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The New Washington Football Reality

The Huskies are a legitimate playoff contender. So now what?

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

FSU did it in 2013 and 2014, but they are the anomaly. It hasn't happened in the SEC since Alabama did it in 2009. We haven't seen it in the Big Ten since Ohio State in 2012. Oregon did it once in the PAC - that was 2010. Before that, it was USC in 2005. Stanford hasn't done it in the FBS era.

It is hard to put together an undefeated regular season in a Power 5 conference. Very hard. Of the eight teams that have been selected into the College Football Playoffs, only that 2014 FSU team did so with an undefeated record in tow. The 2016 Washington Huskies stand on the precipice of perhaps becoming the second team to do so.

In fact, if the Huskies any designs at all on the playoffs, running the table might be the only way to get there.

Washington has already made a mark in program history. Yesterday, UW was recognized as one of the top 5 projected college football playoff contenders when the College Football Playoff Committee released its first rankings of the season.

While that is a remarkable development for a program that just eight years ago would have been happy to get even a single victory, it rings hollow. We all enjoy the momentum and attention it brings to our program, but we are also feeling a pang that just continues to linger. It is the feeling of discomfort that gnaws away at your gut when the optimism of hope gives way to the disquietude of expectation.

For any fan who hasn't yet sourced at least a couple of grey hairs somewhere on his or her scalp, we are in territory wholly unfamiliar. Currently sitting at 8-0, the Huskies have an opportunity to replicate a feat not accomplished since the 1991 national championship team.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on which simulation tool you prefer, UW has anywhere between a 20-50% probability of finishing the season undefeated (29.7% per ESPN’s popular FPI metric). That is considerably better than where the team was at this time last weekend when the probability estimates were single digits. To make this analysis a reality, UW is going to have to handle home games against USC and ASU as well as road trips to Cal and WSU. Making things even more stressful is the fact that at least two of those four teams will likely be ranked.

Interestingly, UW’s odds of running the regular season table are the consensus lowest of among each of the remaining undefeated Power 5 teams. In addition, three other major contenders remaining in the playoff hunt—Louisville, Texas A&M, and Ohio State —have similar or better probabilities of finishing their schedules undefeated. As such, the playoff race is very much on.

What this adds up to for the Huskies is a single, unassailable conclusion: the time to win is now.

Chris Petersen has guided UW through a remarkable rebuilding process, and in just three seasons has positioned them as the premiere team in the PAC. However, nothing is guaranteed in the Conference of Champions. Teams like USC, Stanfor, and UCLA still have rosters stocked full of four- and five-star talents. Teams like Oregon, Utah, WSU, and Colorado have enough pieces and/or momentum to be a factor for seasons to come. Based on the competition level alone, it may be a while before we see another season in which UW goes into November undefeated.

NCAA Football: Washington at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In addition, one can’t overlook the attrition situation. Though UW is still very young, there is little doubt that there will be a significant exodus after the season. In addition to the seniors, players like Sidney Jones and Budda Baker are almost certain to declare. Other players such as John Ross, Azeem Victor, Vita Vea, and Elijah Qualls are also sure to weigh their options carefully.

In the immortal words of Apollo Creed, "There is no tomorrow.”

UW couldn’t ask for better positioning at this point in the season. They are healthy, they are playing at a high level on both sides of the ball, and they have the alignment of stars in the national rankings that ensures an opportunity at a national championship if they can follow it through.

Yup. I just said it. A national championship is a viable aspiration for this team. Moreover, this might UW’s best opportunity to achieve it for some time.

It is time for Husky fans to embrace this concept. Heaven knows the players certainly have. No more debate about whether or not they ‘have the pieces to match up.’ No more wondering if the time is right. The plan may have been for the 2017 team to be the team, but the opportunity is in the here and now. Every opponent is a mortal threat. Every possession is a precious treasure. Every blade of glass is deserving of a fierce defense.

The prize is in sight.

This is happening, folks. The Huskies are on the front porch knocking on the door.

Time to knock that sucker down.