“We’re trying to get this program back to how it used to be and give the fans the type of football they’re used to seeing,” UW senior cornerback Kevin King says.

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As unlikely as the pairing is for Friday’s Pac-12 Conference championship game, one person apparently expected Washington and Colorado to be here all along.

Colorado offensive-line coach Klayton Adams played at Boise State and has remained close with UW’s Chris Petersen and UW offensive-line coach Chris Strausser. In July, Adams sent Petersen a memorable text message: “Good luck,” it read. “See you in Santa Clara in a couple months.”

Petersen, relaying the message this week, recalled chuckling at the notion in the summer.

“Sure enough,” he said, “here we are.”

That the No. 4 Huskies arrived at this point isn’t a total surprise. By July, this had already been built up as Washington’s most anticipated season since 2000, and it has played out up to this point about as well as anyone around UW could have reasonably hoped.

Few outside of the Colorado football offices could have projected this kind of breakthrough for the No. 9 Buffaloes, who are not only in the midst of their first winning season in a decade but playing for, at worst, their first Rose Bowl berth.

Kickoff at Levi’s Stadium is set for 6 p.m. Friday for a Fox (Channel 13) broadcast.

This has been a long time coming for both programs. The Huskies (11-1) are seeking their first Pac-12 championship since 2000. The Buffaloes (10-2) are seeking their first conference title since 2001, when they were in the Big 12.

“It’s really exciting for us,” UW senior offensive lineman Jake Eldrenkamp said. “Not a lot of us remember when the Dawgs were up on top. I think it’s fun for Husky Nation and it’s fun for all of us to be back on top.”

The Huskies enter Friday’s championship game ranked No. 4 by the College Football Playoff committee, and a victory over Colorado would seem to secure UW’s first national playoff berth. The committee will release its final rankings and bowl pairings on Sunday morning, after all the conference-championships games are played over the next two days.

If the Huskies win Friday, most national media outlets project they would hold on to their No. 4 ranking and play No. 1 Alabama in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The other national-semifinal game is at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona; to get there, the Huskies probably need to win and have No. 3 Clemson lose to Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game Saturday night.

Petersen was asked Monday how confident he was that the committee would place the Huskies in a national semifinal if his team wins the Pac-12 title.

“I feel pretty good. Pretty confident,” he said. “I’ve always said that. We take care of business, everywhere I’ve been, those people usually do the right thing. Our whole focus is on Colorado. We’ve got a big hurdle there, and if we can get over that hurdle, yeah.”

The Buffaloes offer a formidable challenge, particularly with a defense ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 in yards allowed. The Huskies boast the conference’s No. 1 scoring defense, meaning points could be at a premium for both sides.

“We’re not going to just be going up and down the field and scoring 60, 70 points. I don’t see that coming,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “So being able to stick and grind through it. But when there are plays to be made we have to make them. You’re going to get maybe half a dozen (chances at big) plays in this game against a good defense. We have to make those.”

The most intriguing matchup pits UW sophomore quarterback Jake Browning against Colorado’s veteran secondary that rarely gives up big plays. Browning, three touchdowns shy of matching the Pac-12’s season record of 43 TD passes, will need a big game to earn an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony next week in New York.

When UW and Colorado played in September 1990, they were both ranked in the top 20. The Buffaloes won that game 20-14 in Boulder and went on to win the national championship. UW went on to win the Rose Bowl that season and won a share of the national championship in ’91.

They are now among the nation’s elite again, and the stakes are greater than ever.

“We’re trying to get this program back to how it used to be and give the fans the type of football they’re used to seeing,” UW senior cornerback Kevin King said.

Since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011, the North has won all five championship games — Stanford in 2012, ’13 and ’15, and Oregon in ’11 and ’14.

In Boulder, the Buffs have been billed as a “team of destiny.” How unexpected is their march here? Consider that they’re just the third team in college football history to end a run of 10 consecutive losing seasons with a 10-win season.

A remarkable turnaround to set up an unlikely showdown Friday night.

“Seasons like this,” King said, “don’t happen by accident. They happen through that hard work and preparation. … We don’t want to put it to waste.”

Four of the previous five Pac-12 title games have been blowouts decided by at least 18 points. The North winner prevailed in each contest.
Year Winner Score Opponent
2015 Stanford 41-22 USC
2014 Oregon 51-13 Arizona
2013 Stanford 38-14 Arizona St.
2012 Stanford 27-24 UCLA
2011 Oregon 49-31 UCLA