Breaking down a season before it begins is almost impossible, but this year’s schedule will certainly present a challenge for Coach Sarkisian’s fifth team. Although the pre-season has a balance of one really good “A” caliber team (Boise State), one Big Ten “B level” team (Illinois, a 2-10 team last season), and one lower division “C” opponent, (Idaho State), they will be played in that order. Ideally you would want to play in reverse order and progressively improve along with the level of your opponent.
Right out of the blocks the Dawgs will host a pre-season ranked team in Boise State. This time they will be playing at home though in the remodeled Husky Stadium and there is no bigger game on your schedule than your first one. The Huskies know they could’ve beaten and many think they should’ve beaten the Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl, but they do have that game to learn from and one thing they know is Boise coach, Chris Peterson, will hit you with a trick play once he gets the momentum. This time around the Huskies will be looking for the fake punts or surprise plays in the kicking or passing game. They also know if they can run the ball like they did last year they will give themselves a great chance of winning. (Boise State only returns 5 starters on defense.) The Broncos also will have new kicking specialists playing in a very loud atmosphere. It promises to be a great opening game and if Washington can find a victory it will represent a huge win on their resume come Bowl time selections.
Then the schedule gives the Huskies a bit of a break with an early season bye before traveling to Soldiers Field in Chicago to play Illinois. The two weeks of preparation will allow the Dawgs to make adjustments from their first game and to make that all important step into their first road trip of the year. Sark’s Dawgs have not been particularly good on the road winning 2 and losing 8 the past two years and winning only 6 while losing 16 over the past 4 years. With two weeks to prepare and Illinois, who will be playing and hosting Southern Illinois and Cincinnati before Washington arrives, will be giving up an extra scout to the visiting Dawgs. If somehow the Huskies can be 2-0 it will set them up for a chance to go 3-0 while hosting Idaho State who they should beat handily.
Then the heat hits the fan the following four weeks when they open conference play with Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon followed by ASU who went 8-4 last year. Considering Arizona ran the Huskies off the field last year by a score of 52-17, and Stanford is ranked as one of the best programs in the country and is dying for revenge after losing to the Huskies last year, and an Oregon team who probably represents the elite team in the whole west and whom the Huskies haven’t beaten in 9 years, this conference start will really test this Husky team. Should they go 3-1 to open league they will probably play in the league championship with a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line. If they are 2-2 then they will have beaten two pretty good teams and if one of them is the Ducks then that in itself would be a monsterous victory for the program. To finish that mid-stretch with win over ASU on the road will certainly be a great way to start the conference play.
After the second month of the season the Huskies will have already have played some of the best teams in the Pac-12. Although each game could mean a championship in itself, the first league game is always the most critical in any season. If Washington can answer Arizona’s no-huddle hurry-up offense with their own version it will prove the program has made a turnabout and should help them against the next three. The Arizona game is the most important of the season simply because it is their league opener. Worry about the Cardinal and the Ducks when it becomes their turn. Winning your league opener is an absolute must in Pac-12 football and playing the Wildcats in Husky Stadium should be the difference. Besides I personably felt like Arizona ran it up on the Huskies last year and the Dawgs owe them one. The difference in the two teams is at quarterback position and I believe Keith Price will have to have a banner year for the Huskies and he will win the Arizona game and it will set them up for the next 3.
It’s not as though the conference schedule gets easier following Murderer’s row but the Huskies play Cal at home to end the month of October before benefiting from yet another bye the first weekend in November. Considering the Huskies struggled coming down the stretch last year this should help them get healthy before hosting Colorado, a team picked to finish last in their division. They then hit the road for a clash with UCLA who many consider the favorite to win the Southern Division and then travel to Corvallis to play the Beavers of Oregon State who they have struggled with over the past few years. These two road games may decide the fate of the Huskies in terms of a bowl selection and winning both may set them up for an opportunity to play the Cougars with a chance for pay back after last year’s Apple Cup debacle.
Along the way the Huskies will need to learn how to win on the road but if they can hold home court serve then they stand an excellent chance of winning all their key games.(The Huskies benefit from playing seven home games and only 5 on the road) To be successful in this conference you want to win your season opener, your conference opener, then beat the Ducks for the first time in ten years and then finish the season by beating your cross state rival. All four of those critical games will be played in Husky Stadium and a home sweep just may set the Huskies up for their first Rose Bowl in over a decade. The Rose Bowl has always been the standard for the Washington Huskies and it’s about time for the program to finally return and win that prestigious game.