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October 5, 2013

Washington-Stanford preview

The Pac-12 North, which is tied with the SEC West with the most teams ranked in the top 15, will have its biggest matchup of the season so far when the 15th-ranked Washington Huskies and the 5th-ranked Stanford Cardinal take the field at 7:30 PM PST in Palo Alto.

Will the Huskies shock Stanford for the 2nd year in a row, propelling themselves to a top-10 matchup against Oregon, or will the Cardinal get revenge and be firmly cemented as a Dark Horse for the National Championship game?

In order for the Huskies to pull the upset, their offensive line needs to step up. Stanford's front 7 is easily the best in the Pac-12 and one of the best in all of college football. While vastly improved from last season, the Huskies offensive line has not been truly tested so far in 2013. Will the big men up front be able to protect QB Keith Price and lead the way for the nation's leading rusher in yards per game, HB Bishop Sankey?

If so, Washington will be able to move the ball fairly well against the Stanford defense and keep the game close. If not, Washington will be enduring flashbacks of the Oregon and LSU games last season.

The Huskies defense is also a concern, considering the game is not being played at Husky Stadium. Since the start of last season, the Huskies are allowing an average of 30.25 points per game away from Seattle, as opposed to just 12.56 points per game at home. Washington's defense has yet to prove it can consistently stop teams while on the road, and Stanford's offense is much improved since last year.

QB Kevin Hogan won't be confused with John Elway, but with a 9-0 record as a starter and a 19:6 TD/INT ratio, Hogan is a vast improvement over QB Josh Nunes, who struggled mightily against the Huskies at CenturyLink last season in Washington's 17-13 win over Stanford.

Hogan will be looking for WR Ty Montgomery, one of the Pac-12's top receivers, all night long. The junior from Dallas already has 4 touchdowns this season, and although he was held to just 6 catches for 39 yards last season against Washington, he should easily get double-digit targets Saturday night.

The X-factor for the Huskies is not anyone on the defense, offense, or even coaching staff, but rather K/P Travis Coons. With the game likely to be close throughout, Coons, who had arguably his best game as a Husky last week in the kicking and especially punting game, needs to come through. Coons has been perfect on the season so far on field goals, 4 for 4, and if he can continue pinning punts inside the 20, the Huskies defense will have a huge boost.

The Huskies are for real this season, with playmakers all over the field on both offense and defense. A win on national television against the 5th ranked team on the road would signify that the once-dominant and elite football program at Washington was back. While the Oregon game next week is of monstrous importance, this week's game against Stanford is easily the biggest game to date for Steve Sarkisian, and probably the biggest game for the team since the 2001 Rose Bowl.

If Washington wants to once again be one of the best teams in the land, it has to first beat the best teams. A loss will have the Huskies possibly facing a three-game losing streak with Oregon and Arizona State to follow, and the Huskies will once again be on the path to mediocrity and potentially a 4th consecutive 7-6 season. Saturday night will establish whether the Washington Huskies football program has returned to its Don James-era roots, or whether they aren't ready to compete with the big boys of college football just yet.


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