It's still early, of course, but the Huskies are still projected to play No. 1 Alabama in one national semifinal game.
Washington’s playoff hopes got a small boost Sunday when the Huskies rose one spot to No. 4 in the media and coaches polls, UW’s highest ranking since the end of the 2000 season.
And while it’s true that those polls don’t factor into the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings — the first of which will be released Nov. 1 — perception still matters.
At the very least, the idea that the Huskies are widely considered a top-four team doesn’t do anything to hurt their playoff odds. And, indeed, ESPN continues to project the Huskies to play No. 1 Alabama in one national semifinal game on New Year’s Eve.
More significant to UW’s big-picture outlook would be a quality win — and the Huskies (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) will get a chance to add one to their resume against No. 17 Utah (7-1, 4-1) on Saturday in Salt Lake City.
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Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. PT (1:30 p.m. MT) for a Fox Sports 1 broadcast. ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” pregame show will be on hand to set the stage for what could be a preview of the Pac-12 championship game in December.
“It would be a lot better if (‘GameDay’) was home, but it would still be pretty exciting to be in that atmosphere,” UW receiver Dante Pettis said. “I know they have a pretty good stadium. We haven’t played there yet, but I heard it gets pretty crazy there. That would definitely be fun.”
It’s the first of two straight road games for the Huskies, who travel to play California on Nov. 5.
The Huskies have been installed as an early 11-point favorite against the Utes, to beat UCLA 52-45 at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
On Saturday night, Washington cruised to its 10th consecutive victory with an efficient 41-17 victory over Oregon State at Husky Stadium.
“Every opponent, they’re in our way of being great,” UW cornerback Sidney Jones said. “We have to take it one game at a time, one play at a time. Just come out, dominate every game so we can get to that championship.”
Through seven games, the Huskies remain No. 1 in the nation with a plus-14 turnover margin — five turnovers and 19 takeaways.
Cornerback Darren Gardenhire had the first of UW’s two interceptions against Oregon State on Saturday. Backup cornerback Austin Joyner, a redshirt freshman from Marysville-Pilchuck High, added the first interception of his career in the fourth quarter — a sensational one-handed grab while keeping one foot inbounds.
“We take lot of pride in getting turnovers,” UW safety Budda Baker said. “As a defense we have to get the ball back to the offense or score, so that’s our job.”
The Huskies’ offense, meanwhile, has just four giveaways all season — and hasn’t committed a turnover in its last three games. The last one came on Jake Browning’s interception at Arizona on Sept. 24.
UW officially had one turnover on Saturday when Oregon State recovered a fourth-quarter onside kick (a UW player touched the ball before it traveled the required 10 yards, which counts as a lost fumble). That giveaway obviously doesn’t count against UW’s offense.
“I am proud of our offense for not turning the ball over,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “Those guys are pretty stingy with giving it away for the most part, if we don’t put our defense in a real bad situation, (it’s a) good thing for us.”
In a 34-23 loss to Utah last year, the Huskies lost four turnovers, including a season-high three fumbles. UW finished with a plus-5 turnover margin in 2015 — with 22 turnovers and 27 takeaways.