Two years ago Washington won the Pac-12 and advanced to the College Football Playoffs. The Huskies hung in there with Alabama in the semi-finals before the Crimson Tide pulled away 24-7 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
On Sept. 1 Washington returns to Atlanta--this time at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium--to open the season with Auburn. Trust me when I tell you that this is a MONSTER game for Chris Petersen's team. In fact, it's a HUGE game for the entire Pac-12 conference, which hopes to get back into the playoffs. If the Huskies can fly 2,600 miles and beat Auburn, the defending SEC West champions, just two hours from the Tigers' campus, the College Football Playoff selection committee will take notice.
The elements are all there for Washington, the Pac-12 favorite, to win the game and have a big, big year:
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**--The Huskies have a quarterback (Jake Browning) who has started 39 games and was the Pac-12 offensive player of the year in 2016. Browning's touchdown totals dropped from 43 to 19 last season but that was more a function of a ton of injuries to his receivers.
**--Running back Myles Gaskin needs just 52 yards to break the school's all-time rushing record of 4,106 yards. He's very, very good.
**--Four out of five starters return from what was the best offensive line in the Pac-12 last season.
**--They lose a dominant guy up front in Vita Vea but nine starters return from a defense that ranked fifth nationally in scoring (16.1 ppg).
Petersen is back for his fifth year in Washington. He is, in my opinion, one of the top five head coaches in the sport.
If the Huskies can beat Auburn on Sept. 1, they can afford one loss in the Pac-12 and still make the playoffs. If they lose to Auburn, their margin of error is gone. They'll have to run the table. Good luck with that. The good news is that Washington gets Stanford, their biggest challenger for the Pac-12 North, at home on Nov. 3.