Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis makes a catch in front of Washington State linebacker Isaac Dotson for a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ted S. Warren
November 26, 2016

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) Eight years ago, Washington walked off the field at Martin Stadium engulfed in a sea of crimson, its football program at the lowest point in its history.

When they left that same field on Friday night, the Huskies were passing the Apple Cup trophy like a baton - from teammate to teammate - hoping it's the first of a few trophies to be celebrated this year.

Next up, perhaps a Pac-12 championship trophy. And after that, who knows what kind of hardware will be at stake for No. 6 Washington.

''I think the really good teams, the special teams can finish,'' Washington coach Chris Petersen said. ''The hard part about that is you're playing better teams here as we finish. And so the next team we'll play will be a really good and elite team. So it's hard to finish, and then the one after that will be a really good team. We'll figure all this out after we're done playing, because we just feel like we've got some good football left.''

Washington's dominant 45-17 win over No. 23 Washington State on Friday was complete affirmation of what Petersen has accomplished in three seasons in charge of the Huskies. More than just the Apple Cup and bragging rights within the state were at stake. A loss to the Cougars would have left Washington (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) out of the Pac-12 title game and out of the College Football Playoff.

It was a game of enormous magnitude. And its importance was seemingly met with a collective shrug by the Huskies, who rolled to a 28-3 lead in just 14 minutes, 37 seconds, and simply overwhelmed Washington State.

''It all comes back to the details that coach (Petersen) preaches. Just comes back to practice and how we study our opponents, all of that,'' Washington left tackle Trey Adams said.

Washington's first reward is a spot in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday against Colorado. Colorado was probably the preferred opponent, but Washington will miss out on a chance at revenge against Southern California after losing to the Trojans 26-13 this month.

It's the reward waiting after next Friday that looms as being the ultimate statement of how far the Huskies have climbed since that 0-12 season in 2008. That lost season was punctuated by a loss to a Washington State team that finished 2-10.

A win next Friday should put the Huskies into the CFP final four and a shot at the school's first national title since the Huskies were co-champs with Miami in 1991.

''I really don't care. Whoever we play, it will be awesome. It'll be a great game and great experience,'' Washington WR John Ross said.

The loss to USC appeared to expose flaws hidden by Washington's soft schedule through the first three quarters of the season. The pass rush disappeared. Quarterback Jake Browning was flustered and made careless mistakes. The 13 points Washington scored against the Trojans were the fewest in 21 games.

This is why the last two games - a blowout of Arizona State and the romp over Washington State - eased those concerns and made the slog against USC appear as the outlier.

Browning rediscovered the form that had him in the Heisman Trophy conversation earlier this season. He was 13 of 17 for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter alone Friday, and finished 21 of 29 for 292 yards. He has 40 TD passes for the season, joining Jared Goff and Marcus Mariota as the only Pac-12 QBs with 40 or more TD passes in a season.

Equally important is a defense that stymied Arizona State, then held Washington State to its lowest output of points and yards since last year's Apple Cup when quarterback Luke Falk was injured and didn't play. Washington made a trio of goal line stands and held the Cougars to a season-low 334 yards.

''It means a lot, but at the end of the day it's about us. We didn't listen to the outside noise. We didn't let it leak into our locker room,'' Washington running back Lavon Coleman said. ''We were focused on getting ready to play a championship game with championship effort and take care of our business.''

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