How No. 4 UW Huskies have stayed unbeaten through Pac-12 gauntlet

Nov 20, 2023, 12:28 PM | Updated: Nov 21, 2023, 10:37 am

UW Huskies Michael Penix Jr....

UW Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. celebrates a Nov. 18, 2023 win at Oregon State. (Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

(Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Since the Pac-12 expanded to 12 member schools in 2011, it has literally been impossible to make it through the league’s football schedule undefeated. The No. 4 UW Huskies are on the verge of changing that, though.

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After Saturday’s 22-20 win over No. 15 Oregon State at a rainy Reser Stadium in Corvallis, the Dawgs are a perfect 11-0 overall and 8-0 in Pac-12 play. Just one game remains now for Washington in the final regular season of the Pac-12 as we know it – the annual Apple Cup against the rival WSU Cougars. That’s all that stands between the Huskies and the first undefeated run through conference play in Pac-12 history.

You read that right – not once in this 12-team configuration has the Pac-12 football champion been unbeaten in conference play.

“They keep finding ways to win,” Mike Salk said of the Huskies during Monday’s edition of Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. “… They have a tremendous ability to find ways to win.”

Salk’s co-host, former UW quarterback and current FOX Sports college football analyst Brock Huard, then provided his insight on why quarterback Michael Penix Jr., head coach Kalen DeBoer and the entire Huskies team has been able to come out unscathed after going through a gauntlet that featured matchups against four ranked teams in six weeks, including three straight.

We’ll let Brock take it from here.

The head coach, it’s what he’s done his whole life. Kalen DeBoer as a head coach, that is just emblematic of his teams. They reflect his nature in that way. Yeah, it’s wonderful to have all these style points in the first five weeks of the season, throw for 400 yards a game and Penix put up all these crazy numbers, but you knew it… We talked about it a lot, I wrote about it heading into the season that this is going to be tough because this gauntlet is just going to do to UW what it’s done to every Pac-12 team since it’s been expanded, and you’re just going to have a stumble somewhere. You’re not going to go unscathed – nobody has.

Since the conference has been enlarged, nobody has gone unscathed through it, because you’re going to go to a horrific weather night in Corvallis. Because your target’s going to be bigger and you’re gonna play in 30 mph gusts of wind. You’re gonna go and have to play in LA, with a (USC) team totally desperate, whose whole livelihoods are on the line. You’re gonna be in one of those environments and you’re just gonna fall short – until these guys this year. No falling short.

Whether it is Penix, whether it’s (wide receiver Rome) Odunze, whether it’s (cornerback) Jabbar Muhammad, whether it’s (linebacker) Carson Bruener, whether it’s (defensive tackle) Tuli Letuligasenoa, whether it’s (defensive end) Bralen Trice, whether it’s (running back) Dillon Johnson – that’s what you have to have. I mean, you can’t just count on your stars when you go through gauntlets like this. You can’t. You’re gonna have to have some other people emerge. You’re gonna have to have Dillon Johnson run for 250 yards when he’s never ran for more than 100 in five years. You’re gonna have to have little Jabbar Muhammad knock the ball away three times and pick it twice for the first time in his career. You’re gonna have to have Carson Bruener make 14 tackles and force a fumble and get a pass deflection for an interception.

You’re gonna have to have other people rise, and that’s what Kalen has done. He’s empowered a locker room. I said it last week when I was up close and personal with him and got to witness it. This isn’t Kalen DeBoer’s team; this is the Huskies’ team, and it’s every one of them achieving more because they’re all contributing and doing it on the biggest stages in the biggest moments.

What lies ahead

Even though the UW Huskies will be heavily favored when they host WSU at 1 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium, Huard knows better than to look past a 5-6 Cougars team that needs a win to clinch bowl eligibility.

Of course, there will also be a lot on the line symbolically and emotionally as it will be the last time the two arch rivals will face each other as conference opponents.

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“It’s dangerous. Very dangerous. Very dangerous,” Huard said of the Huskies needing a win over the Cougs to stay perfect. “Human nature, you got everything wrapped up, you just went through the most brutal gauntlet. … You put that tape on of what (WSU) did to poor Deion and Shedeur (Sanders), just humbled them right on out of Pullman.”

Regardless of the outcome Saturday, UW will then meet either No. 6 Oregon or No. 16 Arizona on Friday, Nov. 1 in the Pac-12 Championship in Las Vegas. Let’s say Washington makes it through those two games still without a loss. Either Michigan or Ohio State, two of college football’s five remaining undefeated teams, will have a loss after they play each other this weekend. And No. 5 Florida State has already been passed by the Huskies, at least in the AP poll. Where does that put Washington in the College Football Playoff?

“You win out, you will not be a four (seed),” Huard said.

That means in this scenario, the Huskies wouldn’t see current No. 1 Georgia until the National Championship game – if they make it through the CFP semifinals. If they are in the CFP, Salk expects the Dawgs to be more ready to make noise than when they made the season-ending tournament seven years ago.

“Unlike 2016, where let’s face it, they didn’t really have a chance against Alabama, they should have at least a chance against anybody they play,” Salk said. “I mean, they are right there with the other schools that are likely to be in a College Football Playoff scenario.”

Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation about the UW Huskies in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

More on the UW Huskies

Caple’s Takeaways: No. 4 UW Huskies get important win over OSU
Recap: Washington hangs on to beat No. 10 Oregon State 22-20, stay unbeaten
Undefeated UW Huskies clinch spot in Pac-12 Championship game

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How No. 4 UW Huskies have stayed unbeaten through Pac-12 gauntlet