As Ernie Banks used to say, let’s play two. The Washington Huskies, having put apples, a snowstorm and a boatload of injuries behind them, encounter a rare and unusual college football occurrence on Friday—the same-season rematch.
Pairing off in the Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara, Calif., the 10th-ranked Huskies (9-3 overall, 7-2 league) will face No. 17 Utah (9-3, 6-3) for the second time in two and a half months, seeking results similar to their 21-7 victory in Salt Lake City.
At stake is a trip to the Rose Bowl: Washington hasn’t played in the New Year’s Day showcase in 18 seasons; Utah has never appeared in the Granddaddy of Them All.
The Huskies have done this rematch thing 12 times before, but only once since World War II—when they split with Nebraska in 2010, losing the regular-season encounter 56-21 in Lincoln and bouncing back three and a half months later with a 19-7 victory over the Cornhuskers in the Holiday Bowl.
The UW have swept six times, split five and won and tied in these same-season doubleheaders. They played the Cougars twice in 1945 and Cal twice each in 1915 and 1916. Otherwise, it’s been obscure Northwest fare.
The best thing about this scenario is it’s not hard to come up with a scouting report.
The Huskies might lose. It’s tough to beat a team twice, let alone once. With that in mind, here are 10 questions surrounding the Pac-12 title game:
What’s different about Utah compared to the first meeting?
Plenty. A new Utes quarterback. A new running back. A three-game win streak. These guys can smell Roses.
What’s different about the Huskies?
Lots. They have Trey Adams, Hunter Bryant and D.J. Beavers, all game-changing players, all available this time.
How much will Adams play at left tackle?
We won’t know until kickoff, but he might start for the first time in 18 Huskies games, overcoming knee and back injuries dating back 13 months, and replacing an injured Jared Hilbers.
How close is Adams to his former All-Pac-12 self?
Replay Myles Gaskin’s 80-yard touchdown run against Washington State and watch closely. In it, you will see Adams totally mow down the guy opposite him on the left side, opening a gaping hole for his tailback to turn through. He’s back.
How does Hunter Bryant change things up?
The hybrid tight end/wide receiver gives the Huskies something they didn’t have in their first 11 games, including against Utah—a No. 1 receiver. That was readily apparent when he caught a 59-yarder and a 22-yard TD pass on consecutive plays against WSU. The guy can get open.
How does the return of Beavers change things at inside linebacker?
The Huskies finally have some speed on the second row again and don’t have to rely on Ben Burr-Kirven to continually do the impossible on guts, plus Tevis Bartlett got to move back outside where he belongs.
Jason Shelley or Jason Shelley?
The older one was a UW wide receiver with great promise—someone who played and impressed in the Rose Bowl in 1993—but blew it away from the field with his reckless behavior and had to leave the program. His namesake son is a redshirt freshman quarterback who has shown himself to be a big-time player in the absence of the injured Tyler Huntley and is taking full advantage of a huge opportunity to play early.
Do you worry about Shelley II more as a runner or passer?
He can do both, but his scrambling ability should have the Huskies concerned. He picked up 61 yards against BYU last weekend.
Is there any snow in the forecast?
Nah. The Bay Area will offer some late-afternoon sun and temperatures of 58 degrees, with rain a possibility once the game ends. In other words, a near perfect November night for football.
Who wins the ticket to Pasadena?
Even with reinforcements, this is no gimme for Washington. Utah didn’t advance to this game by accident. Kyle Whittingham has his decimated team peaking at the right time. He’s done a great coaching job getting his guys to overcome the crippling loss of the Utes' No. 1 QB and top running back. Whittingham might have found a permanent quarterback. His 2015 team, similar to this crew, came into Seattle and manhandled the Huskies 34-23. That said, the UW finally looks like the team it was supposed to be all season. Washington 28, Utah 13.