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Stanford at Washington
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The conference season is here and Thursday night football kicks off with a great matchup in the Pac-12. The series between Washington and Stanford has not been competitive in the last three seasons but this will be the lowest line in the series since 2008. Stanford enters this game coming off a huge win over USC but this will be the first road game of the season and upset-minded Washington will look for a better performance in the spotlight after failing at LSU earlier in the season. Here is a look at the two teams involved and what to expect Thursday night.

Matchup: Stanford Cardinal at Washington Huskies
Venue: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
Date: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET – ESPN
Line: Stanford -6½, Over/Under 48
Last Meeting: 2011, Stanford (-18) 65-21 at Stanford

After losing the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft in former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck as well as facing the second year after the departure of very successful head coach Jim Harbaugh, expectations became quite grounded for the Cardinal this season. Head coach David Shaw led Stanford to an 11-2 season last year, losing narrowly in the Fiesta Bowl but that was a veteran team that had a lot in place and the schedule featured many of the biggest games at home. So far 2012 Stanford has started 3-0, scoring one of the most prominent upsets so far this season in beating USC 21-14 two weeks ago. Expectations are now elevated for the Cardinal but it will still be very difficult to match the success of the past two seasons.

This is the fourth season at Washington for former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian. A former national powerhouse, the Huskies had fallen on very tough times following the departure of Rich Neuheisel after the 2002 season. Keith Gilbertson and Tyrone Willingham combined to go 18-53 in six seasons including a 1-11 2004 season and the ugly 0-12 2008 season. Going 5-7 in his first season on campus after that winless year was a big step forward for Washington and the past two years this team has made it to bowl games with matching 7-6 campaigns. While taking a struggling program to being a perennial bowl team is positive progress, the expectation of a breakthrough season and competing for the Pac-12 title now weighs heavily. Washington is 2-1 on the season but in the lopsided loss to LSU (3-41) it was quite obvious this program still has a long ways to go before emerging as a national power again.

This year’s game takes place at CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks. Just a few days ago this was the site of one of the most controversial football games in recent memory. Husky Stadium is undergoing renovation this season so this will be the de facto home stadium for Washington all season, negating a true home field advantage and atmosphere. Washington has won both of its games at home this season and this will be the first road game for Stanford this season.

Replacing Luck certainly is a great challenge for Stanford and most expected that sophomore Brett Nottingham would be the player to fill that role after appearing in six games last season and being a highly regarded recruit. In camp junior Josh Nunes won the job after not playing last season. Nunes has delivered a 3-0 record for his team but the numbers are poor, with just over 53 percent completions and three interceptions in three games. Stanford still has Stepfan Taylor however; the senior running back that posted over 1,300 yards last season and in three games he already had over 300 yards and three touchdowns while averaging five yards per carry. The top three receivers for Stanford from the 2011 season are gone from last year’s team and as expected the numbers in the passing game have been way down this season. The two tight ends are the top two receivers on the team so far this season.

Washington’s offense is led by junior quarterback Keith Price coming off a season in which he threw for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdown passes, just four fewer than Luck had last season. Price completed nearly 67 percent of his passes last season but his numbers are down from that mark this season. Having to face LSU can take a toll, as he was just 17 of 36 in that game while being sacked four times. Chris Polk led Washington in rushing last season and so far sophomore Bishop Sankey is getting the most looks out of the backfield, though he has just 185 yards so far this season. Freshman Erich Wilson II who ironically is from Palo Alto got 15 carries in the last game and he could gradually see more carries as the season goes on. Washington’s receiving corps has been led by tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a sophomore that already has 20 catches on the season. Also sophomore Kasen Williams has enjoyed a strong start to the season and will be the top deep threat for the team. Washington does have new coordinators on both sides of the ball this season with former California assistant Eric Kiesau now leading the offense and injuries among the offensive line are taking a toll already this season.

