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Sports >  UW football

Commentary: How one win over Oregon transformed this UW football season

Nov. 18, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 18, 2022 at 8:20 p.m.

UW players celebrate on the field after the No. 25 Huskies upset the No. 6 Oregon Ducks, 37-34, in a Pac-12 college football game on Nov. 12.  (Tribune News Service)
UW players celebrate on the field after the No. 25 Huskies upset the No. 6 Oregon Ducks, 37-34, in a Pac-12 college football game on Nov. 12. (Tribune News Service)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

A few years ago, Forbes estimated that a college football win is worth about $1 million to a program. But anyone who watched the Huskies knock off Oregon in Eugene on Saturday would guess that the $1 million figure is at least a digit short.

That 37-34 victory completely altered the course of the Huskies’ season – marking it a success no matter what happens over their next two games. More significantly, it has set this team up to finish with one of its more distinguished years in the past three decades – and establish an era for first-year coach Kalen DeBoer.

Everything changes if the Huskies would have fallen to 7-3 overall, 4-3 in the Pac-12 and out of the AP Top 25 poll. Instead they are 8-2 overall, 5-2 in conference and ranked 15th in the nation. One win over its nemesis, and Washington has returned as a potential 10-win, top-10 program with a prestigious bowl game in its sights.

The Dawgs are back. And everyone knows it.

“It’s awesome – coming off a 4-8 season,” Huskies senior offensive lineman Corey Luciano said. “Being my last year, I was hoping for a successful year, and it has been. There are plays – and we definitely want those two losses (UCLA and Arizona State), back, but to be able to end the season potentially 10-2 and go to a good bowl game – it’s everything I could ask for, in all honesty. It’s why I came to Washington.”

Ten wins in the regular season is generally the benchmark for a marquee program. You do that consistently, you’re a blue-blood. You do that sporadically, you’re a threat, and if you never or rarely do it, you’re simply on a lower tier.

To nab that double-digit victory total, UW will have to beat Colorado (1-6, 1-7) at home on Saturday and then defeat Washington State (6-4, 3-4) in Pullman seven days later. There are no guarantees – particularly against the Cougars, who have cruised in their past two games.

But that high-profile win over the then-No. 6 Ducks on their home turf – where Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. dazzled with 408 yards passing and looked like he was suiting up for Hogwarts when he zipped a dart to Taj Davis for a 62-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter? That turned UW from a team that could compete to a program (potentially) among the elite.

“I would say we’re getting noticed a little bit more,” Davis said. “Oregon was a huge win for our community.”

Added senior safety Alex Cook: “I was thinking back to Oregon State when we were 6-2, and I was like, ‘Man, 6-3 would be an ugly record.’ So we were able to get that win and get to 7-2. OK, but if we lose to Oregon 7-3 is still not a pretty record compared to 8-2. You want that 8-2. It looks a whole lot better on that résumé. We did everything we could to get that win.”

Sometimes success begets regrets or concerns that never would have been there otherwise. It’s doubtful Washington players would be ruminating on the past as much if they were 7-3 right now. But Cook admits he thinks about those defeats to UCLA (40-32) and ASU (49-39) and wonders what could have been. Just one win over either of those two, and UW is in the Pac-12 title race and possibly competing for a College Football Playoff spot.

As Cook said: “We should be 10-0.” Debatable – UCLA was up 40-16 at one point, but …

“It definitely frustrates you a little bit knowing you could be 10-0, but we definitely learned a lot about ourselves with those losses.”

Cook went on: “In hindsight, I’m grateful for those losses, because we were able to come together as a team and be even better than we were before.”

It would be unwise to overlook Colorado, even though the Buffaloes likely are the worst team in the Pac-12. Their only victory this year came in overtime versus Cal, which also has just one conference victory. But there is a reason UW is a 30.5-point favorite. This should be over by halftime.

What’s next will be far more suspenseful. After a 4-8 2021 season highlighted by coach Jimmy Lake’s firing, the Huskies have expedited their return to prominence. Beating Oregon solidified that.

“You can imagine what it felt to get a win like that,” Huskies defensive end Bralen Trice said.

One could imagine that winning out from here would feel even better.

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