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Washington Huskies vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction

Jake Browning

Jake Browning

Halloween night 2015 marked the nadir of a trying season for the Arizona Wildcats. Though not the most lopsided loss in Rich Rodriguez's tenure as head coach, the 49-3 blowout Washington put on Arizona last Oct. 31 may have been the program's lowest point since the 2012 campaign, when Rich Rodriguez first took over as head coach.

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For Washington, that defensive masterpiece helped build the case for the Huskies as preseason favorites to contend not only for the Pac-12 North, but a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Nothing thus far has derailed the Washington hype train, with the Huskies opening the campaign 3-0, in a trio of wins quite similar to that Halloween rout of the Wildcats. Head coach Chris Petersen's squad is ranked in the top 10, with the chance to position itself for the all-important top four by the time November arrives — assuming the Huskies can avoid any upsets.

Washington at Arizona

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Line: Washington -10

Three Things to Watch

1. Jake Browning's Building Heisman Campaign 

Washington quarterback Jake Browning had a solid, if not unspectacular freshman season for the Huskies. Against Arizona, however, he was lights out, passing for 263 yards and four touchdowns.

Browning's fresh off a three-game start to his sophomore campaign with three scores against Rutgers, five against Idaho and four against Portland State. He's putting up some Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers, albeit against lackluster competition. Arizona's place among the Pac-12 this season remains to be seen, but a road conference game is the perfect time to make a statement.

2. A New-Look Arizona Rushing Attack 

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Washington's stellar defense has held opponents to an incredible 2.14 yards per carry thus far in 2016. While skewed somewhat by the level of competition, the Huskies did face Portland State, whose unique approach produced one of the best rushing offenses in the FCS a season ago.

The Huskies' defensive front can be downright oppressive of opposing running games. A new-look Arizona backfield, with dual-threat quarterback Brandon Dawkins likely headed for his third start and lightning bug J.J. Taylor at running back, must find vulnerabilities in the Washington defense any opponent has yet to find.

The Dawkins-Taylor backfield is more reminiscent of Rodriguez's West Virginia teams with Pat White and Noel Devine, but those Mountaineer teams had Steve Slaton as the No. 1 ball carrier. Arizona's typical No. 1, Nick Wilson, is questionable for Saturday after coming out early last week vs. Hawaii.

3. Home-Field Advantage

Home-field advantage has proven overrated in the Pac-12 in recent years, but it's carried weight in the Arizona-Washington series. The home team has won every matchup since 2008, and by a considerable margin. Only Arizona's last-second win in 2014 and a bizarre pick-six for Washington in '09 produced single-digit margins.

The state of Arizona has, in general, been unkind to Washington. The Huskies gave up a two-score advantage last November to lose its eighth straight in the Grand Canyon State.

Whether it's the distance or the dry, desert air, winning in Arizona's been an issue for the Huskies — one that Petersen must solve if this team is indeed to contend for a Playoff berth.

Final Analysis

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This is a true style clash: the speed of an undersized Arizona team against the strength of a powerful Washington bunch. That proposition favored Washington last season — considerably. It's also the formula Stanford has used to sit atop the Pac-12 for almost half-a-decade, and one that Alabama's ridden to No. 1 for most of the last seven years.

Arizona's hope is to force some turnovers early and score points quickly. Considering how the Washington defense has looked, juxtaposed with the offensive struggles Arizona's faced amid injuries, it could be an uphill climb for the Wildcats.

Prediction: Washington 38, Arizona 24 

— 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.