While No. 5 Washington looks to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 championship game, No. 10 Oregon State could play disruptor in its final home game before 10 teams leave the conference.
There's drama everywhere Saturday when the undefeated Huskies (10-0, 7-0, No. 5 CFP) visit the Beavers (8-2, 5-2, No. 11 CFP) at Reser Stadium.
The Huskies have been barreling through the conference toward a spot in the Pac-12 title game. Win Saturday and they're in. Lose, and things could get complicated.
Right behind Washington in the league standings is No. 6 Oregon, which has national championship aspirations just like the Huskies. The Ducks have just one loss — to Washington earlier this season.
Behind those two teams are Oregon State and Arizona, both with two conference losses. If Oregon State can beat Washington and then the Ducks in the season finale, there's the possibility — albeit slim — that the Beavers could play for the league title on Dec. 1 in Las Vegas.
Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith is going to let the pundits figure out all the scenarios. The Beavers, coming off a 62-17 thrashing of Stanford, are just going to play.
“It’s a big-time game, but you don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary in regards to your preparation. A lot of these games come down to who doesn’t screw it up," he said. “There’s a lot of outside noise in big games, but it still comes down to your focus and preparation.”
Washington is embracing the spotlight, and presumably the pressure that comes with it. The Huskies are coming off a 35-28 victory over No. 16 Utah, which effectively knocked the Utes out of a shot at the conference championship.
“We’ve put ourselves in a spot now where, I mean every game does matter, but it really has a heightened level of importance and we’re excited about that," Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer said. "I think our guys really play well when the lights are bright.”
Saturday's game will be the first time the two teams have faced each other with both ranked in the AP's Top 10.
The Beavers have won nine straight games at Reser Stadium, most since 1999-2000. On the other side, the Huskies have a 17-game overall winning streak.
In a backdrop to the drama on the field, Saturday will mark the final Pac-12 game at Reser Stadium as the conference now stands.
The league imploded this summer, when the rest of the conference joined USC and UCLA in jumping ship — leaving Oregon State and Washington State behind.
The Beavers and the Cougars vowed to fight, and this week won an important legal battle against the 10 departing schools. A judge granted the two schools a preliminary injunction giving them control of the conference and millions of dollars in assets.
“Nothing’s going to change in the Pac-12,” Whitman County Superior Court Judge Gary Libey said. “The athletes will still be competing. The schools will still be doing business, Pac-12 will still be doing business but will be governed by the two universities that have not submitted their notice of withdrawal.”
DeBoer said the Huskies aren't really concerned about the outside stuff. Washington is headed to the Big Ten next season, along with Oregon, the Trojans and the Bruins.
“Knowing that they’re going to bring everything they got, they’re going to be at home, they’re playing well, they got good momentum. So just really making it that simple, not about the other stuff, but about realizing that we’re going to get their best shot just like we have with everyone else," DeBoer said.
Washington's Michael Penix Jr. still has time to prove his worthiness for the Heisman Trophy, even though Oregon's Bo Nix appears to be the frontrunner at this point of the season.
Penix leads the nation with an average of 353.3 yards a game, and he's thrown for 28 touchdowns. He's got more completed passes of 10 yards or more than any other QB in the country.
“He’s accurate as all get-out. He’s got a big-time arm. He’s got a ton of confidence, which he should," said Smith, a former quarterback himself who served as a quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator for the Huskies from 2014-17. "Doesn’t take sacks, gives guys chances, accurate, stands in there when he needs to. That’s why he’s one of the best in the country.”
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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football