Stanford, Calif. • Almost every time a Pac-12 challenger has emerged recently to oppose Stanford and Oregon the winners of the last four conference championships the Cardinal and Ducks show just how much of a gap there is between them and everybody else.
The latest contender: Washington.
The Huskies have another opportunity to unseat both the next two weeks and vault themselves into the national championship picture for the first time in at least a decade. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) plays at fifth-ranked Stanford (4-0, 2-0) on Saturday night before hosting No. 2 Oregon next week.
The outcomes might not only determine which way Washington's season goes, but they also could decide whether there will be any shuffling in the Pac-12's North Division or just a continuation of the two-team dominance before the Cardinal and Ducks meet at Stanford Stadium on Nov. 7.
"This team's really cool," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "It's not about what might occur down the road, the what-ifs. It's about what is occurring right now."
Sarkisian's squad seemed ready to break the trend when the Huskies handed Stanford its lone conference loss last season, a 17-13 setback in Seattle. Instead, Washington lost to Oregon the following week and finished with a mediocre 7-6 record. Stanford went on to beat the Ducks and win the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl.
Both teams have made massive strides since they last met. The Cardinal failed to score an offensive touchdown and looked lost under quarterback Josh Nunes at Washington last year while they adjusted to life without Andrew Luck. Mobile quarterback Kevin Hogan took over late last season to spark Stanford's surge and is 9-0 as the starter.
"Schematically, we're not really different," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Our personnel is different. To have that mobile quarterback is big."
The Huskies, who allowed Stanford to run for a school-record 446 yards in a 65-21 whipping of Washington in 2011, are a totally different team now.
Washington now has the fourth-best scoring defense in the nation (10.8 points per game) under second-year coordinator Justin Wilcox. And the offense features four elite playmakers quarterback Keith Price, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, running back Bishop Sankey and receiver Kasen Williams and an improved line.
Saturday's college football TV schedule
• Air Force at Navy, 9:30 a.m., Ch. 2
• Maryland at Florida State, 10 a.m., ESPN
• Michigan State at Iowa, 10 a.m., ESPN2
• Texas Tech at Kansas, 10 a.m., FS1
• Louisville at Temple, 10 a.m., Altitude
• Ball State at Virginia, 10 a.m., ROOT
• Penn State at Indiana, 10 a.m., Big Ten
• Illinois at Nebraska, 10 a.m., ESPNU
• Rutgers at SMU, 10 a.m., ESPNews
• Lehigh at Fordham, 10 a.m., CBSSN
• North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 10:30 a.m., KMYU
• Georgia at Tennessee, 1:30 p.m., Ch. 2
• Portland State at Montana, 1:30 p.m., ROOT
• Minnesota at Michigan, 1:30 p.m., Ch. 4
• Georgia Tech at Miami, 1:30 p.m., ESPNU
• Clemson at Syracuse, 1:30 p.m., ESPN
• Rice at Tulsa, 1:30 p.m., CBSSN
• Washington State at Cal, 2 p.m., FS1
• Oregon at Colorado, 4 p.m., Pac-12
• LSU at Mississippi State, 5 p.m., ESPN
• Arkansas at Florida, 5 p.m., ESPN2
• TCU at Oklahoma, 5 p.m., Ch. 13
• New Mexico State at New Mexico, 5 p.m., ROOT
• Mississippi at Auburn, 5 p.m., ESPNU
• Arizona at Notre Dame, 5:30 p.m., Ch. 5
• Louisiana Tech at UTEP 5:30 p.m., CBSSN
• Ohio State at Northwestern, 6 p.m., Ch. 4
• West Virginia at Baylor, 6 p.m., FS1
• Washington at Stanford, 8:30 p.m., ESPN