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Originally published Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 8:11 PM

Washington back in football rankings

Washington was rated No. 22 in The Associated Press poll and No. 24 in the USA Today/coaches poll. It was the first ranking for UW since it was No. 24 in the AP poll on Sept. 20, 2009, after upsetting USC.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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One significant sign that the nation is beginning to notice Washington football came Sunday morning when the Huskies were included in both of the major Top 25 polls, their first ranking of any kind since 2009.

Washington was rated No. 22 in The Associated Press poll and No. 24 in the USA Today/coaches poll. It was the first ranking for UW since it was No. 24 in the AP poll on Sept. 20, 2009, after upsetting USC.

A sign that UW still has work to do, however, came a few hours later when the Huskies were installed as 20-point underdogs for Saturday's game at seventh-ranked Stanford.

Washington moved into the ranking after a 52-24 win Saturday over Colorado in which the Huskies jumped out to a 38-10 halftime lead and then cruised. They are now 5-1 overall for the first time since 2001 and 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1997.

After the win — the team's ninth in 10 games dating to last season — coach Steve Sarkisian and Husky players mostly downplayed the significance of likely being ranked.

"If that's the perception (that UW is one of the top 25 teams), great," Sarkisian said. "If it isn't, then we've got to play even harder."

Said linebacker Jamaal Kearse: "Everybody wants to be ranked. But that's not really on our mind."

Washington players, in fact, know better than anyone that what would really convince the nation of their ability is beating a Stanford team that has won all six of its games this year by at least 27 points, and by an average score of 45.8 to 11.1.

"I think Stanford is going to be our biggest test," said defensive lineman Alameda Ta'amu.

Said linebacker Cort Dennison: "We realize that we have a huge task in front of us. ... And if we want to be among the best teams in the Pac-12, you've got go to in and play with teams like Stanford."

Washington hasn't been able to do that the last two years, losing by a combined 75-14 — including a 41-0 Cardinal win last year at Husky Stadium that was Washington's first home shutout since 1976.

A 34-14 loss at Stanford in 2009 came the week after the victory over USC and brought a quick end to UW's days as a ranked team that season.

"Those years were tough," Dennison said. "But those were different years, too. This is a different football team that we have this year. We have different players at different positions, and I like the team we have now. And we continue to grow each and every game."

What won't be different Saturday is Stanford being led by quarterback Andrew Luck, a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and projected by many as the likely top pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

The Luck-led offense will be a stiff test for a UW defense that has been improving but remains ranked 73rd in the nation overall, allowing just more than 400 yards per game.

The Stanford defense, meanwhile, is also statistically among the best in the nation, especially a run defense ranked second at 59.5 yards per game — though UW's isn't far off at 17th, allowing 97 yards.

Washington's offense, though, has met every challenge, scoring 30 or more points in each of the season's first six games for the first time in school history. The 52 scored against Colorado were the most since 2001, and Keith Price's 21 touchdown passes are tied with Boise State's Kellen Moore for second in the nation behind the 22 of Baylor's Robert Griffin III.

Husky receiver James Johnson said the offense is playing with a high level of confidence.

"Everything that they (the coaches) call I believe is to score a touchdown," he said. "That's the mindset that they have, and because of that, we have that same mindset."

Price is fifth in the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 177.91. But one of the four quarterbacks ahead of him is Luck, who is third at 180.55.

That the Huskies are in the position they are, however, seems further evidence of the sturdiness of Sarkisian's rebuilding in his third year as coach. While some thought the Huskies could contend for a winning season and a bowl game in 2011, many also wondered how UW would handle the loss of Jake Locker and other veterans such as linebacker Mason Foster.

Halfway through the season, the Huskies are not only already closing in on bowl eligibility, but are tied with Oregon and Stanford as the only undefeated teams in Pac-12 play.

"They are ranked very high for a reason," Dennison said of the Cardinal. "At the same time, we can play football, too, and we have shown it so far this year."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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