Washington-Stanford Provides The Litmus Test For Two Emerging Programs

Ian PetersonCorrespondent ISeptember 26, 2009

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback Jake Locker #10 of the Washington Huskies celebrates with free safety Nate Williams #8 after defeating the USC Trojans 16-13 on September 19, 2009 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Interestingly enough, for those that have followed these two programs over the last couple years, is that this game has finally gained relevance.

It seems very obtuse to say that after these have been some of the bottom feeders in the Pac-10 over the last couple years.

However, it's also true that it is an important game for each program.

The goals for these programs, realistic goals instead of the fearless optimism of fans, is to get to the promised land of bowl games.

While each program has their marquee win against USC, real winning consistency is still not quite in their grasp.

To get there, each program has to win these kinds of games, the games against the middle of the pack Pac-10 teams. 

I would hazard a guess that neither of these teams is going to challenge for a Rose Bowl berth, but based on current play each can challenge for a lesser bowl.

If a bowl comes, it will be games like this that the pundits will say got them to the bowl, despite Washington having beaten USC.

There is a certain amount of grit needed to have success in college football, and this is what I would define as a gritty game.

Stanford is coming on strong under Jim Harbaugh, and show signs of being a really could team over the next couple years.

The best thing they have working in their favor is their youth, but they also play with physicality and intensity that hasn't been seen by the Cardinal in a long time, if ever.

The Huskies, on the other hand, are a team unused to winning and playing physically. They are learning under head coach Steve Sarkisian, but this game will test whether they are on their way.

While the Huskies have looked good in their first three games, they also have played all of the games at home.

Stanford is one of the better places to dip the toes in the road game ocean, because of its pedestrian atmosphere at times, but road games are tough nonetheless. 

The Huskies are also dinged up in the receiving corps, but have enough depth that it won't be a problem.

The Husky offense has looked great under quarterback Jake Locker, and should continue to roll.

Locker will continue to complete passes against what should be a much softer secondary than USC or LSU. 

Locker's stock is WAY up all across the board, and given his poise should make for good viewing tomorrow.

Chris Polk, who has shown great effort with not nearly enough to show for it, should have more running room against Stanford. Stanford has a good defensive line, but like Locker, its a big difference in talent between them and USC and LSU.

On the Cardinal side, Toby Gerhart, their workhorse running back, is the heart and soul of the team. For the Huskies to win they will need to stuff him.

Andrew Luck, the Cardinal quarterback, is a talented young prospect, but is just that, young. The Huskies can succeed if they can shut down Stanford's run and force the young quarterback to pass.

He has the talent to possibly torch the Husky secondary, but hopefully after a solid game against the Trojans the Huskies are feeling more comfortable in pass defense.

The real game changer that the Huskies need to watch is wide receiver Chris Owusu, who also serves as the teams dangerous kick returner. 

The game itself I'm putting at 50-50 for each team. Each has players capable of pulling down the win on Saturday.

In any case, I predict a solid game, and most likely a shootout, with most of the talent in the game residing in the offenses for both teams.

I look forward to seeing if the Stanford Cardinal are the real deal, or if the Huskies can avoid the letdown.