COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 11 Utah at Washington
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Washington has navigated a path to the College Football Playoff by dodging several potholes en route to an unblemished record and a Pac-12 championship. But now comes the really hard part. By snapping the conference's seven-year CFP drought -- Washington was the last team to represent the Pac-12 in the field in 2016 -- the Huskies now have a target on their back as they look to cap off the four-team playoff era with a surprising title run that few saw coming. 

How can Washington make that dream a reality?

It starts with the offense, which has been explosive all year. Heisman Trophy finalist Michael Penix Jr's has been slinging it all over the field to his talented group of receivers, including star Rome Odunze. Penix led the nation in passing last season and is on pace to do it again with 324.5 yards per game -- roughly 6 yards per game ahead of his nearest competitor.

Here's why Penix and the Huskies have what it takes to win the program's first national title since 1991. 

1. It can take the top off of any defense

Penix is tied for the top mark in the nation with 33 completions of 15 or more air yards beyond the sticks, and 11 of those have gone for touchdowns -- tied for the fourth-most in the country. Translation: Penix lets it fly early, often and cashes in. 

Odunze has drawn all of the headlines after posting 1,428 yards receiving in 13 games, but he's just one piece of the puzzle. Ja'Lynn Polk has 1,000 yards himself, and a now-healthy Jalen McMillan had 131 yards receiving in the Pac-12 Championship Game win over Oregon. Penix has way too many weapons at his disposal, all of whom can stretch the field.

Now, it'll be a much bigger challenge for Penix and Co. if they get past Texas and face either Alabama or Michigan in the College Football Playoff National Championship. (The Longhorns' pass defense is a relative weakness, ranking just inside the top 100 nationally.) But, that's another story for another week. As coaches and players always say, it's one game at a time.

2. Its offensive line is the best in the country

The Huskies offensive line won the 2023 Joe Moore Award, given to the nation's best unit up front. The Huskies O-line allowed just 0.85 sacks per game, tied for fourth nationally, and 3.54 tackles for loss allowed per game, tied for fifth nationally. That unit is a big reason why Penix has been able to sit back, pick opposing defenses apart and lead the nation in passing for the second straight season. 

Just as important, the O-line has paved the way for the rushing attack to provide much-needed balance and keep opposing defenses honest. Running back Dillon Johnson has topped the 100-yard mark on the ground four times this season, two of which came in wins over Oregon in the regular season and in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Johnson is hot, too, having averaged 136.6 yards per game with eight touchdowns since the start of November. 

Winning in the trenches matters in close games, and Washington won its last five games by 10 points or fewer. 

3. It knows what it takes to win tight games

Speaking of tight games, it's been a wild season for the Huskies. They rattled off four straight blowouts to start the year, but competition became far stiffer in the meat of conference play. Game after game, though, Washington found ways to win even if it didn't always look like the best team on the field. That stretch continued all the way to the Apple Cup against Washington State, when kicker Grady Gross hit a walk-off field goal to finish the undefeated regular season. 

That battle-tested mentality has led to a championship-level focus for the Huskies as they approach a potentially defining run towards a national title. 

"I think there's definitely a different feel to it," said coach Kalen DeBoer during CFP media availability. "I think even the setup of the bowl itself with the activities and so forth, I think in our guys' minds, it's probably more of a business-like approach to it. Never really had conversations or worries about guys maybe not even thinking about playing. They worked extremely hard to get to this point; this is what it was all about, is having the chance to be in a national championship. And so on I think there is more of a business-like approach."

Time and time again, Washington has been doubted. But time and time again, it's proved those doubters wrong. This team certainly seems to have the mental makeup to do so two more times. 

Making a CFP case for ... No. 1 Michigan | No. 3 TexasNo. 4 Alabama