Looking back more than 100 years, two names have always been associated with West Coast football as members of the same conference.
Washington and California.
The schools were among the founding members of the Pacific Coast Conference, established in 1916, and have remained a constant through its various iterations. This connection between the Huskies and the Golden Bears will end after this season. Washington is headed to the Big Ten; Cal is headed to the ACC.
Saturday’s match between the eighth-ranked Huskies and the Golden Bears, which opens the Pac-12 season for both, brings uncertainty about whether two schools that have been linked for so long will ever meet again.
For those involved in this edition, the story of the game is secondary to the importance of starting conference play with a win.
“With every game, the stakes increase as you take care of business in Week 1,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said.
Saturday marks the 101st time the two teams will meet, and this may well be the most explosive offense Washington (3-0) has ever brought to the game.
The Huskies racked up 713 yards of offense last week against future conference foe Michigan State, the second-most total in a game in Washington. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has thrown for at least 400 yards in each of the first three games and the Huskies enter the week ranked second nationally in total offense and eighth in total offense.
“Michael Penix is an elite quarterback. He is very, very precise. He can run, he just doesn’t have to run much and they have some really outstanding players around him,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said.
Despite all of their offensive strength, California (2-1) is traditionally a difficult opponent for the Huskies. The teams have split the last four meetings, all decided by seven points or less, and Cal has held Washington to 31 points or less in all four games.
That will be a challenge this time. If the Huskies can reach 40 points this week, it will be the first time since 1944 that they have scored 40 or more points in four consecutive games in the same season.
BACK IN TIME
Cal struggled against FCS opponent Idaho early last week, in part because Jadyn Ott was watching after coming off a loss against Auburn a week earlier.
Ott’s return this week will be crucial if the Golden Bears want to have a chance to make an impact.
In the two games he has played, Ott has averaged 6.7 yards per carry, although yards were a little more difficult to come by in the loss to Auburn when he was held to 78 yards on 20 carries. He faces a Washington rush defense that is ranked ninth in the conference so far.
While Ott should be back in the lineup, his quarterback is more of a question. Both Sam Jackson V and Ben Finley are listed as possible starters.
“Both guys have a chance to play,” Wilcox said. “Both are different quarterback styles. We feel like we need to get better at this position – like everyone else – but we also need to get better at this position. We have to be more efficient in this position.”
Because as good as things have been going for Washington so far, concerns about injury are increasing. The Huskies will be without starting center Matteo Mele and top reserve cornerback Devon Banks for the rest of the season due to injuries. DeBoer said this week that both underwent surgery for upper-body injuries. The Huskies were already without presumptive starting running back Cam Davis after he suffered a season-ending injury in camp.
Taj Davis will always hold a special place in Washington as he had a 62-yard fourth-quarter touchdown catch in last year’s win at Oregon. But Davis never had a chance to become a primary target with the Huskies’ deep wide receiver group all returning, so he transferred to Cal in the offseason. Davis has eight catches for 81 yards and a touchdown for the Golden Bears this season.
FUN WITH NUMBERS
Earlier in the season, the Huskies beat Boise State by 37, Tulsa by 33 and Michigan State by 34. It is the first time since 1991 that the Huskies have defeated three consecutive FBS-level opponents by 30 or more points than each other Washington shared the national championship with Miami.