Talk to members of this year’s Washington football team for long, and a theme emerges. Most of the Huskies are happy to answer questions about Xs and Os. As soon as the conversation shifts to any off-field topic, a two-word response is likely in the offing:
It’s a noble goal, one that was sorely needed for a team with a 7-18 record on the road during the previous four seasons, for whom distractions seemed all too plentiful. It’s also a mantra that’s getting more and more difficult to follow.
That’s because the undefeated No. 15 Huskies just keep winning. Their matchup Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. with No. 5 Stanford is, along with Ohio State’s visit to Northwestern, one of the two marquee games on the national slate.
As such, after the UW finished practicing Wednesday morning, quarterback Keith Price did separate interviews with ESPN and Sports Illustrated before posing for an ESPN photo shoot.
“I think this is where we should be, getting this kind of attention,” Price told local reporters at the tail end of his media gauntlet. “But we understand that’s not what’s going to make us win games.”
Another, perhaps more serious challenge arose in the wee hours of Sunday morning, when USC fired head coach Lane Kiffin. Immediately, speculation began that the Trojans would try to woo head coach Steve Sarkisian into a return to Southern California.
The USC job likely won’t be filled any time soon, which means the whispers about Sarkisian likely won’t cease. And if the Huskies keep winning, the chatter will only get louder. He has a mix of Trojan pedigree and a history of offensive innovation that would be understandably attractive to USC athletic director Pat Haden and the rest of the Trojan brass.
At his weekly press conference Monday, Sarkisian broached the subject himself, before he could be asked. He said all the right things. He said the UW is his dream job, that he won’t comment on hypotheticals, and that while he respects the tradition of the Trojans, his focus remains entirely on Stanford.
“I’m proud to the be head coach of the 15th-ranked team in America right now,” Sarkisian said, “[and] to be in an awesome matchup on national television on Saturday night against a national-championship contender.”
Two seasons ago, Stanford rushed for 446 yards and beat the Huskies by 44 points on the Farm. Last year, the UW stunned the highly ranked Cardinal at CenturyLink Field. Saturday’s result will probably fall somewhere in between.
Under the leadership of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the UW defense has transformed completely since 2011. It won’t be bullied by the Stanford’s smash-mouth offensive line.
And, unfortunately for the Huskies, Josh Nunes is no longer under center for the Cardinal. Quarterback Kevin Hogan, a serious Heisman Trophy dark horse, will make sure the Stanford offense finds the end zone this year, unlike in 2012.
Matchups like this are the dream to which the Huskies have been building the past five years, a chance to prove beyond doubt the program’s place among the national elite. They’ll need every ounce of indoctrinated focus to down the Cardinal again.
Reach columnist Kevin Dowd at email@example.com. Twitter: @KevinDowd
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