All good things must come to an end.
Unfortunately for Washington fans, that sentiment may apply tomorrow afternoon, as the Huskies’ status as the premier program in the Pac-12 is in jeopardy.
There’s no doubt that Washington currently sits atop of the food chain in the Pac-12. They’ve completely overhauled what was an underachieving roster and transformed it into a juggernaut. Coach Chris Petersen has worked his magic, building the Huskies into a well-rounded team with a physical defense and an efficient offense. He has also revitalized their recruiting efforts, stockpiling elite talent that has helped the Huskies run circles around most of the conference.
Yes, others in the Pac-12 have had their share of success, but none of them have demonstrated the consistency to be considered serious threats. USC is the reigning conference champion, but Sam Darnold isn’t coming back any time soon. Stanford won their division last year, but they are clearly in a bit of an off year. Colorado is currently undefeated, but their schedule has been noticeably weak to this point, and their roster is less talented than most of their conference counterparts. When all is said and done, the Huskies are the standard in the Pac-12, and they’ll be the favorites until someone knocks them off their pedestal.
But that pedestal is getting shaky.
The Huskies have shown flaws that could prove significant if they meet an opponent good enough to expose them. Their biggest concern lies with Jake Browning, their once prolific passer who has steadily regressed since his breakout season in 2016. At that time, Browning piloted an explosive offense that was among the best in the country. He launched passes to star receiver John Ross, and the offense shredded even the conference’s best defenses.
Two years later, that explosiveness is a thing of the past. Browning is now prone to head-scratching interceptions, underwhelming outings and a tendency to shrink in the spotlight. His decline has reduced the Huskies’ offense from a weapon to an also-ran. They have talented pieces, but without a game-changer at quarterback, the ceiling of the offense is severely limited.
Furthermore, as well as the Huskies have handled inferior competition, their recent history of struggles in big-time games raises questions about whether they are a legitimately elite program. Over the past three seasons, they have gone a sub-par 2-5 in games against teams who have finished in the AP top 25.
The Ducks Are Getting Hot
The Huskies won’t be handling inferior competition tomorrow. The Ducks will be the best opponent they face this regular season, and if Washington isn’t able to rise to the occasion this time, their reign as conference favorites will end.
If the Huskies do indeed relinquish their title as the best in the west, the Ducks are poised to take the mantle. Oregon football is on the rise, and they’re the likely candidate to succeed the Huskies as the kings of the Pac-12.
Any questions about the Ducks losing their offensive potency have been resoundingly dismissed. They have shown this season that they’re still the fastest, most explosive and most entertaining team in the conference.
Everything starts with quarterback Justin Herbert, who continues to impress. He has played at an All-American level all season long, and the hometown hero who was once the best kept secret in the country is now a household name. He’s perhaps the best pure passer the Ducks have ever had at the position, and even perfect defensive calls are in danger of being dissected by the strong-armed phenom.
What’s more is that Herbert’s supporting cast is beginning to gel, and the combination of their talent and athleticism with Herbert’s accuracy and football acumen has proven to be lethal for the Ducks. Led by a monstrous offensive line that has paved the way for the top rushing offense in the conference, the Ducks’ offense is perfectly balanced and downright scary when they are firing on all cylinders.
Couple that with a defense that’s snagging interceptions like they’re going out of style, and the Ducks have the look of a conference champion. Their path to the title game is well within reach, now that Stanford has dropped a conference game, and they’re charging full force towards a trip to San Francisco.
Washington Is on Upset Alert
With no other teams demonstrating the ability to knock Washington off their throne, the Ducks are the challenger best suited to take their spot atop the leaderboard.
If the Ducks play up to their potential, they have what it takes to beat the Huskies. With a quarterback who is playing darn near flawless football, and an offensive line that is one of the best in the country, the Ducks’ offense should show no signs of slowing down, even against a stellar Washington defense.
Defensively, the Ducks have an opportunity to make Browning pay for his infamous taunting in Autzen Stadium a few years ago, as his erratic play this season is just what the greedy Oregon secondary feasts on. The Ducks’ run defense is good enough to make the Huskies one-dimensional, and if they do, Washington doesn’t have a passing attack strong enough to go score-for-score with the Oregon offense.
However, the Huskies are far from a pushover. For all of their stated flaws, they’ve still managed a solid 5-1 record this season, and they’re led by one of the top coaches in the game. The Ducks have the talent to win tomorrow afternoon, but it will take precise execution and a mistake-free performance to overthrow the favored Huskies.
When Sunday morning rolls around, the Huskies could very well find themselves taking a backseat to the Ducks in the conference hierarchy. And all will be right in the world.
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Eugene Johnson
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