Turns out, the hype was spot on. Favored since the spring, when they were picked by nearly every media outlet to be the team of 2016, the Washington Huskies lived up to the talk Friday night when they won the Pac-12 championship with a 41–10 victory over Colorado in the conference title game. It's the program's first conference crown since 2000.
Here are three quick thoughts after UW's win:
1. Washington is in the playoff—and may be higher than No. 4
The Huskies are going to the postseason that matters, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It does not matter what happens in other championship games this weekend—UW will be in the College Football Playoff. The question is, will the Huskies move up from the No. 4 spot? Washington looked dominant in its win over Colorado, proving yet again that it is a complete team (more on that below). If Clemson wins big in the ACC title game on Saturday night, the rankings will probably stay the same, but if the Tigers only squeak by Virginia Tech, or if Virginia Tech wins and the Big Ten champ sneaks in, the Huskies might be heading to a party in Arizona instead of the Peach Bowl to face Alabama. Regardless of where it ends up, know this: Washington can give anyone a game, including 'Bama, particularly because Chris Petersen is known for being good with a lot of prep time.
2. It’s all about establishing the run for UW
Jake Browning did not exactly make a Heisman statement Friday night in Santa Clara, completing just 9 of 24 passes for 118 yards (he did throw two touchdowns, bringing his season total to 42 and counting, compared to just seven total interceptions). But who needs to pass the ball well when you’ve established the ground game? In Washington’s one loss this season, USC completely shut down the Huskies’ rushing attack, holding UW to just 17 yards. The Huskies spiraled from there that night in Seattle, and afterward Petersen talked about how they had no chance without their running backs contributing.
Friday at Levi’s Stadium, Browning didn’t look good early. Fortunately for Washington, Myles Gaskin (159 yards on 29 attempts) and Lavon Coleman (101 yards on 18 carries) looked great. Each player averaged over 5.5 yards per carry which is, let’s say, ideal. It’s likely that Browning will be better in the semifinal. But even if he struggles early again, Gaskin and Coleman putting up decent rushing numbers will keep UW in a game. Also, when one of your players can do this...
...the odds are in your favor to win.
3. Colorado's no scrappy startup
Don’t be fooled by the final score. Colorado has been one of the best teams in the country this season, but had a series of unfortunate events—starting with quarterback Sefo Liufau rolling his ankle in the first quarter—that led to a meltdown. It's easy to understand why CU went back to Liufau in the second half, though in hindsight it probably should have stuck with backup Steven Montez. The Buffs are very good defensively, and they weren’t responsible for how out of hand the score got in the second half. Three of Washington's scores came following Liufau interceptions, including a pick-six that gave UW a ton of momentum at the beginning of the third quarter.
It might have been ugly Friday night, but Colorado could very well end its season with a bowl win (the Buffs are probably headed to the Alamo Bowl because USC should get the Rose Bowl berth), putting a cap on an incredible turnaround season.