10:30 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Washington -6, Over/Under: 45
The Pac-12 North Division will take another step towards being settled tonight in Paolo Alto, as the Stanford Cardinal play host to the Ninth-Ranked Washington Huskies, with the former desperately clinging to their last strands of hope in competing for a Conference Championship, while the latter looks to further solidify their CFP CV. Indeed, after appearing in last year’s College Football Playoff, Washington (8-1, 5-1 in Pac-12) has grand designs on making a return, but if they are to do so, then sewing up the Pac-12 North for a second consecutive term must be considered a prerequisite to greater success. However, Chris Petersen’s charges know that they cannot afford to slip up once again, even with the potential for late season chaos propelling them up the Polls. While the Huskies have sustained only one loss, it was a BAD one, with a 13-7 defeat at middling Arizona State (5-4, 4-2 in Pac-12) serving as the proverbial albatross of their body of work; talk about phoning in a performance, but all the visitors could muster was season-low 230 Total Yards of Offense, which is very telling when you consider that the next-lowest total they’ve accumulated was 368 in the Season Opener at Rutgers. The larger issue though, is that even with that one loss, it’s going to take quite a bit of work to even get anywhere near the College Football Playoff. Granted, the likes of Oklahoma and TCU have been hovering just outside of the First Four for weeks now, with two more one-loss sides, Notre Dame and Clemson occupying the third and fourth spots in the Playoff Bracket at the moment. What those schools have that Washington does not is the benefit of playing in a competitive conference, with each owning at least one significant victory over a ranked opponent. In regards to the Huskies, the Pac-12 as a whole has been far weaker than anyone could have imagined, with only USC currently enjoying another spot in the AP Poll, and they’ve been disappointing throughout the season. And then there’s the schedule, which for lack of a better word, hasn’t been exactly daunting by any means; coaches will lament all day that their kids can only play the opponents that lay ahead of them, but in this case that has done more harm than anything, with Petersen’s troops failing to meet a single ranked opponent thus far, with their opponents’ Win Percentage checking in at a dismal .488. Furthermore, they have faced no ranked opposition outside of conference, and only one of their opponents in conference play has earned a record over .500, and that was the Sun Devils. Stanford, at 6-3, would represent their stiffest competition to date, but thanks to the Cardinal’s loss at Washington State last weekend, they won’t be ranked either, leaving this team without many opportunities to impress the CFP Committee before season’s end. So it’s with that said, that all the Huskies can do is simply go out there and try to hammer their remaining opponents by as many points as possible, while at the same time hoping that a number of the teams ahead of them in the Polls inexplicably collapse down the stretch. In their last two victories, Washington obliterated the likes of UCLA and Oregon by a combined score of 82-26, all the while totaling 442 and 451 Total Yards respectively, while the Defense relegated their fifth consecutive opponent below 300 Total Yards. And that’s where it’s started for Peterson’s side, which has ranked among the nation’s very best in a slew of defensive categories, allowing the second-fewest Points per Game (11.1) on a nation-best 242.1 Total Yards (1st Overall), while compiling sixteen Turnovers and twenty-six Sacks. When these teams met a year ago in Seattle, a dominant 44-6 victory for the Huskies, the hosts held the Cardinal to their lowest offensive output of the season (213 Total Yards). Junior Quarterback Jake Browning (67.8%, 211.9 Y/G, 8.2 Y/A, 16 TD, 5 INT) was stellar in that meeting, deftly completing 15-of-21 Passes for 210 Yards and three Touchdowns, while Myles Gaskin (148 CAR, 918 YDS, 10 TD) spearheaded a rushing attack that pummeled Stanford to the tune of 214 Yards, with the Tailback responsible for 100 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns. In many respects it’s been a down year for Browning, who last season tossed a school record forty-three Touchdown Passes, while averaging 245.0 Yards through the air. However, in 2017 he’s yet to post a single 300-Yard Game after netting three such performances a year ago. With all that said, he could make a bit of history tonight, for with one more Touchdown Pass, he’ll move ahead of Keith Price for most in Program History, at seventy-six scores.
