Season-ticket holders need not worry about seeing marquee opponents at Husky Stadium this season. The Pac-12 schedule typically takes care of that, and this year is no exception. The Washington Huskies play host to three teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll — No. 11 UCLA, No. 13 Stanford and No. 17 Arizona State.
Those games, then, help make up for a three-game home nonconference schedule that lacks a true “A” game, to put it in schedule-speak. With home games against Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State (plus last week’s trip to Hawaii), the Huskies’ nonleague slate is not quite as enticing for fans debating a trek to Montlake.
For example: The Huskies host Eastern Washington on Saturday. EWU is a fine opponent, regardless of its Football Championship Subdivision classification, and should provide a competitive game similar to the one it nearly won at Husky Stadium in 2011. The Eagles are talented and well-coached. It would be foolish to look past them. They might even present the UW’s toughest nonconference test this season.
But EWU still isn’t an opponent to circle on the calendar in the same vein as, say, Michigan, with whom the Huskies have scheduled a home-and-home series in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Georgia State, the Huskies’ opponent on Sept. 20, is in its infancy as a football program and posted an 0-12 record in 2013. When the Illinois game was scheduled, it might have been reasonable to expect the Illini to be a little better than they are now. But as it is, they’re coming off a 4-8 season in which they finished 1-7 in Big Ten play, and the Huskies will likely be a double-digit favorite in that game, too. (Sacramento State and Utah State are on the home schedule in 2015, with a trip to Boise State anchoring that slate. The 2016 schedule is even less attractive for fans, with games against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.)
Add that all together, and you get a pretty underwhelming home slate — though given the Huskies’ current state of transition, that might not be such a bad thing.
Coach Chris Petersen doesn’t seem to care one way or the other, for now.
“I don’t really know,” Petersen said when asked if this year’s nonconference schedule is ideal. “I just think so much about like, our team, and whoever we play, we play. It doesn’t matter if it’s Hawaii, Illinois, Eastern Washington — we’ve just got to take care of ourselves, and a lot of that has to do with (athletic director) Scott (Woodward) and our administration, who we can get, what makes sense, what our fans want to see.
“That, coupled with I do think we play in an unbelievable league, that every week is going to be a battle. So I do think we’ve got to keep that mind as well.”
He isn’t wrong about that. The current state of nonconference scheduling among members of the Power Five leagues (SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC) is in flux, with strength-of-schedule implications being given more consideration as the College Football Playoff is implemented. The SEC recently announced a new scheduling policy requiring each of its schools to play at least one game per season against a team from a Power Five conference beginning in 2016, though it will keep an eight-game conference schedule. The Pac-12 plays nine league games, one of the biggest arguments for those in favor of scheduling a few cupcakes each year — though a recent ESPN poll showed that a majority of coaches from Power Five schools would prefer an exclusive Power-Five nonconference schedule for those programs. Petersen was one of those coaches, though he backed away from that vote when asked about it a few days later.
Petersen remembers how hard it was to schedule home-and-home series against strong programs at Boise State (and, as a former Mountain West coach, he doesn’t want to rule out the possibility of playing that caliber of school). He doesn’t expect it to get any easier given the changing college football landscape, though the aforementioned Michigan series, plus a home-and-home against Brigham Young in 2018-19, is a good start.
“Scott and I have had some discussions,” Petersen said. “It’s such a tricky thing anyway. It’s like, who’s available, who will give us home-and-home, that a lot of that narrows down. I think you can put together an ideal schedule on paper, and it usually doesn’t turn out like that. It was really, really hard for us at Boise to get some things done. And I think it’s only going to get tougher.
“I think it’s scheduled out for the next few years, and I think we’ll see how this whole thing plays out in terms of the national playoff system, just so much speculation. I think the next few years, things will start to settle down and you can kind of see what everybody really needs to do.”