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In Alabama, Huskies to Face College Football’s Premiere Juggernaut

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It’s no exaggeration to say that Nick Saban and the No. 1 Crimson Tide represent the greatest challenge the Huskies have faced in over a decade.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Florida Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

“We Want Bama!”

For years, these three words have been the calling card of fans representing every program in the country looking to establish themselves on the national stage. Just last month, some fans of the Washington Huskies took it upon themselves to insert Husky Nation into that club.

Well, Dawg fans, the College Football Playoff selection committee has granted your wish. You want Bama? You’ve got ‘em. As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, the No. 4 Washington Huskies will make their first appearance in the College Football Playoff by taking on the No. 1 Crimson Tide in a New Years Eve game at noon Pacific.

Alabama’s dominance of college football’s national stage is thorough to the point that overstating it is all but impossible. Under the guidance of former Don James disciple Nick Saban, the Tide have won four of the past seven national titles; no other program has earned more than one during that period. Between 2009 and 2016, Alabama’s scoring defense ranked 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 6th, 2nd and 1st nationally. And perhaps most tellingly, NFL teams drafted 48 Bama players during that stretch; a comparatively meager 13 Husky alums heard their names called at the NFL Draft throughout that span.

What’s more, Alabama’s 2016 defense might be its most dominant yet. Per ESPN’s Chantel Jennings, the Crimson Tide’s 2.03 yards allowed per rush is college football’s best mark since at least 2007. So far, the best rushing defense Washington has faced in 2016 belongs to USC (3.87 yards per rush, ranked 33rd nationally); against them, the Huskies carried the ball 27 times for an impotent 17 yards (0.63 yards per attempt).

All of this is evidence of what should be exceedingly obvious: The Crimson Tide will present the Huskies with their most difficult opponent in a decade, going back to at least the 2004 USC Trojans that maintained their No. 1 ranking in the AP poll throughout the entire season. Most members of the betting public give the Huskies little chance to win in what amounts to a home game for Alabama in Atlanta, as the Tide opened as 14-point favorites. (It bears noting that the Peach Bowl will be the first game of the season in which Washington is not the odds-on betting favorite.)

On the other hand, what factors regarding this game should give Husky fans hope? For starters, it seems reasonable to say that Chris Petersen and Nick Saban are among the most dangerous coaches in college football when given multiple weeks to prepare for opponents, and it could prove to be an tremendously exciting opportunity to see what happens when these two great football minds square off against one another. For as much four- and five-star talent the Crimson Tide boast throughout the two-deep of every position group on the team — and make no mistake, Alabama’s Jimmies-and-Joes advantage is breathtaking — players like Jake Browning, John Ross, Trey Adams, Vita Vea, Sidney Jones and Budda Baker have the athletic talent to match their counterparts step-for-step if they each play to their potential.

We’ll have more to talk about regarding the Peach Bowl in the days and weeks to come, but what won’t change is this: Pac-12 champion Washington is one of four teams in the entire country with a path to winning a national championship, has a head coach who is the envy of all but a small handful of institutions and fan bases across America, and boasts NFL talent at every position group on the field. And while it seems unlikely that they will bump off what is the most dominant football dynasty in a generation, the Huskies will have a 60-minute opportunity on the field of play to do just that, and cement themselves into college football history.

If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. College football glory is within reach of the Washington Huskies; now, they have to go out and seize it. And win or lose, their fans will be there alongside them every step of the way.