No. 4 Washington, No. 17 Utah meet in Pac-12 showdown
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The road to the Pac-12 championship hasn't taken the usual route in 2016 with traditional powers such as Stanford and Oregon struggling.
The premier game of this season could take place in Salt Lake City on Saturday when No. 17 Utah hosts No. 4 Washington in a possible preview of the title game.
Washington (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) is off to its first 7-0 start since 1992 when the Huskies shared the league championship with Stanford. The No. 4 ranking is their highest since 2000. Third-year coach Chris Petersen called Utah their biggest challenge of the season.
''I think their record proves out,'' Petersen said. ''Going on the road, that's a really great environment to play in, all those types of things across the board. This will by far be our toughest test so far.''
The Utes are off to a 7-1 start for the second consecutive season as they continue to chase the first Pac-12 championship in school history. The Utes sit atop the South Division with a 4-1 record and control their own destiny, once again. The 2015 team, however, dropped back to back games after improving to 7-1 and wound up in the Las Vegas Bowl.
''If you want to win the Pac-12 South, you have to do it the entire season,'' Utah safety Chase Hansen said. ''You've got to do it at the end of the year. You can't have any excuses. No one cares who's hurt. You've got to be able to fight at this point in the season. You've got to win games however you can. Right now it's just about fighting, grinding it out.''
Things to watch when Utah hosts Washington:
MYLES AND MYLES: After a slow start to the season, Washington's Myles Gaskin has found a groove as the primary ball carrier in the backfield.
Gaskin has three straight 100-yard games, including 128 yards and a touchdown last week against Oregon State.
Gaskin shared the running load early in the season, but in the past three games the sophomore has run for 425 yards and four touchdowns. Gaskin is now the leading rusher in the Pac-12 with 727 yards on the season.
HOLD THE EDGE: Washington is expected to be without outside linebacker Joe Mathis for a second straight game due to an undisclosed injury.
The Huskies are hopeful of getting Mathis back this season, but will miss his ability to pressure off the edge. Mathis is tied for the team lead with 7 + sacks on the season.
Connor O'Brien is expected to make a second straight start in place of Mathis. O'Brien had four tackles and one sack last week against Oregon State.
RUNNING JOE: Senior Joe Williams retired two weeks into the season due to injuries and some personal issues, but returned to the team a month later after the running back ranks were depleted by injuries.
Williams had a school-record 332 yards rushing and four touchdowns last week and has a combined 511 yards in the two games since returning. The veteran offensive line has also improved recently.
REVENGE, KINDA: Utah quarterback Troy Williams signed with Washington out of high school as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He transferred after Petersen took over the program in 2014.
After a year of junior college, Williams has thrown for 1,725 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions this season with the Utes. Williams has made it clear that he's been anticipating the chance to play the Huskies for years.
''I don't want to say revenge,'' Williams said. ''I'm just excited to go out there and play against them. There's a lot of motivation behind this game. No hard feelings. No love lost.''
BROWNOUT: Washington sophomore quarterback Jake Browning is No. 2 in the nation in passing efficiency (199.62), No. 3 in passing yards per attempt (9.9) tied for No. 3 in touchdown passes (26) and No. 8 in completion percentage (68.6).
''He's just gotten better at everything, particularly pass completion percentage,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''You can just see his growth and development in all areas. He's bigger, stronger, making great decisions. People have tried everything. There's nothing schematically that hasn't been tried at one time or another in the last seven games.''
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.
Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kareemcopeland .