobody really listened. Now people are certainly listening and Phil Steele may become the Nate Silver of college football if his prediction comes true.
The big surprise and welcome change to the usual mid-season issue is lack of serious injuries. Often midway through the season the Huskies have looked banged up and lost key performers crucial to winning games. Though the Huskies were missing Shane Brostek and Chico McClatcher for the Oregon game, they performed near flawlessly on offense and will have both starters back for the Oregon State game. Mid-season Jake Browning has entered the Heisman conversation with his eight touchdown performance against Oregon. Only Lamar Jackson has more combined touchdowns among Heisman candidates and Jake Browning has by far the most passing touchdowns of the group. The Washington defense have held opposing teams to an average of 14 points per game putting them 6th nationally in scoring defense. John Ross continually scorches defensive backs getting big plays every game and is assisted by both McClatcher and Dante Pettis in a deadly receiver core.
Speaking of deadly, the self-proclaimed Death Row defense has lived up to its name. Budda Baker and Sidney Jones have been nearly unbeatable in the secondary. Azeem Victor, Elijah Qualls, Joe Mathis, Psalm Wooching and Keishawn Bierria have made opposing quarterbacks’ lives miserable leaving destruction and injured offensive lineman in their wake. The best quote thus far I have seen is actually from Stanford coach David Shaw, “There are no holes. There are no weaknesses on their football team."
The Huskies are past their supposedly most difficult portion of their schedule. Their next game versus Oregon State appears to be the easiest game left to play. Oregon State did win their last game in a high scoring thriller though, so parity in the Pac-12 makes no game a gimme for the Huskies. However, the Huskies playing at home versus Oregon State will likely be the game they are most favored down the stretch.
Following Oregon State the Huskies go on the road to play Utah who are arguably the Huskies toughest opponent left on the schedule. Utah has been strong at home and have not lost at Rice-Eccles Stadium yet this year. Washington will match up against former Washington backup QB Troy Williams and a stingy Utah defense. Even with this stiff competition I still believe the Huskies will be favored by the oddsmakers to win this game.
Then the Huskies go on the road again the week after Utah to play Cal in Berkeley. Cal has had an up and down year but have notched some crazy finishes to win. Cal is also the only team to beat Utah this year and they did it at home. This would be my pick for the top trap game for the Huskies. Davis Webb has been putting up some lofty numbers himself this year and Cal's offense has been productive because of his efficiency. Cal's defense is not at the same level allowing over 38 points per game. For those who are counting that is 24 more points per game than the Huskies have allowed this season. In this matchup again expect for UW to be favored.
After several road games, the Huskies will return home to play USC. The Trojans are an enigma this year. They are on the upswing now that they have found their quarterback of choice in Sam Darnold. Again, this could be a trap game for the Huskies as USC is beginning to see production from their stable of 5-star talent. Depending on the next month this game could turn out to be the most difficult win for the Huskies left on the remaining schedule.
The Huskies will play their last home game against Arizona State. Even though ASU is 5-1 they are not currently ranked in the AP poll and are ranked #24 in the coaches poll. I think the AP got this one correct. I do not believe ASU will be a 1-loss team by the time they play the Huskies. Even though Todd Graham appears to be having a comeback year, the Sun Devils had to hold off a UTSA team that has won only 2 games this year. Call me a skeptic but I do not believe the Sun Devils will pack as big a punch as other teams on the schedule. Despite Kallen Ballage's freak 8 touchdown performance against Texas Tech there is not enough talent to beat UW at home.
Finally, we get to the annual Apple Cup. This year the Huskies will be on the road playing in a likely cold and possibly wet or snowy Martin Stadium in Pullman. The Washington State team is looking better and better despite a lousy non-conference start. Strangely enough, the Cougars could actually be the 2nd best team in the North division. Washington State's defense has been playing progressively better and their Air Raid offense challenges less capable secondary coverages. However, Washington has stellar players in Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Darren Gardenhire and JoJo McIntosh that are not like any team Wazzu will have played until the Apple Cup. Coach Petersen embarrassed Mike Leach last year (before Mike Leach embarrassed himself in bizarre post-game rant) and despite the Cougars rising up the Pac-12 ladder they are likely the last in line for a regular season beatdown courtesy of the Huskies. If the Oregon game was any preview of what Washington does to its traditional rivals, then poor Mike Leach better get his mic ready to start spewing his crazy talk after the Apple Cup bashing he will likely endure.
The dismantling of Wazzu will lead into the Pac-12 championship game where I believe the Huskies will likely face Utah in a neutral site matchup. Again the Huskies are the better team and should be able to grab one more win to stay undefeated for the season.
Road to Tampa:
Looking forward to the post-season we already know that the Huskies will be playing in a bowl game even if they lose every game going forward (not going to happen). Which bowl game they will play in is yet to be determined but the likely scenario is either the National College Playoff or at least Rose Bowl. The Huskies have the easiest remaining schedule of the top 5 teams and gives them the best chance currently of running the table to make it to their first National College Playoff game. Ohio State and Michigan play each in November and likely the winner of that game will make the college playoff game. The two playoff bowls this year are the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona and the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. Assuming Alabama wins out and stays at the #1 spot that leaves the Huskies fighting for the 2-4 spot. Because of the weak non-conference schedule and remaining games it is unlikely the Huskies can garner a number 1 spot. So this means the Huskies will play the number 1 team in the country if they are at the number 4 spot in the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl. This likely scenario would result in Washington playing Alabama. If the Huskies can climb to the 2 or 3 spot than the most likely opponents are Michigan/Ohio State or Clemson at this point of the season.
Obviously, this could all change within the next few weeks as it always does. The winner of the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl would then go to Tampa to play January 9th for the National Championship. It's early but I am going to make the prediction that Washington will climb to the number 3 spot and play Michigan in the first playoff matchup. I believe Washington can beat Michigan and move on to the national championship game in Tampa where they will play Alabama.
Since I have undersold many predictions thus far this season it's time for the Husky Hype Highway to get bold on the road to Tampa.
Husky Hype Highway Post-Season Prediction:
Washington defeats Alabama 28-24 at the national championship game in Tampa beginning the Dawgfather Part II dynasty of Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies.