Washington is back in a lofty position in the polls. But the 10th-ranked Huskies' staying power will be tested Friday night.
Washington will play host to No. 7 Stanford on Friday night at 9 p.m. ET in the first matchup of top 10 teams at Husky Stadium in 19 years. The outcome could go a long way in determining the Pac-12 North and which team moves on as the league's favorite to get to the College Football Playoff.
"It's awesome, no question about it," said Washington coach Chris Petersen.
"Stanford's an awesome program. I'll start with that -- program. This isn't just an awesome team. They've had an awesome program here for a while now. They know how to do it right and play good football, win championships. So it's a great opportunity for the kids, and for everybody playing in a game like this."
The Huskies (4-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) played a soft non-conference slate of Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State before surviving a road game at Arizona, 35-28 in overtime Saturday night. Stanford (3-0, 2-0) is much more battle-tested, having defeated Kansas State, USC and UCLA.
The Cardinal, too, was taken to the brink last week, scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 24 seconds left and adding a fumble return for a score on the final play in a 22-13 victory at the Rose Bowl. Coach David Shaw was pleased how new starting quarterback Ryan Burns reacted to the do-or-die final drive after struggling for much of the game.
"There is no substituting the environment he was in," Shaw said after Monday's practice. "Not playing a great game ... and coming back with a chance to win at the end of the game, you can't duplicate that.
"And you can't duplicate what we're going to face this week: Top 10 opponent, in their house. It's going to be loud. You're not going to be able to hear a thing. I think that environment, you don't know how you're going to respond until you're in it."
Stanford has won 15 of its past 16 games and has tied a school-record by winning seven consecutive Pac-12 road games. The Cardinal has won three of the past four conference championships.
Stanford also has won seven of the past eight meetings against Washington, including 31-14 last season. Cardinal star running back Christian McCaffrey gained 109 rushing yards and 112 receiving yards, including a 50-yard touchdown, in that game.
McCaffrey, by his standards, had an abnormally quiet game last week with 138 rushing yards and no touchdowns against UCLA. But Washington yielded 308 rushing yards in its overtime win over Arizona, including 173 to quarterback Brandon Dawkins.
The Huskies' defense, led by safety Budda Baker, cornerback Sidney Jones and linebacker Azeem Victor, is tied for the national lead with 13 takeaways. They are 15th in scoring defense, allowing 14.5 points per game.
The Stanford defense, fueled by defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, is allowing 12.0 points per game against a tougher schedule.
Washington quarterback Jake Browning is third nationally in passing efficiency (194.9), with 14 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He didn't play in last season's loss to Stanford because of injury.
Shaw said he is worried about Washington's offensive speed, which includes receiver John Ross, tailback Myles Gaskin and tailback Lavon Coleman, who was an unlikely hero with a career-best 181 yards against Arizona.
"Speed everywhere," Shaw said. "Their running backs have speed. Their receivers have speed. It used to be that you had to worry about that No. 1 guy (Ross) running by you. Now it's a bunch of guys."
Stanford likely has more speed that it gets credit for, as McCaffrey is not the only weapon on offense. Wide receiver Michael Rector has 4.4 speed, receiver Trenton Irwin had a team-high seven catches last week against UCLA and backup running back Bryce Love had five carries for 51 yards. He has been working his way back from injury and should be close to 100 percent this week, Shaw said.
The Cardinal won't have receiver Francis Owusu, who suffered a concussion last week.
This will be the first top 10 matchup in Seattle since No. 7 Nebraska beat the No. 2 Huskies 27-14 in 1997. Washington, earlier this month, reached the top 10 for the first time since Nov. 4, 2001.
Are the Huskies all the way back?
Friday's spotlight game will begin to really tell the tale.
"I just want everyone to enjoy college football and be all in," Petersen said. "Players all in, fans all in, coaches, everybody ... all in."
Prediction and Pick to Win
Christian McCaffrey will be a load for a good Washington defense, even with his starting fullback out and a strong Huskies linebacker group. Expect Washington QB Jake Browning to attack a Stanford secondary missing both of their starting cornerbacks. This game between the Pac 12's top two teams should come down to the wire. The Huskies get the edge because of the home crowd and the numerous Cardinal injuries at key positions.
Washington 30, Stanford 24