CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Three ranked college football teams can update their status with wins

Undefeated Washington, Northwestern and Maryland face big challenges in Stanford, Ohio State and Florida State, respectively.

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Count this as a huge Saturday for three ranked schools looking to update their status from nice story to national story.

It doesn't get bigger, ready or not, for Washington, Northwestern and Maryland:

•No. 15 Washington is at No. 5 Stanford in the most important game involving the Puget Sound players since the 2000 Rose Bowl season led by Rick Neuheisel.

There is a buzz in Seattle that hearkens to the days of Don James and Warren Moon, the sweet smell of a national title chase and, yes, even probation.


More sports stories, pictures and videos! @themorningcall.com.

After muddling along with a string of seven-win seasons that some said put Steve Sarkisian on the hot seat, the fifth-year coach is suddenly beating back adoring fans who don't want him to leave for USC.

"What a cool week for the Huskies, man," Sarkisian said at his Monday news conference.

It's actually Part 1 of what could be a cool two weeks if Washington can knock off Stanford and Oregon on consecutive Saturdays. That would put the Huskies at 6-0 and somewhere in the Associated Press top five.

Washington is 4-0 for the first time since 2001 and in the top 15 for the first time in 11 years.

Washed away are the dreadful memories of the 0-12 2008 season and a 67-56 loss to Baylor in the 2011 Alamo Bowl.

Sarkisian has shored up a leaky defense with coordinator Justin Wilcox and ramped up the tempo on offense to the benefit of senior quarterback Keith Price.

The offense, which averaged 69 plays per game a year ago, has run 85, 85, 81 and 86 plays this season.

Defeating Stanford would probably be Sarkisian's signature achievement. Two years ago, Stanford gashed the Huskies for 446 rushing yards in a blowout win.

Washington won last year in Seattle, 17-13, but then lost three straight on its way to 7-6.

Sarkisian may have to live with the USC rumors, which he calls "the giant elephant in the room." How Washington fares the next two weeks may dictate his future.

•No. 16 Northwestern is playing No. 4 Ohio State in what can be easily argued as the most important game in Evanston, Ill., since the "Purple to Pasadena" season of 1995.

Northwestern has lost 28 of its last 29 games to Ohio State and faces a team that has gone 17-0 under second-year Coach Urban Meyer.

Funny thing: Northwestern missed Ohio State on the schedule in 1995 on its way to the Rose Bowl, but there's no sidestepping the Buckeyes this time.

Pat Fitzgerald, star linebacker on the 1995 team, is the face of Northwestern and represents the pivot point in a program that once lost 34 straight games and went 3-62-1 from 1976 to '81.

Fitzgerald has flipped the psyche switch with a 54-39 record in seven-plus seasons as coach. Last season, he led the Wildcats to their first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl.

Defeating Ohio State would kick the program into another stratosphere.

•No. 25 Maryland at No. 8 Florida State is the flimsiest of the three upset propositions, but it's a possibility.

Maryland is also 0-11 all-time at Florida State.

Maryland got sideswiped last season with so many injuries at quarterback the team had to turn to a freshman scout-team linebacker. Two keys to its turnaround have been the return of quarterback C. J. Brown from an injury-lost season and the continued dominance of Coach Randy Edsall's defense.

Maryland finished 4-8 last season with a defense that finished No. 21 nationally. This season the Terrapins are No. 3 in scoring defense, giving up only 10.3 points per game, and No. 6 in total defense.

Maryland announced itself with a 37-0 shutout win against West Virginia on Sept. 21. That victory earned more credibility when West Virginia turned around and upset No. 11 Oklahoma State.

Maryland is 4-0 for the first time since 2001 and ranked for the time since 2010.

A win over Florida State would be shocking and also beg the next question: When does Maryland play Clemson?

On Oct. 26.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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