There is no way UW coach Chris Petersen, who is 5-0 lifetime in top-10 matchups, doesn’t think he has a good chance to knock off top-ranked Alabama. As for his players? They don’t seem to have given in to the hype, either.
ATLANTA — It started on selection Sunday, when the Huskies found out they were in the playoff.
“We’re extremely excited to be going,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “But we’re not so thrilled about the matchup.”
It continued during the buildup in Atlanta, right from the very first news conference.
“I knew about their offense and I knew about their defense,” Petersen said of Alabama. “Then I put on their special teams, and I got more depressed.”
It culminated Friday, when Petersen was asked if college football should have a commissioner.
“Yes,” he responded. “And Coach Saban would be a great one.”
Even Saban flashed a grin, which is as rare of an occurrence as a triple play.
In the 3½ weeks that have passed since UW found out about its Peach Bowl game vs. Alabama, Petersen has produced an influx of aw-shucks.
Every answer gives the impression that the Tide players are gods, the Huskies are men, and nothing but divine intervention can steer Washington toward a win.
Don’t believe him, though. Don’t think for a second that’s how he or his team thinks.
Coach Pete may have gotten Saban to smile, but the reality is that this talk is driving the opposing coach mad.
Saban has expressed his distaste for anybody who assumes the Tide already has this game won. And Petersen has masterfully removed all the pressure from his shoulders and dumped it onto ’Bama’s.
But there is no way a coach who is 5-0 lifetime in top-10 matchups doesn’t think he has a good chance to knock off the top-ranked team in the country. As for his players? They don’t seem to have given in to the hype, either.
“We’re ready,” Huskies linebacker Psalm Wooching said. “We don’t like to do all that talking. We’ll lay low and show our stuff on the field.”
“I’m just glad we can still play the game at the end of the day, because if it was up to the media, I don’t think we’d have a chance,” added UW offensive lineman Jake Eldrenkamp. “The nice thing about football is once you start the game, everything is equal on the playing field.”
The translation is “you’d be foolish to count us out,” and some people are starting to think the same way.
Though UW is still a big underdog, the point spread has shrunk from 17 points to 13½ as a host of influential bettors has put big money down on the Huskies. Coaches and players don’t care about that in the least (UW quarterback Jake Browning said “I don’t bet” when asked about the line on Thursday), but it shows this game is far from a given in many minds.
Maybe the once-unrivaled SEC isn’t as strong as initially perceived, thus inflating Alabama’s success this season. Maybe Petersen is slightly more adept at film review, which allows the Huskies to narrow the gap with each passing day. Or maybe the combination of Browning and receiver John Ross can find a way to expose Alabama’s relatively thin secondary.
It’s at least possible… right?
“Everybody laces their cleats up the same way,” Huskies running back Lavon Coleman said. “It doesn’t matter what they did during the season; it doesn’t matter what we did. All I know is when kickoff comes, the better team is going to win.”
When you look at All-America picks, NFL draft projections and the number of stars next to each recruit, Alabama is clearly the better team. In fact, fivethirtyeight.com ranked this year’s Tide as the best college football team ever.
Then again, sometimes the best path to winning everything is having nothing to lose. The Huskies don’t have any pressure on them, don’t have any expectations to deliver, and don’t have any criticism to face if they come up short.
But as Petersen believes, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance.