Coach Chris Petersen had his underdog Boise State teams slay college football powers, and there is no reason to think he can’t do the same with the talent-laden Huskies.
When it comes to the Washington football team in the postseason, it seems to me we’ve all been asking the wrong question.
Instead of breathlessly wondering “Will the Huskies make it into the College Football Playoff?” with all the teeth-gnashing that goes with it, how about turning that query inside out.
Namely: “Why can’t the Huskies win it all?”
Yeah, I know, that’s not just putting the cart before the horse; it’s putting the wheels before the cart. This declaration will look mighty foolish if the Huskies stumble Friday against Colorado in the Pac-12 title game. It might look mighty foolish down the road even if they win that game.
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But I’ll take that chance. And if the Huskies take care of business against the Buffs, I feel confident that the playoff committee won’t pull some sleight of hand and slip Michigan or, say, a victorious Penn State or Wisconsin squad ahead of Washington. No, it’s win and they’re in for the Huskies.
And at that point, with the entire landscape of college football trimmed to four teams, I don’t see any reason why the Huskies can’t run the table and claim the program’s first outright national title in history. Just ruminate on that for a moment, and then we’ll move on.
I’m not saying they will pull it off, mind you; but merely that it’s well within the realm of possibility, an outcome that for some reason isn’t getting much of an airing. In fact, I’ve heard much more discussion about whether the Huskies would be better off playing in the Rose Bowl and winning decisively than risking a blowout at the hands of Alabama.
That’s certainly a possibility, considering that the Crimson Tide hasn’t lost a game since the third week – of 2015. Just ask Michigan State about that storyline; they were feeling pretty good about their 12-1 record last year before getting crushed, 38-0, by Alabama in the first round of the playoffs.
The Tide, as usual, is loaded with elite pro prospects, from top to bottom. But guess what? So are the Huskies. In fact, they are one of the few teams in the country that approach Alabama in the amount of players who will be doing their future work on Sundays.
Using the NFLDraftScout.com prospect rankings, distributed by TheSportsExchange and appearing on cbssports.com, as a guide, Alabama leads the world with seven players in the top 100 ranking of 2017 NFL prospects – five in the top 20. But Washington is right behind with six in the top 100 (seven if you extend it to the top 102), including two in the top 20. Almost their entire defense will eventually get an NFL look, particularly those from an elite secondary.
The point is, the Huskies are not going to be dramatically outmanned if they wind up facing mighty Alabama (even with one of those in the top 100, linebacker Azeem Victor at No. 98, sidelined by injury). And that doesn’t even take into account the true freshmen and sophomores who aren’t ranked because they aren’t yet draft eligible – many of whom are essential cogs for UW. Like quarterback Jake Browning, running back Myles Gaskin and offensive tackle Trey Adams, for example.
One gets the definite feeling that Husky coach Chris Petersen embraces the notion of the Huskies as a decided underdog in the playoffs (and that he won’t much like the premise of this column, I suppose). His entire MO at Boise State was taking gutty, supposedly undermanned teams into the bowl season and slaying giants – like their epic 43-42 win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and a 17-10 victory over TCU in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, when Boise State became the first team from a non-BCS conference ever to win two BCS bowl games.
Yeah, Alabama is an entirely different animal. They are brimming with five-star prospects; but as we’ve learned in three seasons, Petersen and his staff coach guys up about as well as anyone. And as opposed to Boise State, at Washington he is attracting a higher caliber of recruits. And Petersen has a reputation as someone who excels when you give him time to prepare – much like Nick Saban, for that matter. Yet I don’t see this possible showdown being as lopsided as many seem to think. (Alabama would be a 10½-point favorite over UW, according to early Vegas odds.)
It remains to be seen if the Huskies, with a win over Colorado, would earn the No. 4 seed and open against Alabama in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, or somehow sneak up to a higher position for a potential matchup with, most likely, Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes are a formidable squad, obviously, but after watching them a few times, including their disputed victory over Michigan, I didn’t see a team that would mop the floor with the Huskies.
I don’t want to make this sound too gushing. The Huskies might yet prove to be a mirage when faced with an elite team. After all, USC, populated with blue-chippers with elite speed, made Washington look quite vulnerable – and it’s reasonable to think that any team the Huskies face in the playoffs could do the same.
And yet the Huskies would have an opportunity to do something that every team in America strives for in August, and only four can achieve in January. That’s a challenge that Washington and its fans should embrace, because at this stage it’s far from a pipe dream. Even if Alabama looms in its path.