This week's HuffPost Sports spotlight game is No. 25 Washington at No. 8 Stanford.
The Stanford Cardinal are 6-0, have the best player in college football and, for the first time ever, are ranked in the Week 1 BCS Standings. Even more so than when John Elway was under center in the early 1980s, it has never been a better time to be on the farm.
Meanwhile, the Washington Huskies are 5-1, also have a great young quarterback, and for the first time in two years, are ranked in the top 25. Third year head coach Steve Sarkisian has the fine folks of Montlake feeling like it's 1991 again with Don James and Napoleon Kaufman.
Let's take a look at some key bullet points for Saturday night's battle, which will kick off at 8:00 p.m. EST on ABC, in Palo Alto.
1. Quarterback Play.
Andrew Luck is the Heisman favorite and the most ready quarterback to enter the NFL Draft since Peyton Manning in 1998 (even he had to deal with the Ryan Leaf debate though). Just as we wax poetic about basketball players coming out of college -- long, bouncy and athletic -- we do the same with quarterbacks: cannon arm, great pocket awareness and of course, accuracy. Luck has all of those tools, and a lot more (see 1:20). He has the Cardinal offense ranked fifth nationally in points scored. More impressively though, he has completed over 71 percent of his passes, thrown 18 TDs and had a mere 3 interceptions. Every time Stanford has the ball, it feels like they're going to score. The offense is prolific with the big play and burns you with long, drawn out drives.
On the other side we have Keith Price, who has been nothing short of sensational in this, his first season as a starter. With 21 touchdown passes, he has already matched Jake Locker's all-time high in one season. Price doesn’t have the physical tools of a Locker or Luck, but he is very decisive in the pocket, has great feet and rarely makes a mistake. The sophomore is completing over 69 percent of his passes and he's thrown just 4 picks all year. He has the Huskies ranked fifth in passing efficiency. Washington has a long history of producing NFL quarterbacks -- think Mark Brunell, Damon and Brock Huard, Warren Moon, Chris Chandler and Locker -- and yet Price has a terrific chance to break the all-time single-season record of 28 touchdown passes. The UW offense has now scored at least 30 points or more in its first six games for the first time in school history.
2. Stanford's physical defense.
As impressive as Price has been thus far, he has not faced a defense as physically imposing and aggressive as Stanford's. The Cardinal -- led by first year head coach David Shaw -- are fifth in points allowed. Despite losing head coach Jim Harbaugh and captain linebacker Owen Marecic to the NFL, they've maintained the same gut-wrenching brand of defense in 2011. Linebacker Chase Thomas (see 1:55) is a tackling machine who loves to stop the run, rush the passer and can drop into coverage. The key to Washington's success has been finding balance on offense. Junior Chris Polk has quietly amassed 728 yards on the ground and is in the conversation about the Doak Walker Award. Thomas will take it upon himself to close his running lanes and stop him in the backfield.
But the X-factor in this game is freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins (see 2:10), who came in this season as the No. 1 ranked TE in the country and has not disappointed. Washington has a talented trio of receivers in Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar and James Johnson, but Jenkins -- at 6'6," 258 -- is the ultimate matchup nightmare. At 16.3 yards per catch to go along with 4 TDs, he is a lock for the freshman All-American team. This is a Washington program once known as "Tight End U," having produced a litany of pros, including Mark Bruener, Cam Cleeland, Ernie Conwell, Aaron Pierce and Jerramy Stevens. Talk to people around the team, and they'll tell you that Seferian-Jenkins may just be the best and Sarkisian, who has called one brilliant offensive game after another, knows it.
3. Andrew Luck has Tom Brady-like time in the pocket.
It's often been said that Brady is like a statue in the pocket because he never has to move. Well, if Brady is a statue, then Andrew Luck is an ice sculpture. Thanks to a veteran offensive line and All-American candidate Jonathan Martin, the 6'5" albatross is hardly ever touched and rarely forced to move outside the pocket. Martin -- who calls himself 'The Moose' -- is a surefire top 15 pick come April and a decade-long stalwart at left tackle for whomever is fortunate enough to draft him.
The Huskies are a pathetic 117th in passing defense this season, thanks in large part to an inconsistent secondary and inexperience at both safety positions. Cornerback Quinton Richardson has drastically struggled containing the deep ball. Corner Desmond Trufant (Marcus' younger brother) is the best player in the secondary, but his counterparts have made plenty of mistakes. The Huskies gave up over 500 yards of total offense to FCS opponent Eastern Washington and got torched for 51 points at Nebraska. To be fair though, both the defense and the secondary have been better of late, having virtually shut down a potent Utah offense and dominated Colorado for much of a blowout win. But containing Luck is an entirely different story, as we all know. Perhaps the overlooked key to accomplishing such a feat is...
4. Washington's defensive version of 'The Moose,' Alameda Ta'amu.
Ta'amu's meteoric rise up draft boards is for real. At 6'3," 333 lbs., he has incredible quickness and remarkably strong hands. He can really get into the backfield (see 2:05) and thwart running games, but more importantly, he loves to rush the passer. Because of his versatility, Ta'amu gives defensive coordinator Nick Holt the ability to line him up in different spots, so it's not clear just how much he will go against Martin.
As much as the public obsesses over the Cardinal aerial attack, much of that is set up by the powerful running game of Stepfan Taylor. At 208 lbs, Taylor is an absolute load between the tackles and wears on defenses late in games, often when Stanford has a big lead. The Cardinal throw a ton, but they are not a finesse team, and Taylor is a big reason why. Ta'amu's capacity to prevent the Cardinal from establishing the run early will play a pivotal role come Saturday night.
5. Keeping the game close.
If Washington is to pull the upset, it must keep this game within striking distance from the start. Stanford has won all six of its games by 27 or more points this season. The again, the defense has not been tested, and as great as Luck has been, neither has he. The Huskies have a talented enough offense to put points on the board, but don't have enough talent at either linebacker or the secondary to contain the Cardinal. Washington has clearly taken the next step back to becoming a premier program once again, and will surprise the "experts" by keeping this very close. But, at home, with the nation's best player, Stanford pulls out a hard fought battle to keep its national title hopes alive.
PICK: Stanford 37, Washington 28
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Stepfan Taylor and inaccurately listed his weight.
This is the third installment of our new weekly series previewing the college football game of the week, which comes out every Thursday afternoon. Thus far, we are 2-0.
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More:Austin Seferian-jenkins Jim Harbaugh Alameda Ta'amu College Football Week 8 Preview Andrew Luck Heisman
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