We're less than 100 days from the start of the college football season. Washington's schedule is put together. Let's take a look at it.
Sat., August 31: Boise State at Washington, 7 p.m.
Sat., September 14: Washington vs. Illinois, 3 p.m.
Sat., September 21: Idaho State at Washington
Sat., September 28: Arizona at Washington
Sat., October 5: Washington at Stanford
Sat., October 12: Oregon at Washington
Sat., October 19: Washington at Arizona State
Sat., October 26: California at Washington
Sat., November 9: Colorado at Washington
Fri., Nov. 15: Washington at UCLA, 6 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 23: Washington at Oregon State
Fri., Nov. 29:: Washington State at Washington
What a difference a year makes. Last year all the preseason speculation came with the ominous realization that the Huskies had one of the most difficult schedules in the nation, due to first-half games against LSU, Oregon, Southern Cal and Stanford - all teams that would be ranked in the top ten of the nation at some point.
This year, no LSU. No Southern Cal [though that proposition would seem less daunting with another year of experience].
Washington can reasonably expect to be favored in anywhere between seven and nine games. On paper, the season would appear to have the potential to be a breakthrough for Steve Sarkisian.
The key games: Boise State, Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon State. Those five games could well determine whether Washington's season will be remembered as good or great; the status quo, or that breakthrough.
If the Huskies notch a win in Week One against the Broncos the national spotlight will focus squarely on the program. Expectations will be raised and the Huskies would likely be 4-0 heading into a big-time showdown against Stanford; potentially one of the biggest conference games in recent memory for the Dawgs.
Lose that game to the Broncos and there's still plenty of time to rebound; and better to lose out of conference than in the league. It's not an all-or-nothing season opener, as some might make it out to be, but it's clear that psychologically the power of a win could do wonders for the program. As redemption for the bowl loss, but also in setting the tone and building the confidence for what could be the best season in many years.
The Oregon game is big for reasons that don't need to be entirely explained. Washington has shown at times that they can hang around. Here they have home field, and a system more built to compete in a game like this.
One potential pitfall: The only Bye Week comes after the first game, before a contest against Illinois that Washington would be expected to win anyways. We don't want to put too much stock into the value of byes in terms of preparation, but it undoubtedly helps with recovery from fatigue and injuries.
Of course, there is still a dangerous three-week grind even though it's not as difficult on paper as last year's schedule: On October 5, 12 and 19, Washington travels to Stanford, then plays Oregon, then hits the road to take on Arizona State. Win one of those two and the season can still be a good one. Win none, and it's likely a bust. Win two and the Huskies could be a darkhorse contender to play in the conference championship game.
Many observers still don't expect Washington to contend for the division championship. But the schedule sets up more favorably this year, and there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
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