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Oregon State Beavers vs. Washington Huskies Preview and Prediction

Budda Baker

Budda Baker

Consider the hype validated.

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Washington entered the 2016 season one of the most ballyhooed, potential contenders in college football, but head coach Chris Petersen and his players downplayed lofty expectations. The Huskies evidently opted to play their hand close to the vest, as Washington has steamrolled through competition like it's 1991.

The Huskies will be favorites for the remainder of the way, and could be in position for a College Football Playoff berth, barring upset. The least likely upset candidate is the next team on Washington's docket, Oregon State.

Gary Andersen has a dramatically improved team in his second year. The Beavers are two weeks removed from their first Pac-12 win in his tenure, a high-scoring, overtime defeat of Cal. Oregon State also took nationally ranked Utah to the wire in a 19-14 loss.  

Might the Beavers do the unthinkable? After all, Washington's most competitive game of the season to date is an overtime survival at Arizona, and the Wildcats are currently winless in Pac-12 play.

Oregon State at Washington

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington -37 

Three Things to Watch

1. Focus

The most realistic way Washington finds itself in a competitive game is if the Huskies commit self-inflicted errors: turnovers, penalties, missed tackles. Essentially, a general lack of focus stands as the biggest potential roadblock between an easy Washington win.

Heavy underdogs play best when they have hope. That comes from getting some early scores and stops. Washington cannot get caught looking ahead to next week's matchup with Utah, which could be a top-20 showdown if the Utes handle business at UCLA.

The first few possessions Saturday will tell the story for the afternoon.

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2. Jake Browning's Heisman Candidacy 

Washington's quarterback is getting some Heisman love. He's only a sophomore, but Browning is fast building a reputation that would put him in league with past Husky greats like Warren Moon, Sonny Sixkiller, Brock Huard and Mark Brunell.

A matchup like Saturday's would seemingly give Browning an opportunity to pad his Heisman resume. However, Oregon State comes into Husky Stadium with the nation's No. 21-ranked passing defense — certainly more than meets to the eye with these Beavers.

Oregon State's allowed just four passing touchdowns all season long; Browning has three games with at least four scores, including six his last time out against Oregon.

3. Banged-Up Beavers vs. Washington Defense

Washington boasts one of the nation's most impressive defenses, with standouts like consensus Athlon midseason Defensive Player of the Year, Budda Baker. Baker's do-everything role in the Husky defense keys Washington's 14.2 points per game yield, seventh best in the nation.

Oregon State's offensive production has come in waves. The Beavers hit Cal for 47 points, but managed just six at Colorado and 14 vs. Utah. Quarterback Darell Garretson's season-ending injury puts a cramp in the Oregon State offense, as does the possible loss of running back Ryan Nall.

The Beavers could be hard-pressed to mount anything on that side of the ball against the best defense it will see all season.

Final Analysis

Gary Andersen has Oregon State moving in the right direction in his second season. Bouncing back from a debacle at Colorado to beat a good Cal team showed the Beavers' lofty potential with a run-based offensive attack, and last week's near-miss against Utah proved Oregon State has plenty of guts.

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The Beavers are growing through a rebuild, much like Colorado in the previous few seasons under Mike MacIntyre, and like Washington at various times in the last half-decade. Chris Petersen's initial two seasons marked a rebuilding transition from Steve Sarkisian, with the former Boise State head coach inheriting talent but not necessarily an identity.

Washington has its identity. This is a team that plays with the same defensive intensity that defined Don James' dominant teams of the early 1990s, but with offensive flair. Washington now serves as the benchmark for a Pac-12 rebuilding project. Oregon State could get there, but it won't be Saturday.

Prediction: Washington 49, Oregon State 7

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.