Washington finished off a terrific 12-1 season with a No. 4 finish in the College Football Playoff rankings, and a berth in the Playoff itself. That's the good news. The bad news is the Huskies' reward is a date with Alabama.
In a year in which everyone has looked human, the Crimson Tide have been the juggernaut. Every other power conference team has at least one loss and struggled with at least some of their opponents. Meanwhile, the only team Alabama truly struggled with was Ole Miss, which they overcame a 21-point deficit tobeat, 48-43. The Crimson Tide didn't win by less than ten the rest of the year.
Understandably, Alabama is favored by a ton: two touchdowns.
Alabama has no weaknesses, but Washington is probably the best team the Crimson Tide will have played this year, and the Huskies do have an opening to pull off the upset: their passing game.
Compared to other parts of the team, Alabama's pass defense has been an absolute disgrace. It's ranked sixth in the country in yards per attempt. I know, fire Nick Saban, right? If you ain't first, you're last.
It's not like passing on Alabama's secondary will be easy, but Washington has the tools to make it work. Quarterback Jake Browning has been impressive in his sophomore season, and he has lots of weapons around him; his top three receivers combined for nearly 2,500 yards. At 9.4 yards per attempt, the Huskies rank ninth in the country in passing offense. Alabama has yet to see a passing offense this good, and the last time the Crimson Tide did see an offense that was so committed to throwing the ball all over the field, they almost lost to Ole Miss.
With an effective passing game that uses the entire field, Washington can open up space that otherwise probably wouldn't be there for star running back Myles Gaskin. Usually, in the offensively challenged SEC, Alabama can simply key in on one aspect of the offense. Not against Washington. The Crimson Tide certainly have the talent to do it, but it will at least be interesting to see them forced to take on that challenge for once.
The passing game could become interesting on the other side of the ball, too. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has been a nightmare for the rest of the SEC, and he will be for years to come, but he is sometimes careless with the ball, throwing nine interceptions on the season. Washington's pass defense is among the most opportunistic in the country, ranking fourth nationally in interceptions. The last time the Crimson Tide played a pass defense this good was, well, never—Washington is tied with Alabama in yards per attempt given up, higher than any other SEC team.
Moreover, Washington coach Chris Petersen is perhaps the best coach in the country at game-planning as an underdog. He burst onto the scene with Boise State in 2007, shocking Oklahoma on a last-second Statue of Liberty play to win the Fiesta Bowl, and he will assuredly have some tricks up his sleeve against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama is probably going to win this game, because the Crimson Tide have more talent and are better coached than anyone else in college football. However, Washington presents a unique challenge that Alabama has yet to see—a spread-it-out vertical passing game and a pass defense seemingly built to take advantage of mistakes. The last time the Crimson Tide saw the former, they nearly lost to a much inferior team. They haven't seen the latter. Sleep on the Huskies at your own risk.