By Brady Henderson
For Washington, Saturday's game against Oregon represents more than a chance to beat a hated rival for the first time in a decade and to upset the second-ranked team in the country.
The better part of the Huskies' nine-game losing streak to Oregon came while Washington was in the throes of one of the worst stretches in the school's history. So this game, the Huskies' second straight against a top-five opponent, will be a barometer of sorts for a program that's trying to regain its spot near the top of the national pecking order, territory that Oregon has occupied of late.
Beating the No. 2 Ducks on Saturday would snap the Huskies' nine-game losing streak to Oregon and go a long way toward returning the program to national prominence. (AP)
Herbstreit is the co-host of ESPN's "College GameDay", which will be broadcasting live from Washington's campus Saturday for the first time in the show's 26-year history. It's a trip Herbstreit says he and his co-hosts have been trying to make for a decade, but one they understandably haven't given the state of Washington's program.
The Huskies have a renovated stadium, a 4-1 record and no shortage of acrimony toward Oregon, all of which gives this matchup national appeal.
While the rivalry has been one-sided of late – not to mention lopsided, with Oregon winning by an average of nearly 26 points since 2004 – the way the Huskies took No. 5 Stanford to the wire on the road in a 31-28 loss last week was further evidence that this might be the most talented Washington team in years.
"This is the first time that I believe that Washington has a chance to take the field and they've got a legitimate shot to not so much play even spoiler but see where they stand," Herbstreit said. "They've got this new, up-tempo offense, their defense is playing better. Who better to play than Oregon, who's kind of one of the pioneers of this style of football, and find out where they stand?
"It's going to be chippy, which is great. The emotions are going to be flying. And this is a chance also to see this new stadium ... I can't wait to see how that impacts the outcome of this game, to see how (Oregon quarterback) Marcus Mariota and (running back) De'Anthony Thomas and the Ducks handle that kind of adversity and that kind of distraction, because it's going to be a big factor in this game, no doubt about it."
Herbstreit was never asked about the Pac-12's officiating, but he had plenty to say about it.
"If there's one conference that needs to button up their officiating and do some offseason seminars and work to try to get these guys up to speed, it's the Pac-12," he said. "By far, by far, not even in any kind of discussion, (it's) the worst conference when it comes to officiating on a consistent basis."
Last week's Stanford-Washington game ended on with controversial ruling and included 17 combined penalties that didn't do the pace of play any favors.
"It was the sloppiest first half I think I've witnessed all year last week," Herbstreit said. "Were the teams guilty of some of it? Sure. But the officials and how they handle games, they're the police, and when you have a great crew, the game just seems to have a flow to it and it's buttoned up.
"These guys last week, they're throwing flags and they're meeting and they're picking flags up. It slowed the tempo down of the game, it slowed the whole process down. So I don't know who's officiating the game Saturday but I just hope it's the A team, if there is such a thing for the Pac-12."
Will the WSU flag fly?
A Cougars flag flown by Washington State fans is a part of the backdrop of every "College GameDay" broadcast, a tradition that will be put to the test this weekend as the show sets up shop in the middle of Washington's campus.
Herbstreit thinks Washington State fans will keep the streak alive, even though they'll have to go into enemy territory to pull it off.
"I know for a fact that no matter where our show goes, the Washington State flag will make it," he said.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.