For the first time since the fourth week of the 2009 season, following a 16-13 upset of No. 3-ranked USC, the Washington Huskies find themselves among the nation’s Top 25 college football teams, according to Associated Press rankings released Sunday.
The Huskies (5-1-0) made their 2011 debut at No. 22, the highest they have been ranked since the fifth week of the 2003 season, following a 28-17 victory over Stanford, Washington’s opponent next Saturday in Palo Alto, CA.
The Huskies, who received 221 points from AP voters, earned their way into the Top 25 with a dominant 52-24 victory over unranked Colorado Saturday at Husky Stadium.
Seven Washington players scored touchdowns as the 2011 Huskies became the first team in school history to score 30 or more points in the first six games of a season.
The 52 points marks the most by a UW team in a single game since the Huskies dropped 53 on Idaho on Sept. 22, 2001. The Huskies scored 38 of their 52 in the first half, most in any half since they scorched Oregon State for 45 in a 47-21 romp on Oct. 9, 1999 (that matched the school’s one-half record, first set against Northwestern in 1980).
Washington also collected a season-high 562 yards, just the third time the Huskies have crossed the 500-yard barrier in the Steve Sarkisian era. Of the 562, 295 came via the run. Colorado managed just 269 total yards, only 62 rushing (stingiest performance by a UW defense since allowing Washington State 47 in the 2009 Apple Cup).
In only one other game of the Sarkisian era — the Dec. 4, 2010 Apple Cup against the Cougars — has UW rushed for more yards in a game. The Huskies had 315 in that 35-18 win, with tailback Chris Polk accounting for a career-high 284.
At 5-1 overall, Washington is off to its best start since 2001, the 10th time that a Husky team has started 5-1 since 1975 (Washington has started 6-0 five times in that span).
At 3-0, the Huskies are off to their best start in conference (Pac-12) play since 1997, when a Brock Huard-led team reeled off five consecutive Pac-10 wins between Oct. 4-Nov. 1 en route to an 8-4 record and an appearance opposite Michigan State in the Aloha Bowl.
Despite averaging 37.0 points per game, most by a UW team since the 1991 co-national champion Huskies averaged 38.4, Washington is expected to be a brief visitor to the Top 25.
The Huskies Saturday face a 6-0 Stanford team that ranks No. 7 in the poll. A 44-14 winner at Washington State on Saturday, Stanford demolished the Huskies 41-0 last year and features Andrew Luck, who probably will be the first quarterback — and perhaps the first player — selected in next spring’s NFL draft.
Luck completed 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards and one touchdown with one interception in the victory over the Cougars. Luck, who has 18 touchdown passes, will enter the game against Washington with a 180.6 passer efficiency rating (Washington’s Keith Price is at 177.9 with 21 TDs), and is likely salivating at the prospect of facing the UW secondary, the team’s weakest link, allowing an average of 303.7 yards per game.
While Washington averages 37 points, Stanford yields just 11.2, while scoring at a rate that makes UW pale — 45.8.
Colorado is the only common opponent so far to play UW and Stanford. The Buffaloes scored 17 more points against Washington than they did against Stanford, which beat Colorado 48-7.
Even if Price and the Husky offense manage to outshoot Luck and Stanford, UW also has a date three weeks from now against No. 9-ranked Oregon. Washington hasn’t beaten the Ducks since 2003, three UW head coaches ago (Tyrone Willingham, Keith Gilberton and Rick Neuheisel).
Between the Stanford and Oregon games, Washington plays at Arizona. But beating the 1-5 (0-4 in Pac-12 play) Wildcats won’t gain Huskies any poll cred.
So if oddsmakers are accurate, Washington won’t be long for the polls. But that Washington is ranked at all, after Sarkisian’s 30th regular-season game, is noteworthy.
When Jim Owens (1957-74) became head coach, he had the Huskies nationally ranked after 24 games for the fifth week of the 1959 season when UW was No. 18 opposite Southern California. When Don James took over for Owens in 1975, it took James 32 games, or to the 11th game of his third year (1977), for the Huskies to achieve a national ranking No. 19 for a season-ender against Washington State.
But neither Owens nor James had to dig out of an 0-12 abyss the way Sarkisian has. Owens inherited a 5-5 team from Darrell Royal, who bolted after one season (1956) to coach the Texas Longhorns. Owens handed James a 5-6 team that included some pretty decent talent, including future first-round NFL draft pick Blair Bush and a dozen other players (such as Nesby Glasgow) who would spend some time in the NFL.
While the rapidity with which Sarkisian has turned UW into a ranked program rates an eye bulge, it really doesn’t matter whether the Huskies finish ranked. For recruiting purposes, a bowl game matters, and Washington needs one more victory to become eligible.
The direction in which Sarkisian has pointed the Huskies matters even more and, from here, it certainly looks like the right one.