Washington (0-0) at No. 23 Boise State (0-0)
7:15 p.m. Friday, Albertsons Stadium
The line: Boise State by 12.5
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It would have been hard to imagine on Sept. 1, 2013, after the Washington Huskies had just completed a 38-6 shellacking of Boise State in the first game at renovated Husky Stadium, that when this home-and-home series resumed in Boise in 2015, Chris Petersen would be coaching the Huskies, and the Broncos would be a double-digit favorite.
But here we are, the Huskies beginning Year 2 of the Petersen era against the program their coach built into a perennial force.
And in some ways, Petersen is in a similar situation as that 2013 opener. Boise State had lost a ton of experience from the team that had beaten Washington in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl, while the Huskies returned all of their key playmakers (Keith Price, Bishop Sankey, Kasen Williams).
Petersen even said this week that this Huskies team feels a little like the young, inexperienced BSU team that struggled a bit in 2013 (yes, when you win 92 games in eight seasons, an eight-win year does qualify as a struggle). He was making the larger point that the young players who were forced into action two seasons ago are now experienced veterans on a top-25 team.
Boise State does return 17 starters from last year’s Fiesta Bowl championship team, but the Broncos are also facing similar uncertainty as the Huskies at the quarterback position, where third-year sophomore Ryan Finley takes over after serving as Grant Hedrick’s backup a year ago. And the loss of star tailback Jay Ajayi isn’t insignificant, either.
That said, BSU’s entire starting offensive line is back, and they’ll be going against a UW defensive front that I do think is pretty talented, but is going to need some time to get used to playing alongside one another. Can Elijah Qualls help make up for the loss of Danny Shelton by establishing himself as a force in the middle? Hau’oli Kikaha, Andrew Hudson and Shelton kept constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season. Who fills that void this year? How will Travis Feeney adapt to the “BUCK” linebacker spot? What about new starters Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria? All promising players, to be sure. But it’s hard to know what to expect from them in Game 1.
Aside from Petersen’s return to Boise, the biggest storyline seems to be UW’s quarterback situation -- especially if Jake Browning gets the start, as many are speculating. Browning is renowned for his poise, and this will be a great test of it, given the atmosphere. The Huskies’ offensive line, termed a “work in progress” by coaches all camp, will have to gel in a hurry for the Huskies to keep Browning (or whoever) upright and give the passing game a chance.
I don’t see Boise State as infinitely more talented than the Huskies. And the coaching staffs obviously instill similar principles and play similar styles.
But while experience can sometimes be overrated, I think it matters here. There are just so many unknowns for the Huskies right now -- like at quarterback -- whereas Boise State is a little more established. This just doesn’t feel like a game that a young team wins on the road in Week 1.
I’m not expecting the scoreboard to resemble what it did in 2013 at Husky Stadium. But I don’t think Petersen’s team will win this one, either.
The pick: Boise State 31, Washington 21.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple