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For the first time since practice began last summer, the No. 21 Washington Huskies will field what had been their projected preseason starting offensive and defensive units.

Hopefully, Huskies coach Jim Lambright said Wednesday, it will translate into a victory over No. 25 Michigan State in today's Aloha Bowl (3:30 p.m., Ch. 7; Radio 550).

"This is definitely the healthiest we've been," Lambright said. "We have our quarterback (Brock Huard), tailback (Rashaan Shehee) and defensive end (Chris Campbell) back.

"Having them back in starting roles puts us back to early-season form."

Knowing the Spartans (7-4) will be facing a geared-up Washington team (7-4) put Michigan State coach Nick Saban on the defensive.

"If they didn't have a lot of injuries at key positions, they most likely would be among the top 10 right now," he said.

"We have a lot of respect for them -- their speed and skill level on offense, their speed, movement and quickness on defense and return and special teams are going to be very challenging for us."

Saban said a win would be important for the Michigan State program.

"A win would give us eight wins, the most in quite a few years, and secure a Top 25 finish," he said. "That was one of our initial goals for the year.

"It will also allow the players to go into the future with a positive attitude. Like the Notre Dame and Penn State games, it will help build confidence, raise expectations and self-fulfillment.

"For the younger players, it will launch them into . . . a positive attitude for future goals as to what they want to accomplish in the program."

The rumors have been swirling concerning Saban but he says he has not spoken with anyone in the NFL about a job.

An agitated Saban interrupted a question-and-answer session to deny that he had been contacted by the Indianapolis Colts, who fired Lindy Infante on Monday.

"I haven't talked to Indianapolis or any other NFL team for that matter," he said. "I don't intend to, don't plan to. If being in the NFL was my goal, I would be there now. I had the opportunity to do it last year.

"Our focus and attention is on this game and what we want to do in this game. That's it."

For Washington, a win is important, but for different reasons than Michigan State's, Lambright said.

"We're in a little different situation because we lost the last three games of the regular season," he said.

"That puts an even greater emphasis on the reason you want to finish with shiny, happy, smiling faces, rather than what we experienced -- the continuing feeling of disappointment."

The Huskies have had their troubles, even in Hawaii. Jerome Pathon, a starting wide receiver for Washington, was released on $100 bail after being arrested on a misdemeanor count of allegedly disobeying a police officer.

Police said Pathon refused to follow an officer's orders to stop while operating a moped on the sidewalk and grass area of a park in Waikiki on Tuesday.

Police said the officer, who was riding on a bicycle, was injured when he flew over his handle bars as he avoided a collision with Pathon. Washington's coaching staff said Pathon will play today.

Michigan StateWashington
AP poll rankingT-2521
Points per game27.033.5
Points allowed17.221.5
Average yards rushing199.5161.3
Average yards passing182.5253.6
Total offense382.0414.9

STAR PERFORMERS: Michigan State running back Sedrick Irvin has rushed 231 times for 1,211 yards, an average of 110.9 yards per game that ranks him 16th in the nation. . . . Washington quarterback Brock Huard was 146 of 244 for 2,140 yards and 23 touchdowns, and a 156.4 passing efficiency rating that ranks him fifth in the nation.

SPARTAN-HUSKY CONNECTION: Michigan State head coach Nick Saban was a strong safety for former Washington head coach Don James at Kent State, when he earned three varsity letters from 1970-72. Also on the Golden Flashes' staff as the offensive line coach was Bob Stull, who is currently assistant athletic director for development at Washington.

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