Stanford (3-0, 2-0 in Pac-12) at Washington (4-0, 1-0 in Pac-12)
6 p.m. Friday, Husky Stadium
The line: Washington by 3.5
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It’s almost here.
The biggest game in the Pac-12 so far this year. Maybe the biggest game in the Pac-12 all year. And the biggest game at Husky Stadium in ... well, it’s hard to say? Fifteen years?
Win, and the Huskies will be 5-0 for the first time since 1992, and in control of the Pac-12 North. Lose, and winning the division becomes that much more difficult.
And unlike last year’s trip to Palo Alto, there seems to be a sense this season that the Huskies are up to the physical, grind-it-out challenge posed by Stanford on both sides of the ball. The Huskies had trouble defending the run against Arizona last week, but I think UW’s defense matches up favorably with the pro-style, quarterback-under-center Stanford offense, opposed to defending a shotgun, spread look that features a mobile quarterback.
That said, UW hasn’t seen a running back as talented as super-duper-stud-Heisman-candidate Christian McCaffrey, and the Cardinal do a good job of lining him up all over the offensive formation to get him the ball in as many different ways as possible. And while quarterback Ryan Burns hasn’t been particularly impressive so far -- he’s thrown for 395 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in three games -- Stanford does have quality receivers and, as always, a stellar offensive line.
Defensively, Stanford has allowed only three touchdowns in three games this season, though the Cardinal rank 54th nationally in yards per play allowed. Can the Huskies run the ball as well as they did last week at Arizona? Well, probably not. Seven yards per carry on 51 rushes will be difficult to top. But UW had to be encouraged by the way its offensive line bullied Arizona’s defenders, and a similar (or better) effort will be required against a far better defense this week.
Washington still hasn’t played against a top-notch opponent, unless you consider Arizona to be that, and I don’t. Stanford, meanwhile, has victories over USC and UCLA, though the Cardinal looked decidedly mortal last week at the Rose Bowl -- and they’ll be without their top two cornerbacks, plus receiver Francis Owusu, due to injury. And going on the road for a Friday night game six days after playing on the road the previous week won’t be easy, either, especially with UW anticipating a sellout (or near-sellout), which would be the first at Husky Stadium since the 2013 Apple Cup.
The Huskies have to control the line of scrimmage offensively and give Jake Browning time to throw against a Stanford defense that ranks 12th nationally with 3.67 sacks per game. If they do that, I think UW’s defense can keep Stanford off the scoreboard often enough to make this the Huskies’ biggest victory in years.
The pick: Washington 17, Stanford 10.