Stanford played an incredible defensive game against USC, limiting the Trojans to just 280 yards and 15 first downs. The Cardinal currently own the top rush defense in the nation having allowed just over 41 yards per game but keep in mind that Stanford has faced three pass oriented teams and has also played with a lead in all three games as there has been just 77 rush attempts against Stanford, with an impressive 1.61 yards per carry allowed by the Cardinal. Last season Washington had 430 yards in this matchup including 172 yards on the ground, the second most yards of the season on the ground against Stanford.

Washington’s bowl game last season proved to be a disaster as Baylor posted 777 yards in a 67-56 win in the Alamo Bowl. Former Tennessee and Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was hired in the offseason to make adjustments for the Washington defense. The numbers are respectable so far this season with 342 yards per game allowed but the figures are skewed as Portland State was held to 261 yards. LSU was able to move the ball pretty easily with 437 yards. Washington returned seven starters from last year’s team including six of the top seven leading tacklers and the unit should show improvement after allowing 453 yards and nearly 36 points per game last season.

The big concern for Stanford has to be with Nunes making his first ever road start and if the team will fall into a letdown trap after the huge win over USC in a game the team played nearly flawlessly. The extra time between games could help in that regard but this will be a motivated Washington team in dire need of a marquee win. Washington has been blown out in the last two meetings of this series including being shutout two years ago in the last home meeting. This is the most critical stretch of the season for Washington as they will play Oregon and USC in the next two weeks, if they can win this game losing the next two won’t be as devastating but a 2-4 start with several challenging Pac-12 games still ahead could really derail this team and confidence in the direction of the program.

Line Movement: Initial offerings priced this game with Stanford as 7-point favorite, bumping down to -6½ on Tuesday. The total opened at 49½ and steadily fell to 47½ before seeing some recent jumps back up to 48 or 48½. Stanford can be found at -250 on the money-line (Bet $250 to win $100).

Last Meeting: In 2011 a 6-0 Stanford team pounded Washington 65-21 at home. The Cardinal was ranked #7 in the nation at that point while Washington had cracked the rankings at #22 with a 5-1 start. Some saw this is as a potential flat spot for Stanford as they played at USC the following week but the Cardinal posted 615 yards including a punishing ground attack that delivered a school record 446 yards on the ground. It was a competitive game early with Stanford leading just 17-14 in the second quarter before Stepfan Taylor broke a 70-yard run and then closing the half with an interception return touchdown. Washington had three turnovers and allowed Stanford to go 8 for 12 on 3rd down.

Series History: Washington has won 19 of the last 27 meetings S/U but the tide has turned in recent years. Stanford has won four straight and six of the last seven. Against the spread Stanford has won eight of the last 10 meetings including four in a row the last four years as well as covering in each of the last four trips to Seattle. Only one of the last eight meetings has been decided by fewer than 11 points.

Stanford Historical Trends: David Shaw had an epic ATS season last year going 11-2 SU and ATS in his first year as the head coach. This season Stanford is 2-1 ATS as they struggled mightily in a tight opening game with San Jose State. Stanford is 8-2 ATS since 2010 as a road favorite and in both ATS misses they won and missed covering by a point. Since 1998 Stanford has been a good road team with a 40-33-2 ATS mark but almost all of the ATS success can be accounted for in the last four years as Stanford is now 36-18 ATS since the start of the 2008 season.

Washington Historical Trends: Since Sarkisian took over at Washington, the Huskies are 15-6 S/U and 12-9 ATS at home but just 4-5 S/U and 5-4 ATS as a home underdog. Going back to 1981 Washington is 25-20 ATS as a home underdog and the numbers would be far better if you omitted the ugly 2008 season. Going back to the early part of the last decade Washington was one of the worst ATS performers in the nation at home as since 2000 Washington is just 32-46-2 ATS at home but the numbers have been good with the current coaching staff. Washington is just 4-8 ATS in the last 12 games as an underdog between six and 10 points.

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