You probably didn’t notice, but the most important game of the Pac-12 season is this week.
Don’t bother looking for it on the Saturday schedule. It’s Friday night.
You also probably didn’t notice that Washington is in the top 10 this year. They’re 4-0 on the season, having outscored opponents 183 to 58. They are absolutely contenders in the Pac-12 North, and frankly, there’s only one other school who could claim the division.
It’s the same school that seems to be in contention every year: Stanford.
With the Pac-12 South’s … let’s be nice and call it parity … the winner of the Pac-12 North will be the prohibitive favorite to win the conference.
Friday night, in Seattle, the two best teams in the Pac-12 North face off — it's a de-facto conference championship game.
Hopefully, someone will be watching.
The game starts at 9 p.m. Eastern, meaning it will in all likelihood end after midnight for more than half of Americans. There’s going to be a lot of falling asleep on the coach in the middle of the third quarter Friday night/Saturday morning.
You can argue that the reason Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey didn’t win the Heisman Trophy last year was because not enough people watched him play — the Cardinal were cursed with terrible television time slots for most of the season, meaning the east coast rarely took in McCaffrey’s performances. The highlights didn't do it justice, but that's how people watched McCaffrey play.
At least one major conference is going to be left out of the College Football Playoff every year — there are five “power” conferences and only four spots. Last year, it was the Pac-12 that was left out, and there wasn’t much argument.
But if, say, all the major conference winners have one loss at the end of the season, it's most likely that the Pac-12, with its … parity … will be the league left out, again.
The chances of that are higher if Stanford is the Pac-12 champion.
The Cardinal are a wonderful football team and a model program, but even with McCaffrey, they’re pretty boring. It’s a power run game and rock-solid defense that keeps the lights on at The Farm, and style points are not part of Stanford’s equation.
Style points are, however, part of the equation for the College Football Playoff. They want the best four teams for their TV shows, and while Stanford might be sound, it doesn't move the needle.
Washington, on the other hand, has a chance to be one of the most exciting teams in the nation.
To this point, though, it's only a chance.
Washington hasn’t proved it yet. They blew out Rutgers in the season opener and played Arizona close on the road last week –those are their best tests thus far. Obviously, neither of those opponents were Stanford.
That said, the Huskies have one of the most talented defenses in the nation and their offense is a wonderful hybrid of speed and power. They’re a joy to watch and they’re surely going to catch the eye of the casual fan throughout the year — if that fan has a reason to stay up and watch.
The Huskies are young, talented, fun and new. Maybe they could keep someone in Buffalo awake for a whole Pac-12 game.
Washington is the best hope to overcoming the Pac-12’s not-so-great reputation around college football. If the Huskies can prove this weekend that they’re the best the league has to offer, the nation will have no choice but to check Washington out for themselves at some point over the next two months.
That's a good thing, because if Stanford wins, no one is going to give the Pac-12 another look. The Cardinal, right or wrong, are a known commodity, and the valuation isn't great.
Friday’s game is one of the best of the college football season, but for one of the biggest conferences in America, it's the most important game of the year.
Is Washington going to prove it’s one of the nation's elite teams? The Pac-12 league office can’t openly root, but for their own sake, they should be hoping so.