Few outside the state give Washington much hope, but there are reasons to believe an upset could happen in Saturday’s Peach Bowl.
ATLANTA — The overwhelming feeling everywhere east of the Cascade Mountains and south of the Columbia River seems to be that No. 1 Alabama is destined to play for the national championship on Jan. 9. That the Washington Huskies, in Saturday’s first national semifinal, are merely a warmup act in the Crimson Tide’s path to certain glory.
Few outside the UW football program believe an upset is possible.
Do the Huskies have any hope? What would it take to pull off one of the greatest upsets in Seattle sports history?
Peach Bowl, CFP semifinal, No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 UW, noon, ESPN
Here are 10 reasons a Husky victory is possible:
1. The blueprint
No doubt you’ve heard it by now. It’s become a rallying cry around Seattle in the buildup to the Peach Bowl: Give Chris Petersen a month to prepare, and anything can happen.
It happened 10 years ago in the Fiesta Bowl, when Petersen and Boise State knocked off Oklahoma. Petersen and the Broncos made a habit out of beating up teams from the bigger conferences with better resources. They did it again — right here in Atlanta — against Georgia in 2011. They did it to Virginia Tech in 2010, and to Oregon 2008 and ’09.
2. John Ross III
Simply put, Alabama hasn’t seen anything like him this season.
3. Turnover margin
The Huskies lead the nation in take-aways, with 33, and turnover margin, at plus-21. Alabama, meanwhile, has coughed up 19 turnovers this season and has only a plus-five turnover margin. And while true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has been terrific for Alabama, he has been susceptible to turnovers — throwing nine interceptions and fumbling 10 times (losing five of them).
4. Jake Browning is rested
If the Huskies have any hope of winning, their sophomore quarterback has to be great. He probably doesn’t need to be perfect, but he’ll need to be something close to it. Jake Browning was sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, and UW’s improved offensive line play ought to give him at least a few chances to find Ross and Dante Pettis deep, even against Alabama’s scary front seven. After a long regular season, Browning had a light workload for two weeks after the Pac-12 title game, and a rejuvenated Browning could be scary, too.
5. That secondary
Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Kevin King, Jojo McIntosh, Taylor Rapp. They believe they make up the best secondary in the nation. The numbers put them in the conversation: 13 touchdown passes allowed against 19 interceptions. UW has a 5.8 yards per pass attempt average, the same as Alabama’s defense.
6. Those big dudes up front
For all the attention the UW secondary has (deservedly) received, the real key for the UW defense probably lies up front. It’s where Elijah Qualls, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea roam, and it’s where the Huskies most resemble an Southeastern Conference team.
Qualls, Gaines and Vea weigh in at a combined 971 pounds — give or take a turkey sandwich or two — and they’re versatile, to boot. The Huskies’ game plan, no doubt, will be to keep Hurts in the pocket and make him beat UW with his arm. And they have a chance to make that plan work because of their strong D-line.
7. Big plays for the big game
To beat ’Bama, the Huskies will need to find a way to create “explosive” plays. You simply can’t expect to sustain long drives against that defense. The good news is the Huskies were pretty good at that this season, ranking in the top 10 nationally with 43 plays of 30 yards or more. Alabama ranks 18th nationally, having allowed 20 plays of 30 yards or more.
8. Did we mention John Ross III?
No one in college football is more fun to watch than Ross.
9. The SEC is overrated
You’d be a fool to call Alabama overrated. But the SEC? That’s a different story. After ’Bama, the next SEC team ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 is Auburn … at 17. And outside of ‘Bama, every other SEC team has at least four losses. The Pac-12, meanwhile, has four teams ranked in the top 16.
10. Alabama’s overconfidence
That confidence, that swagger, that aura of invincibility — whatever you want to call it — has been earned, of course. Alabama has won four national championships in the past eight seasons, and there’s talk — and evidence — that this could be Nick Saban’s best team yet.
But confidence is one thing. Overconfidence is another, and from afar, at least, the sense is fans and media around Alabama are already looking past UW and anticipating a national-championship matchup against either Clemson or Ohio State.
Saban, apparently, has sensed that too, and he’s trying to not let that mentality seep into his team. “Every time I stand up here, I try to convince everybody what a great team Washington is,” Saban said last week. “This is by far the best team we’ve played against all year long.”
And UW coach Chris Petersen has had a month to prepare, so the Huskies ought to be even better by Saturday.