At 6-0 and with five of those victories coming by a final margin of 35 or more points, the Washington Huskies are the obvious favorite to win the Pac-12 championship this season. And with six games remaining against teams they will be favored to defeat -- according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, Stanford is the only Pac-12 team with a softer remaining schedule than UW -- the Huskies are also a popular pick for inclusion in the four-team College Football Playoff at season’s end. According to ESPN’s projections, UW does not have a game left on its schedule in which its odds of winning are below 72.2 percent, and the Huskies have a 30.1 percent chance of winning out.
But there are still challenges ahead, particularly in the form of three road games, including a certain rivalry game the day after Thanksgiving that could determine the Pac-12 North champion.
So, with the Huskies on a bye this week, let’s take a crack at ranking UW’s six remaining games, in order of least to most difficult.
6. Washington vs. Oregon State, Oct. 22, Husky Stadium
Degree of difficulty: 1 out of 10
The skinny: The Beavers don’t appear to be nearly as bad as they were a year ago, if only for the simple fact that they actually have a Pac-12 victory -- last week’s 47-44 overtime win over California. But nothing OSU has done indicates the Beavers are capable of competing with the Huskies, especially in Seattle. UW’s 52-7 romp in Corvallis last season is probably a pretty good indicator of the way this year’s matchup will go, too.
Cause for concern: None in particular, though OSU did score 47 points against a Pac-12 team last week. Granted, it was against a Pac-12 team with a really bad defense, but still. The Beavers at least showed signs of life.
5. Washington vs. Arizona State, Nov. 19, Husky Stadium
Degree of difficulty: 3 out of 10
The skinny: Halfway through the season, the Sun Devils are still a tough team to figure out. They’re 5-1 but haven’t really played anybody -- they’ve beaten only one team with fewer than three losses -- and their one loss, 41-20 at USC, was pretty bad. ASU does rank 24th nationally in scoring offense at 39.7 points per game, but ranks only 76th in offensive yards per play, ranks 99th in scoring defense and ranks 122nd in yards per play allowed.
Cause for concern: The fact that Washington hasn’t beaten Arizona State since 2001 should be enough to give Huskies fans a bit of anxiety heading into this one; something weird always seems to happen when they play the Sun Devils. And if quarterback Manny Wilkins is healthy, he will be the best running quarterback the Huskies have faced since Arizona’s Brandon Dawkins, and they obviously had a hard time containing him.
4. Washington at California, Nov. 5, Memorial Stadium
Degree of difficulty: 4 out of 10
The skinny: The Golden Bears have the second-best offense of the six teams left on UW’s schedule, both in scoring and yards per play. They will test the Huskies’ secondary, for sure. And they seemed to prove something with that last-second goal line stand and 28-23 victory over Utah. But Cal’s slip-up in Corvallis last week showed the Bears are still quite flawed, and they probably just are not good enough defensively -- 104th nationally in yards per play allowed, 119th in scoring defense at 40 points per game -- to handle a UW offense that currently ranks among the five best in the country.
Cause for concern: Quarterback Davis Webb and star receiver Chad Hansen. Hansen (59 catches, 770 yards, 8 touchdowns) leads the Pac-12 in receiving by a mile, and Webb looks for him often. Should be a fun matchup with UW cornerback Sidney Jones.
3. Washington vs. USC, Nov. 12, Husky Stadium
Degree of difficulty: 5 out of 10
The skinny: On paper, the Trojans don’t do anything better than the Huskies. They rank 53rd in yards per play, 59th in yards per play allowed, 94th in scoring offense, 56th in scoring defense. Granted, USC has played a much tougher schedule than Washington, including that 52-6 trouncing against No. 1 Alabama to open the season. And the Trojans have looked a lot better offensively since replacing Max Browne with Sam Darnold at quarterback. Plus ...
Cause for concern: USC still has a bunch of really talented football players, and you just never know when those guys are going to put it all together and play a complete game. JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the toughest receivers to cover in the country. Justin Davis (though currently out with an ankle sprain) and Ronald Jones are tough runners. Darnold is completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 9.31 yards per attempt. This isn’t a game Washington should lose, but as things currently stand, I doubt it will be a cakewalk.
2. Washington at Utah, Oct. 29, Rice-Eccles Stadium
Degree of difficulty: 6 out of 10
The skinny: This will be a fun atmosphere in Salt Lake City, with a top-five team in town on Halloween weekend. It will also be the Huskies’ first trip to Salt Lake since a 31-14 victory in 2011, Utah’s first season in the Pac-12. It will also be something a revenge game for Utes quarterback Troy Williams, who transferred from UW following the 2014 season. All that said, I think if any team is going to beat the Huskies this season, it will be one with more offensive firepower than Utah -- the Utes rank 87th nationally in yards per rush and 71st in passing efficiency.
Cause for concern: The Utes haven’t faced an offense like Washington’s, but they have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 28 points in a game this season. If there is a team on UW’s schedule that can keep the score low and turn the game into more of a defensive struggle, it might be Utah.
1. Washington at Washington State, Nov. 25, Martin Stadium
Degree of difficulty: 7 out of 10
The skinny: If the Cougars enter this game with one or zero Pac-12 losses -- and UW doesn’t trip up in its next five contests -- the winner of the Apple Cup will win the Pac-12 North and advance to the league title game. In other words, this could go down as one of the most memorable Apple Cups in history. WSU announced a couple weeks ago that the game is sold out. ESPN’s FPI currently ranks this as UW’s most difficult remaining game, though it still gives the Huskies a 72.2 percent chance of victory. But if you believe UW’s blowout victories over Stanford and Oregon were impressive, you must also give the Cougars their props for destroying the same two teams in consecutive weeks.
Cause for concern: This one is pretty obvious: WSU’s offense. Sure, the Huskies embarrassed the Cougars in Husky Stadium last year, but star quarterback Luke Falk didn’t play in that game. He commands an offense that ranks 23rd nationally in yards per play, ninth in scoring offense and third in first-downs per game -- and with a deep group of running backs, the Cougars are actually running the ball at a healthy clip of 4.97 yards per carry. The Cougars’ defense does allow 6.25 yards per play, which ranks 106th nationally. But this is the most dynamic, dangerous offense the Huskies will face the rest of the season.