They have been to the College Football Playoff and will leave UW with a bevy of records, but seniors Myles Gaskin and Jake Browning have yet to play in a Rose Bowl. That can change Friday with a victory over Utah in the Pac-12 championship game.
Both of them deflected the question, most likely out of caution. They probably had even bigger dreams when the season began, so there was no use getting ahead of themselves now.
What do you think about the opportunity to play in your first Rose Bowl?
“I don’t want to downplay that, but we gotta win this game to get there,” said Huskies running back Myles Gaskin.
“I’m pretty focused on Utah,” added Huskies quarterback Jake Browning. “They’re a pretty good team, so I’m 100 percent focused on that.”
You’d expect such responses if Washington were more than one win from sealing that chance to go to Pasadena. Except this isn’t a one-game-at-a-time situation — it’s a one-game-and-we’re-in.
But maybe in a season that’s been more tumultuous than expected, these seniors have learned to abstain from fantasy until it becomes reality.
“We had to fight pretty hard and get some stuff done and things had to go our way to get here,” Browning said. “Now we gotta capitalize.”
Seems a little weird that one of the best QB-RB duos in Pac-12 history has never made the Rose Bowl. Seems a bit off that a group one victory away from its third straight double-digit-win season hasn’t gotten to play in the “Granddaddy of Them All.”
Sure, a trip to the College Football Playoff is always atop the goal list when the year kicks off. But given how the 10th-ranked Huskies made the final four in 2016, a New Year’s Day game in Pasadena would give this tandem’s resume a much rounder look.
That said, it’s easy to forget that UW (9-3, 7-2 in conference) is just a few plays from being perfect. A speed option on third-and-goal in the third quarter vs. Auburn could have yielded six points but resulted in a Browning fumble. A missed field goal vs. Oregon after Huskies coach Chris Petersen stopped letting Browning pass cost UW a win in Eugene. And then there was the Cal game, when Petersen yanked Browning for two series only for Jake Haener to throw a game-deciding pick-six.
Add the fact that Gaskin was out for both Pac-12 losses, and you can bet that the what-ifs have run some laps around these guys’ heads.
But I wonder if those near misses are almost welcomed in retrospect. I wonder if having to beat their final three foes of the regular season — foes that included perennial power Stanford and then-No. 7 Washington State — made them all the more appreciative of their current position.
A win over 17th-ranked Utah in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday and the Huskies clinch their second Pac-12 title in three years and punch their ticket to SoCal. And though he might be living in the moment, Gaskin, who played against Alabama in the CFP semifinal, said this could be the biggest game he’s ever played in.
“I couldn’t be more thankful,” Gaskin said. “We definitely had our ups and downs, but were just trying to stay hungry. Definitely losing those games made us hungrier, but I think that they helped us grow. I think that’s why we’re in the position we’re in now.”
The career numbers speak for themselves. Actually, it’s more like they’re screaming.
Gaskin, who has run for at least 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons, has 5,131 career rushing yards and 60 total touchdowns — both school records. Browning, meanwhile, has thrown for 11,796 passing yards and is six shy of 100 TDs.
Even so, there is criticism. Regardless of performance, fans tend to go from content to complacent to openly contentious. Browning will hear it sometimes, but knows it’s unavoidable.
“I think any time you’re a quarterback, and you’re playing in some big games, you try and find one quarterback who played four years, played as a true freshman, played four years and every fan likes him,” Browning said. “It’s not going to happen.”
There is charm in seasons such as this one. There is more appeal in resilience than dominance.
There was a time when this team looked just a shade above mediocre. Now it’s a win a way from college football’s most storied game.
Gaskin won’t comment on it. Browning won’t, either.
But trust that they’re dreaming about it. Feel free to do the same.