Meanwhile, if you thought it would be difficult for Washington to reach their postseason goals, then try being Stanford (6-3, 5-2 in Pac-12), who for all intents and purposes is probably going to be left out of the Pac-12 Championship Game. David Shaw’s charges have spent the 2017 campaign transferring in and out of the Polls, reaching as high Fourteenth, only to crash outside of the Top-25 on two separate occasions. Needless to say, this hasn’t been a very stable season for the Cardinal, who have been nothing short of a modicum of stability during Shaw’s seven-year tenure. Then again, Quarterback Controversies will do that, as will an injury to a Heisman-caliber Tailback. Both Keller Chryst (53.8%, 133.9 Y/G, 6.6 Y/A, 8 TD, 4 INT) and KJ Costello (60.9%, 103.7 Y/G, 7.1 Y/A, 4 TD, 1 INT) have started for this football team, with neither really cementing themselves as the clear cut No. One. Chryst, a Senior, began the season as the Starter, though would be benched after back-to-back losses to USC (42-24) and San Diego State (20-17), in which the Upperclassman put together a dismal performance on 9-of-20 passing for a scant seventy-two Yards and two Interceptions before being replaced by the younger Costello. The Sophomore’s reign lasted just two weeks before Chryst was back in the proverbial saddle, though that didn’t last long either, with the younger signal-caller starting each of Stanford’s last two outings. In last weekend’s 24-21 loss at Washington State, Costello struggled mightily in snowy, windy conditions, completing a mere 9-of-20 Attempts for 105 Yards and an Interception, though he did manage to rush for a Touchdown midway through the Third Quarter. Indeed, it was a brutal offensive showing for the visitors, who managed their lowest output of the campaign thus far, totaling a miserable 198 Total Yards in defeat. However, Shaw is sticking with Costello, who unlike his more experienced teammate, has been cautious with the football, and has also shown the ability to not only push the ball downfield, but to make plays with his feet if need be, rushing for three scores and fifty-eight Yards on just eight Carries. At this point of his career, Chryst is very much a finished product, while his former understudy appears to have a considerable amount of potential. In the meantime, the Offensive Gameplan is likely to revolve around getting Bryce Love (151 CAR, 1,456 YDS, 12 TD) the ball, and frequently at that. Replacing the likes of Christian McAffrey is no small task, which speaks to how impressive Love has been in 2017, his first season as the No. One Option in the Backfield. The Junior Tailback has been electrifying thus far, averaging an explosive 9.6 Yards per Carry, while ripping off a run of at least fifty yards in every game to this point, with a total of eleven such runs on his ledger. Even in last weekend’s loss at Washington State, he managed to break a 52-Yard scamper, though that would be by far and away his most significant touch of the game, as he was held to a season-low sixty-nine Yards. Love sat out the previous game at Oregon State with a sore ankle, which very nearly proved to be catastrophic for the Cardinal, who needed a miraculous rally late in the Fourth Quarter to escape from Corvalis with a narrow 15-14 victory over a 1-8 football team. Shaw stated after last Saturday’s performance that his young charge was still feeling the effects of the ailing ankle, which would explain the fact that apart from the lone huge run, he could only muster an uninspiring seventeen Yards on fifteen Carries. Tonight’s encounter should make for an interesting affair, for this is a classic strength on strength matchup featuring the nation’s second-leading rusher (182.0 Y/G) against one of the stingiest Run Defenses in the country (91.1 Y/G), with Washington checking in at Sixth Overall. In last year’s meeting, Love was little more than an afterthought, but then again so was the entirety of Stanford’s ground game, which was bottled up to the tune of twenty-nine Yards on thirty Carries, with the Heisman candidate accounting for a mere three Yards on his only Carry of the contest.