Friday night games aren't often that compelling, but this one between No. 7 Stanford and No. 10 Washington is one whale of an exception. The Cardinal and Huskies meet in Seattle, with nothing less than control of the Pac-12 North on the line. In a division with no other apparently great teams, the winner here is far likelier than not to win the division.
The teams have different identities, but only to a point. Both are strong recruiters, and both have offensive weapons who can inflict tons of damage. The injured Cardinal are maybe a little bit more thunder, and the Huskies are maybe a little bit more lightning. Anyway, both look like elite programs right now, and now they're meeting up with a ton at stake.
The coaches, David Shaw and Chris Petersen, are both near the top of their profession. Both teams are set up well for long-term success. But they seem so far ahead of the rest of the North that anybody else climbing into the picture this season seems far-fetched. If the Pac-12's going to make the Playoff, it's almost surely going to be because of one of these teams.
How to watch, stream, and listen
TV: 9 p.m. ET, ESPN. The broadcasters are Joe Tessitore, Todd Blackledge, and Holly Rowe.
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: Washington opened as a 3.5-point favorite.
Three big things to know
1. Washington's run defense is good. It needs to be great, however, to stop what Stanford's got. The Cardinal have a punishing offensive line that punches open holes for perhaps the country's most lethal back, Christian McCaffrey. He's been up to many of his usual tricks this season, torching lots of the defenders with the misfortune of trying to tackle him. But McCaffrey's overall numbers are a bit off what they've historically been. He averages 5.5 yards per carry, down from a career figure of 6, and he's been a little less explosive as a receiver, too. He'll be chomping at the bit to get going.
2. Welcome to showtime, Jake Browning. The sophomore Washington QB has been the sport's third-most efficient passer so far, always sharp against a soft opening schedule. (He had to do a bit of everything in Washington's overtime win at Arizona last weekend.) Stanford's pass defense has looked fairly vulnerable, allowing 7.1 yards per attempt through its first three games. The Cardinal are good, but that secondary can be gotten. It's up to Browning to get it.
3. Same story, Ryan Burns. This is the biggest start of the Stanford quarterback's career. He's done an admirable job in taking the reins from longtime starter Kevin Hogan this season, but he struggled last week against a strong UCLA pass defense. In that game, Burns managed a game-winning scoring drive in the fourth quarter, but he was also 13 of 25 for 137 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. It was his least efficient game of the season, and now comes an athletic defense that can pressure him and get in front of his throws.