Coming into the season, Stanford was the favorite to win the Pac-12 North division, but Washington wasn't far behind.
The Huskies came into the season with high expectations, and a top-15 national ranking. Somehow, they've managed to exceed those expectations.
On Friday night, the Colorado Buffaloes will take on the Huskies in the Pac-12 championship game.
BuffZone.com caught up with Adam Jude, who covers the Huskies for The Seattle Times, to get his thoughts on the team and this week's matchup.
BuffZone: Like Colorado, Washington is gaining more national attention this year, and the Huskies will be on the big stage of the Pac-12 championship for the first time. How do you feel like this team has handled the spotlight and the pressure?
Jude: Anyone who has spent more than a minute with Chris Petersen knows he hates the spotlight. So he took a head-on approach with the team in the offseason to try to eliminate potential distractions from the hype and media attention that had been building, and he's continued that approach all season. It's certainly a new stage for the players here, but Petersen is relying on his experience being in the national spotlight for so long at Boise State, and it's worked well enough up to this point.
BuffZone: From the outside, quarterback Jake Browning seems to be unflappable, and he's having a phenomenal season. What makes him so good, and is there anything he really struggles with on the field?
Jude: Last year, Browning was the first true freshman in UW history to open the season as the starting QB. He's a sharp guy who read defenses well and goes through his progressions quicker than any QB I've been around. It's rare that a defense fools him. He's the most efficient QB in school history and will likely get an invitation to the Heisman ceremony if he has a good game vs. Colorado. In UW's only loss, USC got great pressure from its front seven and didn't give much breathing room. But when UW's O-line gives Browning time, he's as good as anyone.
BuffZone: Why is the Washington defense so good, and who are the players that CU needs to keep an eye on throughout the game?
Jude: If you listen to UW offensive players this week, Colorado's defense and UW's defense have similar makeups. Both have excellent secondaries, and the Huskies have three guys who could end up being drafted next year in the first three rounds. Sidney Jones and Budda Baker were both selected to the all-Pac-12 first team in each of the last two years, and Kevin King has had a tremendous senior season. In the middle, linebacker Keishawn Bierria is the heart and soul of the defense, and defensive tackle Elijah Qualls was also a first-team all-Pac-12 pick.
BuffZone: What did USC and Utah do defensively to find success against the Husky offense?
Jude: It started up front. For the Huskies' offensive breakthrough this season, I'd give a lot of credit to a much-improve UW offensive line. But the Huskies say USC and Utah were the two best defensive fronts they've seen, and in the USC game in particular UW's O-line struggled. USC shut down the Huskies' running game (17 yards on 27 carries) and put constant pressure on Browning, who didn't get much time to find UW's two explosive wide receivers, John Ross and Dante Pettis.
BuffZone: Going into Friday's game, what concerns should Washington have in going up against Colorado?
Jude: This has to be the best defense UW has faced all season, and the concern for UW will be becoming one-dimensional on offense. The Huskies want to be balanced, and they'll want to get off to a fast start — something they've been able to do in most games this season. That won't be easy against this great CU defense. On the other side, the Huskies' had trouble with the one true dual-threat QB they faced (Arizona's Brandon Dawkins), and they know how tough Sefo Liufau is in the run game. That, no doubt, is a big concern for UW's defense.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.