Arizona State's matchup Saturday with No. 20 Washington appears on paper as another run-of-the-mill Pac-12 matchup between two teams with a combined .500 record in conference play.
But all three of the teams' combined losses have come to two of the Pac-12's top three teams (one to Oregon and two to Stanford), and ESPN's Brock Huard told Arizona Sports 620's Burns and Gambo that Saturday's contest is a battle between two programs attempting to take a step forward after several middling years.
"It's a swing game for both programs," Huard said Friday. "Both are trying to show they're different, that they're not seven-win programs."
The Sun Devils have hovered between five and eight wins in each season since 2008, and Washington has won seven games for three straight seasons. Both entered the 2013 season with high expectations, but both have yet to come up with a momentum-building win for the program.
Arizona State will have to deal with the nation's second-leading rusher in Washington's Bishop Sankey, but Huard said most of the pressure leading into Saturday's 3 p.m. kickoff at Sun Devil Stadium is on Washington. Huard said that Washington's Steve Sarkisian has called the ASU game Washington's biggest game of the season, and added that pressure may be starting to mount on the fifth-year head coach.
"They've changed to the up-tempo offense and all that … that's great, but beat ASU," said Huard, who co-hosts the Brock and Danny show on ESPN Radio 710 Seattle. "Anyone around the Stanford or Oregon games would say the gap is closing. But if the gap has closed with Stanford and Oregon, then you win this game.
"[Washington] needs this one to get to nine wins. If they lose, maybe you're looking at another seven wins, then you're looking at the frustration building around town. They can sense the gap is closing, but they want that breakthrough year."
But not only do the Huskies have to travel to Tempe and face a talented ASU team in a hostile environment, they're also doing it on the heels of games against the two most physical teams in the conference while ASU's starters played just a half in last week's blowout win over Colorado.
Still, Huard said he expects a hard-fought game from two programs looking to take the next step in their evolution.
"This is huge for both programs," Huard said.