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Matt Calkins: Despite taking a stinging one-two punch, Huskies’ hopes haven’t hit the canvas

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 4, 2018, 7:42 p.m.

SEATTLE – If you’re a Washington football fan, you might have cracked one more brew than you should have over Labor Day weekend. You might have needed a way to dull the pain of that left-right combo the Huskies just dealt you.

First, there was the five-point loss to Auburn in what was billed as the most important opener in program history. Then, there was the news that left tackle Trey Adams – whom various mock drafts had going in the top 10 – will miss most of the season with a back injury.

That isn’t stumbling out of the blocks so much as it is a full-on faceplant. The good news? The Huskies’ championship hopes haven’t been dashed yet.

Washington’s 21-16 loss Saturday might have been painful for everyone wearing purple and gold, but it wasn’t embarrassing. Nobody walked away from that game thinking UW couldn’t hang with an SEC power.

That has been the stigma attached to the Pac-12 over the past few years, intensified by the Huskies’ 24-7 loss to Alabama two seasons ago. But to be within a touchdown of a top-10 program playing 100 miles from campus? That isn’t unrecoverable.

This wasn’t like falling to Arizona State last year, when the Huskies’ flyweight nonconference schedule allowed no margin for error. Nor would it be on par with the Huskies losing the Pac-12 title game, which would almost certainly eliminate their chances to advance.

If there was any way for UW to lose this season, it was by a nickel to a national power 2,000 miles from home. I wouldn’t call a playoff berth likely at this point, but it’s far from impossible.

If there’s any guarantee in college football, it’s the utter chaos we witness at the top of the rankings each year. It’s Clemson falling to Syracuse, Ohio State falling to Iowa or Oklahoma falling to Iowa State. Like UW’s loss to ASU, all those upsets shook the playoff conversation up last season, as similar ones do every season.

There has been a national-championship game that involved a two-loss team: Louisiana State in 2007. Had Auburn beaten Georgia in last year’s SEC championship game, a two-loss team almost certainly would have made the College Football Playoff.

There are always stunners. This isn’t over.

You wouldn’t see this column had Auburn obliterated the Huskies as though they were out of the Big Sky. But UW led in the fourth quarter and made six trips to the red zone.

A one-loss team with no proof they can compete outside its conference won’t be viewed favorably by the playoff committee. But should they win out, UW wouldn’t be that one-loss team.

Now, the Huskies need to annihilate their competition and show that, even if the Pac-12 is down, they aren’t. They also need the requisite chaos and Auburn to prove it is a national-title contender.

Of course, if you mention any of this to Washington coach Chris Petersen, he’ll give you a glare that would send you to the hospital. He isn’t thinking about anything except the North Dakota game Saturday, and his players shouldn’t be, either.

But whether they want to admit it or not, this is important to fans. Knowing there is still a path to the top adds a few extra decibels to the cheers at Husky Stadium.

Obviously, we’re still learning about what Washington is capable of this year. There might not be any teams with Auburn’s cachet left on the schedule, but there are still plenty of challenges and potential defeats – particularly with Adams out.

That aside, there is still hope for those with mountain-sized dreams. The Huskies started the year stumbling, but can still end it smiling.


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