While the deck appears stacked against a return to the College Football Playoffs for the Washington Huskies little else has changed on the shores of Lake Washington.
Head coach Chris Petersen does have his team poised to repeat as Pac-12 north champions and with a win in the conference championship game another appearance in a high profile post season bowl game. But with the conference as a whole having a chaotic year, it is hard to imagine even a one loss Washington team jumping past Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame or Alabama in selection poll.
So with the conference title as its remaining focus the Huskies can turn all attention to closing out the season against Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Washington State with the Cardinal the only road game left on the schedule.
Last year the Huskies came into Autzen Stadium and emphatically snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks in a 70-21 blowout.
A lot of the same tools are at hand for the Huskies in this years’ rematch. Quarterback Jake Browning is again the centerpiece of the Washington offense. In his eight starts, the junior from Folsom, California has completed 147 of his 214 attempts for 1703 yards and 14 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
Last year’s leading receiver John Ross is now playing for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL leaving Dante Pettis as a favorite target for Browning. Pettis leads the team with 45 receptions for 484 yards and six touchdowns. Freshman tight end Hunter Bryant has asserted himself into the mix with 12 catches and 331 yards.
Pettis can also be lethal as a punt returner with 348 yards – an average of 20.5 per punt – and has taken three the length of the field for a touchdown.
Myles Gaskins is again the fixture at running back. With nine touchdowns and 795 net yards on 131 carries, the junior is averaging just over six yards every time Browning hands off the football. A dual threat out of the backfield, Gaskins has also recorded 12 catches and a couple of scores as Browning’s check down option.
Petersen has always built his defense around size and physicality more than speed and in 2017 he may have his best group yet despite losing several key contributors from last year to the NFL draft. Allowing only 12.1 points per game, the Washington defense is led in tackles by junior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven with 49 and teammate Tevis Bartlett has been a nightmare for offensive coordinators with 9.5 tackles for loss.
For Oregon to pull off the upset the Ducks will have to find a way to move the ball well enough to score points and keep the Husky offense off the field as much as possible against a defense that has allowed just 236 yards total offense per game. Turnovers would go a long way to help their cause but Washington hasn’t hurt themselves often with only four fumbles lost and four interceptions so far this year.
Should Oregon’s Justin Herbert return to the lineup the chances for an upset improve markedly but the task would still be tall. Until proven differently the Huskies remain the class of the Pac-12 North.
~ Rick Morgan