Its fate in the national polls won't be determined until today--Washington started the new year tied with Miami for the top spot in the USA Today/CNN poll and ranked No. 2 behind the Hurricanes in the Associated Press poll--but Michigan Coach Gary Moeller seemed convinced of the Huskies' merits.
He said that he had never seen anything like the Huskies, who combined a swift, attacking defense with an opportunistic offense to overwhelm a Michigan team that won the Big Ten Conference championship and was ranked third in the USA Today/CNN poll, fourth in the AP poll.
"They're probably one of the best teams we've ever played," Moeller said. "I think we lost to as good a football team as I've ever seen.
"I've not prepared or played against Miami, but I can't envision a football team any better than that."
In wrapping up its first unbeaten season in 75 years, Washington (12-0) made Michigan's Desmond Howard all but disappear, limiting the Heisman Trophy-winning split end to only one reception, and left Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac feeling all shook up.
"We got out of rhythm at the beginning, and then we ran around like chickens with our heads cut off," Grbac said.
The Huskies made it so.
Michigan (10-2) never got into sync offensively against the Washington defense, which ended the regular season ranked second in the nation against the run, third against the pass and second overall.
The Wolverines' usually reliable running game accounted for only 72 yards, and Grbac was sacked five times while trying to find Howard.
"I was amazed that we got so much pressure," Washington Coach Don James said. "We didn't call a lot of (blitzes)."
Instead, the Huskies concentrated on covering the elusive Howard, who scored 23 touchdowns during the regular season.
"We had a number of different double-(coverage) schemes," James said. "We were trying to get people underneath his routes when we were in deep zones.
"I'm proud, No. 1, of the plan my assistants put together, and two, of the way these guys played it."
Meanwhile, Washington passed for 281 yards, 192 by sophomore Billy Joe Hobert, who completed 18 of 34 passes, threw for two touchdowns and shared player-of-the-game honors with defensive tackle Steve Emtman.
Hobert's backup, Mark Brunell, played only two series, but last season's Rose Bowl player of the game--a backup this year only because he injured his right knee in spring practice--led two scoring drives while completing seven of eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.
"That shows what kind of depth we have," Hobert said.
It was too much for Michigan.
Washington's All-American split end, Mario Bailey, upstaged Howard, catching six passes for 126 yards and mocking his counterpart by striking a stiff-armed pose after scoring the Huskies' last touchdown.
Howard struck a similar pose in Michigan's last game, emulating the player whose likeness sits atop the Heisman Trophy.
Tight end Aaron Pierce made a career-high seven catches.
But, as it was during the regular season, almost everything accomplished by the Husky offense was made possible by the defense.
Michigan couldn't move.
"I'm not going to say they were pushovers because those guys were some of the best, toughest players I've ever played against," Husky center Ed Cunningham said of the Wolverines. "But we're a great team.
"When we play together like we did for (the last) two quarters, there's not one team in America that can beat us. Not one."
James wouldn't go that far, but the Husky coach said: "I can't believe that there's anybody a whole lot better than us."
As was the case in all but one of its games this season, Washington never trailed, taking a 7-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter, a two-yard run by Hobert that ended a 54-yard drive.
It was the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Wolverines in 23 quarters, almost six full games. They hadn't allowed a touchdown by running since Oct. 19, when Indiana's Trent Green scored on a one-yard run with 10:27 left in the second quarter of a 24-16 Michigan victory.
Howard then made his only reception, jumping in front of cornerback Dana Hall for a 35-yard gain that put the ball at Washington's nine-yard line, setting up a nine-yard touchdown pass from Grbac to Walter Smith.
Howard got the ball on only one more offensive play--he carried for 15 yards on a double reverse later in the second quarter--and Washington started to pull away, even as it squandered several scoring opportunities.
Travis Hanson kicked field goals of 24 and 23 yards to give the Huskies a 13-7 halftime lead, but it could have been 21-7.
Before Hanson's first kick, a 14-yard touchdown run by reserve tailback Jay Barry, was nullified by a holding penalty. Before the second, No. 1 tailback Beno Bryant dropped a pass in the end zone.
Washington had accumulated 207 total yards by halftime, Michigan 53. The Wolverines had nine yards rushing in 17 attempts.
"We did so much offensively, but we came out with so few points," James said. "You wonder if you'll get any more chances."
Moeller felt fortunate that the score was so close.
It wasn't for long.
In its second possession of the third quarter, Washington put together its most impressive drive, moving the ball 80 yards in 12 plays and scoring on a three-yard pass from Hobert to backup tight end Mark Bruener.
A pass from Hobert to Pierce gave the Huskies a two-point conversion and a 21-7 lead with 5:27 left in the third quarter.
After Michigan then went three plays and out, Washington struck again.
Hobert passed three yards to Pierce on the second play of the fourth quarter, capping a 48-yard drive to make it 27-7.
Michigan's next possession didn't go three plays and out only because the Wolverines tried to retain possession on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Grbac, whose effort resulted in no gain.
Washington had the ball again, this time at the Wolverines' 38, and James again brought on Brunell, who had completed six of seven passes during a second-quarter drive that resulted in Hanson's first field goal.
This time, Brunell lofted a pass toward the end zone, Bailey ran under it and the Huskies' lead was 34-7 with 13:12 left.
Bailey struck his pose.
The only surprise after that was not that Michigan scored again, getting a 53-yard touchdown run from Tyrone Wheatley, but that the Huskies' fans waited until the final minute to start chanting: "We're No. 1."
"They did to us what they've done to everybody," Moeller said. "Their defense just keeps beating you around, and their offense jumps in there and takes over.
"We just gave them the ball too many times and they got into a comfort zone where they could try some things."
Most of them worked.
Are the Huskies No. 1?
"I'm going to vote Washington No. 1," James said.