This is the third Washington prediction post I’ve written, and it’s also by far the most uncertain.
Couldn’t quite justify picking the Huskies at Stanford. Didn’t strongly consider picking them to beat Oregon. But Saturday’s game at Arizona State — against whom UW has been installed as a 3-point underdog — feels like it could go either way.
For starters, it’s been longer since the Huskies last beat the Sun Devils than it has since the Huskies last beat Oregon. Yes, you read that correctly. Washington has lost seven consecutive games to ASU, and hasn’t beaten the Sun Devils since 2001. The teams went four seasons without playing each other during that span, so that’s why the gap between victories is bigger despite the losing streak not being quite as long as the one against Oregon. But the fact remains: for whatever reason, ASU has always given UW trouble, whether it’s been at Husky Stadium or in Tempe.
And this might be ASU’s best team, talent-wise, in the last decade. Taylor Kelly efficiently operates Todd Graham’s crazy-fast offense, Jaelen Strong is a tough cover at receiver, and UW coach Steve Sarkisian aptly described Marion Grice as the best running back in the Pac-12 nobody’s talking about. He leads the nation in total touchdowns with 15. So this is an ASU offense with enough weapons to put some points on the board, which is something it does regularly — the Sun Devils are one of four Pac-12 teams averaging 43 or more points per game.
ASU’s defense is more middling, and its rush defense ranks ninth in the conference, allowing 168.8 yards per game. Sarkisian mentioned Thursday that UW’s backups will see more time than usual because of the afternoon heat, but I’m guessing Bishop Sankey will still be given as many carries as he can handle. Consider it a surprise if he gets fewer than 22-25 touches.
Another factor is UW’s “freshness,” so to speak, relative to the last few weeks. Playing against Stanford and Oregon takes more out of a team than a lot of people realize, I think, and that’s something Sarkisian acknowledged earlier in the week. He still expressed confidence in the Huskies’ conditioning and energy and all that, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Add it all up, and I’m still not quite sure how to peg this game. But we’re going to call it for ASU in a close one.
The pick: Arizona State 35, Washington 34