Kim Grinolds/

Huskies deserve to play in the desert

The last time the Washington Huskies won an undisputed conference crown, the league didn’t have a championship game. They only played 11 regular season games and the conference champs were always guaranteed a Rose Bowl game versus the Big Ten champs. As much as everything has changed out on the west coast, the Washington Huskies made their 41-10 win over Colorado Friday look positively old-school. 

The Huskies took the game out of Jake Browning’s hands. The controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage with a throwback, slobberknocking-style of play that created 265 yards on the ground on offense and only gave up 82 yards on the ground on defense, making it so their sophomore quarterback didn't have to do too much. 

The game only 14-7 when the second half started, and the Huskies - in Budda Baker’s words - ‘came out swinging’. 

“The message was that it was going to be a four-quarter fight,” Baker said. And by that measure the Huskies took out Colorado by fourth quarter TKO, as the Buffaloes went reeling backward into a pigskin abyss. Their final quarter offense? Minus-four yards. 

Myles Gaskin’s 159 yards rushing, combined with Lavon Coleman’s 101, kept the chains moving and the offense ticking along when the pass game looked ‘awkward’. It was the first time in three years the Huskies had two 100-plus rushers in the same game. 

And defensively? It was reminiscent of 1991. Taylor Rapp channeled his inner Shane Pahukoa with some ball-hawking that earned the true freshman game MVP honors.

“I didn’t see any of this coming,” Rapp said post-game, matter-of-factly. “It’s all so crazy and surreal. It’s like a dream out there.”

It’s no dream, Taylor - even if FOX’s Rob Stone thought your name was Tyler. And even though Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott decided the championship trophy was for 2006 instead of 2016. 

“So proud of those guys,” said Washington Secondary Coach Jimmy Lake. “People don’t know how much they fought through just in this game alone. They were warriors. Ezekiel Turner came in when Jojo McIntosh couldn’t finish. Budda Baker was a warrior for four quarters, didn’t miss a play. I’m so proud of how hard they played.”

And the key performers wearing purple and gold Friday night? All in-state kids. From Gaskin to Rapp, from Baker to Jake Eldrenkamp and Trey Adams. The best Washington teams always had a nucleus of local players. 

The 1991 team? Billy Joe Hobert, Mario Bailey, Kris Rongen, Pete Kaligis, Steve Emtman, Andy Mason, Pahukoa were all vital cogs in the machine Don James built from scratch. 

Chris Petersen said it would take 18-24 months to get the culture instilled he was looking for. Is it any surprise Petersen was able to win his first Pac-12 title in year three, the same time frame James used to win his first conference championship, in 1977? 

And just like James, who was 11-11 his first two seasons on Montlake, it wasn’t smooth sailing for Petersen. But even with a 15-12 combined record in 2014 and 2015 Petersen knew the team was close to doing something special.  

The game Friday night was a clinic James would have been proud of. Run the ball, stop the run, control the line of scrimmage, win special teams and the turnover battle. That's how you win games in November and December. 

“I have so much respect for this conference,” said Petersen. “I know how hard it is to sit up here and I don’t take that for granted at all. This thing started at the end of last season. They worked so hard and we couldn’t quite finish. They kept working and kept being a team and didn’t point fingers. We came back and they’ve been on a mission ever since.”

That mission is still ongoing. Now the only question that remains is - will their next game be played in Glendale, Arizona, or Atlanta? 

That’s a question only the College Football Playoff committee can answer. And that answer will come Sunday morning. 

Any questions the committee may have had about the No. 4 Huskies - their resume, their worth as a potential playoff team - were answered Friday with authority. Those with knowledge of the committee’s reaction to watching Washington’s win, like ESPN’s Heather Dinich, said they were impressed with the Huskies. 

So now it’s just a matter of logistics. Georgia, or Arizona? Atlanta or Glendale? Peaches or Pinatas?

In my mind, there’s no question where Washington deserves to be. They deserve to be traveling to the desert to ring in the new year.

If the committee values that 13th data point - conference championships - as much as they say they do, they have to reward Washington for a convincing win over a top-10 Colorado team. And that also means punishing Ohio State, as much as you could punish a playoff-bound team, for not making it to the Big Ten title game. 

That means, if Alabama and Clemson handle their business Saturday, it’s the Crimson Tide versus the Buckeyes and Tigers versus the Huskies. 

That’s the way it should be, and as long as the teams in front of them go chalk the committee would reward the three conference champions accordingly. 

“We think we’ve got a heck of a team and think we belong in there,” Petersen said of their playoff aspirations. “It works out how it’s supposed to work out.”

And if there’s a football god in Grapevine, Texas Sunday, the Dawgs should be desert-bound. 

“We did what we had to do,” Baker said. “We won our conference championship. And in 2016, we’re the only ones that can say that.”

Now it’s time to reward a 12-1 power-5 conference champion. Now it’s time for the College Football Playoff committee to do the right thing and assign an appropriate value for that conference championship. 

That means putting the Washington Huskies in the Fiesta Bowl come New Year’s Eve. 

It makes financial sense, it makes logistical sense, and it’s the right thing to do. Top Stories