SEATTLE >> It’s a very strange place that No. 16 Washington finds itself in with two games left in the regular season.
The Huskies’ hopes of landing a spot in the College Football Playoff were dashed when they lost to Stanford. Their shot at playing in the Pac-12 championship game is completely out of their control. Even if the Huskies (8-2, 5-2, No. 18 CFP) win their last two games to reach 10 victories it may not be good enough to land them an at-large spot in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games.
In the end, the Huskies may end up playing the role of spoilers, beginning with Saturday’s game against Utah.
But things could still swing significantly in Washington’s favor. If California can upset Stanford on Saturday then Washington’s situation becomes far different. In that scenario, the Huskies only need a win over No. 15 Washington State in the Apple Cup to claim a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
But if Stanford beats Cal then Washington becomes a spoiler. A win over Utah would keep the Utes waiting another week to try to gain bowl eligibility, and a win over the rival Cougars in the Apple Cup would keep Washington State out of the Pac-12 title game.
“These will be two really tough games and I know this: We’ll feel really good about ourselves if we can get that done. Because these are going to be tough challenges,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “Then we look up and say, ‘OK, now what?’ But for us to sit here and worry — that has nothing to do with the mindset we have around here.”
The Utes (5-5, 2-5) need one victory in their final two games to become bowl eligible for the fourth straight season. After starting the season 4-0, the Utes have lost five of six, including last week’s 33-25 home loss to Washington State.
The Utes are bruised and battered, uncertain of the status of the Pac-12’s leading receiver, Darren Carrington, and could be down three starters on defense. Carrington, safety Chase Hansen and linebacker Sunia Tauteoli did not play against Washington State, while defensive end Kylie Fitts left the game with an injury.
“It doesn’t appear right now like there are any season-ending injuries. Although, in the regular season there are only two games left, so it is kind of a relative statement,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We just hope for the best, but there are a half-dozen guys that are in the situation of, ‘Are they or aren’t they going to play?’”
Here are other things to watch for as the Huskies look to improve to 10-1 all-time vs. Utah:
Utah needs a far better game from quarterback Tyler Huntley than the way he played last week against Washington State. Huntley threw five interceptions against the Cougars after having just four interceptions in his first seven games of the season. Huntley did throw for 330 yards, but needs to rediscover the efficiency of the previous week when he threw four touchdowns on just 22 pass attempts against UCLA.
AIR IT OUT
A year ago, Washington QB Jake Browning threw for 43 touchdowns, regularly hitting big plays downfield.
With two games left in the regular season, Browning has just 16 TD passes and only six of those have been of 20 yards or more. Last year, Browning had six TD passes of 20 or more yards in the first two games of the season.
Browning needs just one more touchdown pass to set a career school record. He’s currently tied with Keith Price with 75 career TD passes.
Washington linebacker Azeem Victor was suspended indefinitely this week following his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence. Petersen would not commit to whether Victor will play again this season.
Victor was a preseason AP All-American as an inside linebacker but was suspended for the season opener and eventually lost his starting job to Ben Burr-Kirven. Washington was in the process of transitioning Victor to a defensive end/outside linebacker.
If it comes down to a field goal, Utah has arguably the best kicker in the country. Matt Gay leads the nation with 22 field goals. He’s 22 of 26 on the season, including five of six on kicks of 50 or more yards. Gay’s season-long is 56 yards.