Washington's unblemished record — improved to 8-0 last week with a marquee win at Utah — was not enough to get the Huskies into the top four of the first College Football Playoff rankings.
No matter. Washington can almost assuredly guarantee itself a spot in the playoff by winning out. The final month brings perhaps the most difficult stretch of the season for head coach Chris Petersen's Huskies, however, starting Week 10 with a road trip to Cal.
The Golden Bears have been two different teams at home and on the road this season, beating visitors like Texas and Utah in Berkeley. Drawing the undefeated Huskies at Memorial Stadium is a huge boon for Sonny Dykes' bunch; Washington's two most competitive games, Arizona and Utah, were both on the road.
Washington at Cal
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5, at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Washington -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Cal Setting The Tempo
Key for Cal is establishing the game's tempo from the outset, something the Golden Bears failed to do last week at USC. They benefit from the scheduling irregularities that hindered them a week ago, coming in with nine days of rest. That should help Cal shake off the rust that contributed to a woeful start in the Week 9 loss.
An aggressive offensive approach to get as many points up early isn't exactly out of the norm for a Sonny Dykes-coached team, but proves especially important against Washington and its stout defense.
Quarterback Davis Webb gets reinforcements at an opportune time, with his favorite target, Chad Hansen, expected to return from injury. The combination of Hansen, Demetris Robertson, Melquise Stovall and running back Tre Watson might be the best pass-catching unit the excellent Washington secondary sees all season.
2. Myles Gaskin, Dark-Horse Heisman Contender?
Gaskin, Washington's running back, hasn't exactly generated much, if any, Heisman buzz. That's all quarterback Jake Browning, as of right now.
But coming off a 151-yard performance against Utah's stingy rush defense has positioned Gaskin as the Pac-12's leading rusher heading into this all-important final stretch. He's been perfectly consistent this season, playing in the lengthy shadow of Browning and sharing carries with Lavon Coleman, hence the relative lack of national buzz, and lacks a signature game.
Against the porous Cal rush defense, however, Gaskin has a prime opportunity to produce some attention-grabbing numbers.
Cal is giving up 286.6 yards per game on the ground, the most in the nation. USC's Ronald Jones II gashed the Golden Bears for 12.3 yards per carry last week, rolling up 223 in total. Don't be surprised if Gaskin gives Utah running back Joe Williams some competition for the most prolific rushing game of the 2016 season. Williams set that mark two weeks ago with 332 against UCLA.
3. Avoiding The Upset Bug
This week has been characterized by the arguments around the playoff rankings, and Washington's exclusion from a spot at the table. The Huskies' placement at No. 5 suggests the least margin for error among the Power Five conference contenders — save the Big 12, which lacks an obvious front-runner.
With the onus on Washington to run the table, every week presents a landmine for its national title aspirations. Cal has its inconsistencies, but the Golden Bears are dangerous at home. That makes this the quintessential upset game.
Washington needs Heisman contender Browning to be at his best. Some timely turnover-creation from Budda Baker, Sidney Jones or Kevin King would go a long way to prevent the upset bug from biting the Huskies.
Cal's proven adept at dragging teams into shootouts. Realistically, that's the only way the Golden Bears score this landscape-altering upset.
Davis Webb is one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12, if not the nation, and having his full array of receivers available will test the talented Washington defense. Cal will put up points, but Washington is more than capable of responding.
The two-headed backfield of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman will run wild on the Bear rush defense, opening things up for Jake Browning to make some Heisman-highlight plays. His arm may not be needed too often, but it's one more weapon for Huskies head coach Chris Petersen to call on.