The public may not have caught up with the fact yet, but while college football's perennial glamour schools have monopolized pre-season headlines with their Heisman Trophy candidates and highly paid coaches, the University of Washington has been quietly readying its bid for No. 1 national honors.
The Huskies appear to have a solid chance to go all the way, too. Almost everyone agrees that this is a squad with exceptional depth and balance, as shown by the fact that it was picked either first or second in most of the various wire service and national magazine polls.
That makes Coach Don James's team a strong favorite, of course, in its own conference (the Pacific 10), meaning it is probably going to make a third straight Rose Bowl appearance New Year's Day.
What we're talking about isn't just a fine year, but the possibility of an unbeaten season. This isn't a subject James particularly wants to comment on. He would just as soon let it all happen quietly. You know, film at 11. But if it does happen, he and a staff that have always emphasized teaching will be the chief reasons.
No, we haven't forgotten that it takes mentally and physically talented players to win. Only that football teams don't pull together until the coach fits them into an invisible harness. Don has also been known to come up with game plans that rival those of NFL coaches Tom Landry and Bill Walsh for their thoroughness.
Basically this is the same 10-2 Huskies squad that buried Iowa, like so many seeds of corn, 28-0 in the 1982 Rose Bowl with a combination zone and man-to-man defense that zipped up every seam on the field.
Seventeen of those starters are back, eight on offense, nine on defense. What they can't do with size, they do with speed.
Pro scouts are already beginning to ask about Ray Horton, a cornerback who reportedly has a vertical jump of 33 inches. This not only comes in handy when changing lightbulbs, but is discouraging to passers who like to hit their receivers high.
Two Washington linebackers whose names you might like to jot down if you're going to be in Seattle for the Huskies' opener against Texas El Paso Saturday are Ken Driscoll and Mike Stewart.
Though Driscoll is under six feet, any college coach in the country would like to have him. Stewart, who is taller and carries a 3.3 grade average, is expected to go in the first round of next year's National Football League draft.
Offensively, James will ride with sidearming quarterback Steve Pelluer, who has improved his throwing technique through a combination of experience, coaching, and practice. He showed that he could win when the pressure was on last year as a sophomore and should continue to mature as a field general.
As for pass receivers, Washington has two of the best in flanker Paul Skansi and split end Anthony Allen. Skansi, who must have played in a bucket of glue instead of a sandbox as a kid, is expected to set a record this year for most career receptions by a Washington player. The mark Paul is shooting for is 112 catches.
Allen, who led the Pac-10 in punt returns last year with an average of 11.9 yards per carry, is another kid with sticky fingers. Allen is currently 11th on the school's all-time receiver list. And behind these two is split end Aaron Williams, who some scouts rate ahead of Allen.
The Washington running back you're probably going to read most about is Jacque Robinson, who last year became the first freshman ever to win the Rose Bowl MVP award. All Robinson did against Iowa was rush for 142 yards while scoring two touchdowns.
The Huskies also have a kid who can get them on the scoreboard instantly in placekicker Chuck Nelson. Chuck led the Pacific 10 Conference in scoring last year with 77 points, the result of making good on 16 of 20 field goal attempts and going 29 for 29 on points after touchdowns.
Asked by reporters, prior to the 1982 Rose Bowl, what it takes to win at a school like Washington, which is off the beaten path as far as a lot of kids are concerned, James replied:
''My answer is that it takes exactly the same things it takes anywhere - players, organization, preparation, and especially defense. I'm always surprised when a team that hasn't done well, and is in the market for a new coach, goes out and hires an offensive specialist. Sure, offense is important, but defense is where you win.''