A feeling of excitement not felt for some time in Seattle is building for the Washington Huskies football program, which debuted in the 2022 NCAA Top 25 rankings at No. 18 this week following a 39-28 win over last week's No. 11, Michigan State.
This Saturday, the Huskies (3-0) look to keep winning with the start of their Pac-12 season, hosting Stanford at Husky Stadium in a night game.
Two years ago, Washington couldn't play for the Pac-12 championship because its roster was ravaged by COVID cases. Last season, the team finished 4-8 overall and head coach Jimmy Lake was fired in November over an incident involving a player on the team.
But this season looks different. Washington has 136 points scored in its first three games, even though the first two were at home against Kent State and FCS Portland State.
"Understanding that there is so many things that could have been even better than what happened Saturday night," Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer said. "So I know we've got a group of guys that felt that way at the beginning, that this could be where we're at. And now they see, stacking days on top of days, practices on top of practices and now games on top of games. They're in a good spot. But we can't get full of ourselves."
Washington is led by quarterback Michael Penix, Jr., a transfer from Indiana. Penix has passed for 10 touchdowns and won Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after he passed for 397 yards, the eighth-highest single-game total in school history, against Michigan State.
Stanford (1-1) is coming off a bye last weekend. The Cardinal has already played a conference game, a 41-28 loss at home to now No. 7 USC. Saturday is the second of three consecutive games against potential Top 25 teams, with Washington this week and current No. 15 Oregon on Oct. 1.
According to Stanford Athletics, the Cardinal have 29 wins against nationally-ranked opponents under head coach David Shaw. Five of those have come against Washington, and Stanford is 5-1 when facing a Huskies team ranked in the Top 25.
Shaw is 7-4 against Washington in his career. He called Washington a good football team that is playing fast and with a lot of confidence.
"Not an insurmountable task, but at the same time, there's a level of football that we can play at that's much higher than we've played at so far this year," Shaw said. "So that's our focus."
The Cardinal are led in rushing by running back E.J. Smith, who has 206 yards and three touchdowns in two games. But he's not expected to play Saturday due to a health-related matter.
Shaw hopes Smith can play the following week at Oregon.
Quarterback Tanner McKee has three touchdown passes and three interceptions in two games thus far this season. He's completed 42 of 62 passes for 528 yards.
Head-to-head, the Huskies and Cardinal are 44-44-4 against each other.
--Field Level Media