Why the USC Game is Washington’s Biggest of the Year


I know some of you may snicker at the title of this post. Why would USC be the Huskies’ most important game of the year? There was #10 Nebraska. There was #4 Stanford. There was our hated rival, #7 Oregon in the last game at current Husky Stadium, with a 7-game winning streak and their obnoxious fans. Wouldn’t any of those be the biggest game of the year?

My answer to you? No…

The reasons this game against USC is the biggest of the year comes down to comparable data. The three Washington losses thus far were all against Top 10 teams (well until Nebraska inexplicably lost to Northwestern). To expect a Washington team halfway into its third season under a new head coach following an 0-12 season to be contending against the Top 10 teams in America was always probably a stretch and was perhaps unfair to the coaches and players at this stage in their rebuilding phase. But, USC is a bit of a different story. Here you have a team having a very good year (7-2) sitting at the edge of the Top 25. Here you have a team with tons of talent, but who is beatable. Here you have a road game, in a hostile environment. Here you have a team who wants revenge for being upset the last two consecutive seasons. There can be no better measuring stick for the Huskies of where they are at in their development than against a team who in many ways is just a slight notch above them.

There are three phases of rebuilding for a program:

1)  Beat the bottom-dwellers and “teams you should beat”.

2) Beat the teams who are similar or slightly better than you are, or at least have the road games be close.

3) Finally, you know you are back when you can beat the elite programs at least some of the time.

We know that Washington is not at Stage 3 yet. They’ve had three chances this year and could not get within 13 points of any of them. We do know Washington is firmly at Stage 1 because the have been able to beat all 6 teams who are below them in the standings. Going back to 2010, you can easily say they are 10-0 against lower-level teams since the loss to Arizona State on October 9th.

But, are they at stage 2 yet? They did beat USC last year, but they also got crushed by Arizona. They did beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. They beat Utah on the road this year, but I am not quite sure we can put Utah at this level right now. Basically, there have not been many Stage two type tests in the last two years since this league is so top-heavy.

USC will provide the true measuring stick of where this program is at. When evaluating where a team is at, it isn’t fair to judge the games against Top 10 teams…nor really against the bottom dwellers either. It is how well do you get up for a difficult opponent on the road which could go either way. I think USC is the better team this year and should win. But, if Washington is able to pull out that third victory in a row, then we will know they are squarely in Stage 2.