Finally, the Washington Huskies will host a nonconference game against a top-25 opponent.
What? You didn’t know Portland State fit that bill?
OK, yes, fine. The Vikings aren’t an FBS program. They play in the Big Sky. The Huskies are huge favorites to win Saturday’s 5 p.m. game at Husky Stadium. But Portland State is, in fact, ranked in the top 25 of this week’s FCS coaches poll, checking in at No. 17 after a 66-35 loss to San Jose State.
Portland State (1-1) mostly earned that ranking by posting a 9-3 record last season under then-interim coach Bruce Barnum — he was rewarded last October with a five-year contract — and advancing to the playoffs for just the second time since it re-joined the FCS ranks in 1998.
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The highlight was a season-opening upset of Washington State, a result that should have the Huskies’ full attention as they prepare for a similar Vikings team this week.
“I know the mindset,” said UW coach Chris Petersen, who coached quarterbacks at PSU from 1993-94, when the school still competed at the Division II level. “And they’re going to come down here and play extremely hard. They’re well-coached. They’re all big games, it doesn’t matter. … They’re all big games. We only get so many chances to play. I think both sides will be excited to play.”
Petersen expressed respect for Barnum — the FCS Coach of the Year last season, he noted — and PSU’s coaching staff, saying that “it’s a remarkable turnaround, to have the program where it was and then in one year be able to — the two games they lost in the regular season (in 2015) were by a combined (five) points.”
Indeed, the Vikings made much happen in the span of a single offseason. They fired coach Nigel Burton, a former UW safety, following a 3-9 season in 2014, and promoted Barnum, their offensive coordinator, to head coach in an interim role. After PSU began the 2015 season 4-1 — including the upset of WSU and a 66-7 pasting of North Texas, another FBS foe — the school signed Barnum to a five-year deal.
(Barnum, meanwhile, is going out of his way to hype the Huskies, telling The Seattle Times this week that he wants to mortgage his house to bet on UW to win the national championship.)
UW’s coaches, at least, are wary of the Vikings’ underdog credentials. They run a pistol offense similar to Nevada, a team Petersen coached against while at Boise State, and PSU quarterback Alex Kuresa is an accomplished runner and an elusive passer.
“They’re going to be completely confident,” said UW defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake, a former FCS player himself at Eastern Washington. “They’ve already beat a Pac-12 opponent. Last night I went back and watched their North Texas game. They went down there, they’re up 35-0 in the second quarter, like it was nothing, against a Division 1 opponent.
“So these guys, they’re going to come in here with respect, but they’re going to come in here thinking they can come out of here with a win in Husky Stadium.”
Regarding the health of third-year sophomore defensive lineman Jaylen Johnson and redshirt freshman cornerback Austin Joyner — both of whom missed last week’s win over Idaho due to injury — Petersen said only that “we’re healthy enough.” … Saturday’s game marks the beginning of a stretch of at least three consecutive night games for the Huskies. “If we play another day game, I’ll be amazed,” Petersen said. “That’s just how it goes. I wish we were playing in the day, but we just don’t. So here we go.”