The biggest game in Husky stadium in over a decade will be broadcast nationwide as the 10th-ranked Washington Huskies go to war with the 7th-ranked Stanford Cardinal. The Friday night showdown is a game that could potentially have College Football Playoff implications.
Despite this being just the fifth week of the college football season, it feels like a division, and potentially a conference, could be won already in one single game.
The Huskies and the Cardinal are tied in this rivalry, each team holding a 41-41 record with four ties as well. The winner of this will get an edge going into the rest of the year, as well as bragging rights for possessing the series lead for this match-up.
Stanford was the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 North and the Huskies were right behind them in those rankings. Now the two teams will battle for control (at least for now) of the Pac-12 North.
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The Pac-12 did not have a team make the college football playoffs last season, but the winner of this game has a very good chance to prevent that from happening for a second straight year. The Huskies will still have three tough road tests after this, a visit to Oregon next week, at Utah for their eighth game of the season, and a season-finale in Pullman for the Apple Cup.
Thankfully for the Huskies, the Ducks are off to a bad start, Utah wasn’t projected to be this good, and their starting quarterback is a former Husky, Troy Williams, so they’ll have a deep scouting report on him. WSU has had a poor start to the year as well, and the Huskies have shown they can shut down Mike Leach’s Air-Raid offense.
How the Huskies Match Up
As exciting as it is to talk about the potential for a conference title and a playoff birth, let’s get to the game at-hand.
Stanford has been a fixture in the top-25 polls and the top of the Pac-12 in recent years, and 2016 is no different. They return one of the best play-makers in the country, Christian McCaffrey, who had an unbelievable season where he broke the all-purpose yards record for a season, a record held originally by Barry Sanders. He also finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, although many (myself included) believe he should have won the award instead of former Alabama and current Tennessee Titans’ running back Derrick Henry. He’s the key to not only their offense, but their special teams as he is one of Stanford’s return men, and he returned a kick and a punt for touchdowns last season.
The Kevin Hogan era is over since he graduated and is currently on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad. Enter Ryan Burns, a senior who has thrown for 395 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions so far this year, and has thrown for no more than 156 yards in a game so far, relying heavily on the legs of McCaffrey and the big boys on the line to get their offense going.
On the defensive side of the ball, it’s another solid year for the Cardinal. They are currently the 14th best team in the country in terms of total yards allowed, giving up just 226 yards per game through the air and 95.6 yards rushing per game along with 36 points through the three games, good for just 12 points allowed per game.
The Cardinal defense faces their toughest challenge this year with the Huskies, who come into the game 4-0 after a tough 35-28 overtime win against the Arizona Wildcats. The Huskies got key contributions from Jake Browning, who threw two more touchdown passes, John Ross, who had both a rushing and receiving touchdown, and Myles Gaskin, who ran for 85 yards. The surprise came from tailback Lavon Coleman, who ran for 181 yards and a touchdown and really kept the Wildcats’ defense off balance.
The defense bent, but didn’t break, despite allowing 308 rushing yards, 176 of those came from Brandon Dawkins, the quarterback who scored twice on the ground and once through the air. Azeem Victor and Budda Baker each had 10 tackles, and Kevin King had an interception as well.
To beat Stanford, however, they will need to capitalize on whatever opportunities arise, as they left too many points on the table against Arizona. Cameron Van Winkle missed two field goal attempts and they failed on a 4th and 1 in the third quarter in Arizona territory.
This is such a tough game to pick.
On one hand I see the dynamic play-makers such as John Ross and Christian McCaffrey having huge contributions to a higher scoring affair, but I can also see a slug fest occurring, much like the Seahawks-49ers games a few years prior.
I think this is a game where the team that gets the ball last will probably win it, and I think that the Huskies have more overall talent on both sides of the ball, and that will prove to be key in a very close game.
The nail biter last weekend against Arizona should prove to be a wake-up-call for the Huskies, and thanks to a weak passing game by Stanford and UW’s strong secondary, the Huskies will limit McCaffrey and company just enough to claim victory in this showdown.
ESPN gives the Huskies a very generous 60.8 chance to win the game, the spread is four points and the over/under is 45.
I’ll be taking the over in this one, and I think the Huskies just cover the four-point spread.
Final Score: Washington takes this one 30-24