SEATTLE -- While the countdown continues toward college football's Super Bowl, the Nov. 16 showdown between No. 1 Florida State and co-No. 2 Miami that most likely will determine who finishes first in the regular-season polls, there is one other team just as deserving of consideration.
The University of Washington, which has held the top spot in the New York Times computer rankings for the past month and this '' week moved into a second-place tie with Miami in the Associated Press rankings, has been dominating teams with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The Huskies, who increased their record to 8-0 Saturday with a 44-16 victory over Arizona State, have outscored their opponents 333-71, and are leading the nation in both total defense and defense against the run.
The bandwagon, far from crowded earlier in the season, is picking up new passengers by the day. Two rather significant ones have come aboard in the last two weeks -- Oregon coach Rich Brooks and Arizona State's Larry Marmie.
Brooks, who is in his 15th year at Oregon and has been in the Pacific 10 Conference as a player or coach since 1959, says Washington is the best team he ever has seen in the league. He feels longtime Huskies coach Don James has put together a team that is better even than the undefeated national championship Southern California team of 1972. That team featured tailback Anthony Davis, wide receiver Lynn Swann and linebacker Richard Wood among 35 players who went on to the NFL.
"I said before the game," Brooks proclaimed after his team's 29-7 loss to the Huskies two weeks ago, "that Washington is the best team I've seen in this league, ever. I still stand by that."
Marmie likewise was full of praise after Saturday's trouncing.
"We were dominated by a great football team," Marmie said. "Certainly, you could make a case for Washington as the best team in the country."
The Huskies are doing it with:
* The best blend of offense and defense in the country.
* Rugged offensive and defensive lines that appear superior to those at Florida State and Miami.
* Enough speed, particularly in the secondary and on special teams, to prevent the sort of big plays that Florida State used to burn Michigan and Miami used to torch Penn State.
* A talented core of NFL-caliber players.
"A lot of people might not know who we are, but the scout know," tailback Jay Barry said.
James is making the most of this giddy autumn because he knows how fickle public opinion can be. A few years back, he was anointed a genius by no less than Sports Illustrated, which ran a list of the three best college coaches and listed them as "Don James, Don James, Don James." Then, after Washington went through an uncharacteristic 6-5 season in 1988, James became a target of criticism, being called the most overrated Pac-10 coach by one poll.
James since has returned to his pedestal -- a Los Angeles Times poll of Pac-10 offensive and coordinators rated him the best coach in the league -- but it wasn't until he decided to conduct a careful examination of what had become a stagnant program.