Defending national champion Alabama has rolled over one opponent after another in defense of its first College Football Playoff title. What can possibly stop the Crimson Tide from claiming their second?
The answer just might be the Washington Huskies.
Top dogs in the Pac-12 this regular season, Washington embarks on the Peach Bowl as a heavy underdog. It's a unique position for a team lauded before 2016 as the Pac-12's most likely breakthrough squad. However, it's a role Washington's head coach knows well and has flourished while occupying.
5 Reasons Why Washington Will Win the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
1. Chris Petersen after a month of preparation
Few coaches in the history of college football can successfully match wits with Alabama's Nick Saban. Petersen may be one of them.
Petersen's a master strategist, able to tailor a game plan specifically for sprining a massive upset. In fact, the Peach Bowl falls almost 10 years to the day that Petersen's Boise State Broncos shocked Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Boise State's win remains one of the most celebrated postseason upsets of all-time.
Petersen goes deep into the playbook for moments of this gravity. You can bet he'll have something special ready that Alabama's never seen on any of Washington's game film.
2. A dynamic duo at wide receiver
Washington's twin billing at wide receiver of John Ross and Dante Pettis could give the Crimson Tide secondary fits. Individually, either Ross or Pettis would be the most explosive playmaker on any wide receiver corps.
As it stands for the Huskies, the duo complement each other so nicely that one cannot fairly be deemed more explosive than the other. Ross caught 76 passes for 1,122 yards and 17 touchdowns. Pettis averaged nearly 16 yards per grab on his 50 receptions, and went to the end zone 14 times.
Line up Minkah Fitzpatrick against Ross, you have to worry about Pettis. Flip the All-SEC cornerback to Pettis, and Ross can cause trouble.
Ross also gives Washington an invaluable weapon in special teams as one of the more dynamic returners Alabama will see this or any season.
3. Physicality at the line
Of all the advantages Alabama boasts against any opponent — and there are many — chief is its play on either side of the line of scrimmage. Don't expect Washington to flinch against offensive and defensive fronts stacked with some of college football's biggest and toughest linemen, however.
Washington's potent offense owes its success to its play in the trenches. Trey Adams and Jake Eldrenkamp anchor a front five that gives quarterback Jake Browning comfortable pockets, and opens wide holes for the running back tandem of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman.
Switch to defense, and the Huskies lose nothing on the line. Tackle Elijah Qualls would look right at home on the Alabama front four. His movement at 6-foot-1, 320 pounds seemingly defies the laws of physics.
With Qualls operating as the gap-plugger in the middle, Greg Gaines wreaks havoc off the edge. Bring linebacker Psalm Wooching off the edge, and the flood of purple in the backfield can become overwhelming.
4. Finishing drives
Among the more damning pieces of evidence against Washington's chances are the two teams' common opponent of USC. Alabama drilled the Trojans in Week 1 on a neutral field, while the Huskies dropped their only loss of the campaign to that same bunch in mid-November.
Hoewver, USC in November looked a whole lot different than USC in November, largely the result of Sam Darnold taking over at quarterback. Darnold's addition made the Trojans more efficient offensively, which was their downfall against the Tide in Arlington.
USC played Alabama tough for the first half, but the wheels came off in the third quarter as a result of the Trojans' inability to complete promising drives early. The Crimson Tide have a knack of doing that to opponents: squeezing like a python and preying on their miscues.
Capping off promising drives with points has been of no issue for Washington. The Huskies come into the Peach Bowl ranked third in the FBS with a 94.74 red-zone conversion percentage. Their red-zone touchdown rate of 75.44 percent is good enough for seventh in the nation.
5. A greedy defense
Central to most any upset are turnovers. Luckily for Washington, the Huskies boast the most prolific turnover-generating defense in all of college football.
For evidence as to just how vital takeaways can be for the Huskies, consider their last game. Washington overcame a middling offensive performance, and downright mediocre showing from Browning, to win the Pac-12 Championship Game, 41-10.
Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year Taylor Rapp completely changed the complexion of the contest with a pair of pick-sixes. Washington's three interceptions of Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau on the night pushed the Huskies to their nation-leading 33 takeaways for the season.
They also enjoy the nation's highest turnover margin of 1.62-plus per game.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts has been great throughout his freshman campaign, but not untouchable. He threw two interceptions in the Iron Bowl, which gave the otherwise overmatched Tigers some hope. The ball-hawking Washington secondary of Rapp, Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones will test the first-year quarterback on every throw.