Allstate Sugar Bowl - Texas v Washington
Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS -- In the wake of No. 2 Washington's dramatic 37-31 win over No. 3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl, a victory that set up the Huskies to play for the College Football Playoff National Championship against No. 1 Michigan on Monday, it's impossible to ignore the unique run this team has been on throughout the 2023 season. 

No other team in college football's modern era has won 10 consecutive games decided by 10 points or less. Even teams that have a tendency for drama or bear something resembling the "clutch gene" don't consistently come out on top week after week like the Huskies. It's a unique roster that we may never see again, with six sixth-year seniors and veteran presence throughout the depth chart that has allowed Washington to be led by the players. 

That leadership starts with star quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who had one of the most prolific performances in College Football Playoff history with 430 yards passing against the Longhorns. On the eve of the Huskies CFP semifinal matchup with the Longhorns, Penix assembled the team to deliver a message in advance of the program's first playoff appearance since 2016. 

"I don't know what the meeting was about, but he asked to get the guys together," Washington coach Kalen DeBoer explained after the win. "I think just sharing his mind, sharing his heart. Certainly, as a leader of this football team, those guys respond, and you saw that today. Those guys play with a passion, and it starts with No. 9 right here."

DeBoer said Penix was on "another level" all month leading up to the game, setting a standard in practice that let the Huskies coach know his star signal-caller was going to do everything possible to find a way to win. All of Washington's coaches and players have pointed to the "player-led" aspect of this team as a reason why the Huskies have continuously come up on the winning side of close games. That continued through the fallout of Monday's dramatic win. 

"It's part of our standard, it's a player-led team," explained linebacker Bralen Trice, who thrived against Texas with two sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble. 

Trice said that the defense puts themselves in situations all the time in practice when they have to face a moment like holding off Texas' furious fourth-quarter rally.

"You can think we were shook out there, obviously we weren't," he said. "We were 10 toes down, ready to go." 

Washington was not perfect against Texas. Turning second-half field goals into touchdowns would have prevented the need for a last-second defensive stand to win the game. One more first down, avoiding a kick-catch interference penalty or not giving up explosive plays to Texas star QB Quinn Ewers could have also put the Huskies in a less stressful situation where they didn't need to lean on their DNA as an experienced, player-led team. But, as usual, it's the X-factor for a group that is on a one-of-a-kind run.

We may not see a team like Washington again in college football, at least in terms of roster maturity, because the opportunity to have so many veterans happens in part because the NCAA added an extra year of eligibility for players who took part in the pandemic-affected 2020 season. Those extra years will cycle out of the system soon, and while there will be some exceptions with medical hardship waivers, there won't be teams with as many older players on the field. 

The specifics of Penix's message to the team the night before the game remains secret, but it's unlikely that we'll have a 23-year old (who turns 24 in May) serving as the face of a title-contending program again. He and the other veterans on this team have been the key to powering one of the most clutch seasons in college football history. Unless we see more changes to eligibility in the future, we might not see another group like the Huskies again.