For the last six or seven years, Stanford and Oregon have been the best teams in the Pac-12. Well, this year they’re not. Instead, that honor goes to No. 5 Washington (6-0), which thumped the Cardinal and the Ducks by a combined score of 114-27 over the last two weeks.
But are the Huskies legitimate national-title contenders?
“Not only did they beat (Stanford and Oregon), but they pounded both of them and got a lot of recognition because of that,” ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “They’re playing right now as well as anybody, but I do think that the jury is still out. Are they as good as they look? The only reason you say that is this is a team that was 7-6 a year ago. We all thought that this was a team to look out for in the Pac-12 before the season even started. But the way they have flexed their muscles the last two weeks, that’s either the beginning of what’s going to be a special year, or it’s a little bit of they’ve improved, they’re a lot better, (but let’s wait and see).
“It’s the same thing in hoops,” Herbstreit continued. “Sometimes when teams go from (being) nowhere for a long, long time to all of a sudden you come into every week, ‘Oh, they’re just playing Oregon State this week. That’s a given. That’s a win’ – that really is dangerous for new teams to hear all that noise on the outside. When you start to hear people just pat you on the back and tell you you’re too good for that team, you’ll blow that team out – based on my history with this sport, that’s when new teams to the party lose.”
Washington plays just one ranked team the rest of the way: at No. 21 Utah (5-1) on Oct. 29. The Huskies will be clear favorites in each of their final six games.
That’s good, but it’s also potentially dangerous.
“While they look good on the field, Chris Petersen’s experience at Boise State – of being around the old BCS and trying to keep his team focused on the prize – that will have to come into play and hopefully his players will listen to him,” Herbstreit said. “Because it’s not just about executing on the field. It’s about dealing with kind of the psychological aspects of a college football team. People underestimate how powerful that is when you get into November. That could be Washington’s biggest enemy as much as trying to win a football game on a Saturday.”
While the jury is still out on Washington, it’s also out on No. 10 Nebraska (5-0), which has been tested in each of the three weeks against Oregon, Northwestern and Illinois.
Those three teams are a combined 5-11.
“I think they’re much-improved from where they’ve been, (but) I don’t think they’re a top-10 team,” Herbstreit said of the Huskers. “The ball’s in their court. They can shut up everybody by going to Bloomington, by going to Wisconsin, going to Ohio State, going to Iowa. They’ve got four road games left to have a chance to prove that they are a top-10 team. But as we sit here right now, based on some of the results and some of the games that we’ve seen, as much as Tommy Armstrong is improved (and has) a great group of receivers, I can’t say they’re a top-10 team right now.”
Nebraska plays at Indiana (3-2) this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.