SEATTLE – Any hopes that the Pac-12 was going to vanquish its reputation as the runt of the Power Five football conferences seem to be fading. Just two teams remain in the AP Top 25 – No. 9 Oregon and No. 18 Arizona State – and nobody has emerged as the class of the conference.
The Pac-12 North is particularly log-jammed, with Oregon State sitting atop the division at 2-1 in conference play and everyone else stuck at .500. This isn’t a great look for the conference – but it’s a golden opportunity for Washington.
Despite all the lumps the Huskies have endured through the first five weeks of the season, they’re still in this conference race. Yes, they took embarrassing losses against Montana and Michigan at the beginning of the season, and fell to Oregon State on Oct. 2 in a game they could have won.
Do they have the talent to accomplish anything significant this season? That’s questionable. But given all the upsets that have taken place, fans still have reasons to show up on game day.
“Yeah, you guys see the chaos of college football right now, and in our conference, but you look across college football, teams are taking on losses where maybe people thought they weren’t going to take a loss,” Washington coach Jimmy Lake said. “A lot of twists and turns in the Top 25, and then you just look in the Pac-12, and you look in the Pac-12 North especially, there’s a lot of football to be played.”
After Oregon knocked off Ohio State in its Week 2 game last month, the assumption was the Ducks would run away with the division. Then Stanford knocked off Oregon at the beginning of the month, and, well, who knows what to think anymore?
Oregon State is 2-1 in the division, Stanford and Washington State are 2-2, Oregon and Washington are 1-1 and Cal sits in last at 0-2. Washington still has Oregon, Stanford and WSU on the schedule. Is it impossible to think the Huskies can’t make a run?
Well, the bad news is … they really haven’t looked great. Perhaps you’ll point to the 52-3 hammering the Huskies (2-3, 1-1) put on Arkansas State in Week 3 as proof to the contrary. It’s not. Not really, at least. That was like a fight expected to go two rounds going one instead. The favorite might have slightly exceeded expectations, but only against a sparring-partner-level foe.
No, UW struggled mightily in its overtime win vs. Cal in its Pac-12 opener, when the Huskies’ offense flatlined in the second half. And Washington’s run defense – which has been a problem area all season – disappeared in a 27-24 loss to Oregon State, as the Beavers picked up 242 yards on the ground.
Neither the Bears nor the Beavers were expected to do much in the Pac-12, but the Huskies had trouble with both.
Having said that, they have stayed competitive. After those losses to Montana and Michigan, it was conceivable that UW might go winless in the Pac-12. The Huskies had almost zero offense, and it looked as though offensive coordinator John Donovan’s job could be in jeopardy.
Since then, they have managed at least 24 points during regulation in each contest.
Quarterback Dylan Morris is averaging more than 250 yards passing per game (although he was held to 142 vs. Oregon State). It helps having the bulk of his receivers healthy, something that wasn’t the case early in the season.
Running back Sean McGrew’s subpar practice play prevented him from taking the field in the first two contests, but he has re-emerged recently, as his 104 yards on 16 carries vs. OSU indicated.
The defense has forced seven turnovers in the past three games – including five interceptions. There is still hope for this team.
To Lake’s credit, he has put up a strong front each week. No panic in his voice. No confidence lost.
Next up for UW is UCLA (4-2, 2-1). Like all games remaining on the Huskies’ schedule, it’ll be pivotal.
“Our team is hungry and ready for this next opportunity,” Lake said.
With three losses, you’d think the Huskies would play like they have nothing to lose. Truth is, there is still a whole lot to play for.
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