Rutgers (0-0) at Washington (0-0)
11 a.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium
The line: Washington by 26
TV: Pac-12 Networks
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So, does this feel a little different than last season’s opener?
If you don’t remember: the Huskies opened as 12.5-point underdogs at Boise State last year. The thought of a six-win season seemed optimistic. They were breaking in a true freshman quarterback, a new offensive line and a new defensive front.
Now, they’re ranked 14th in the nation, and they’re a trendy pick to compete for the Pac-12 title. And they’re expected to roll through their three nonconference opponents with little resistance.
Rutgers, I think, will end up being the toughest of those three, which isn’t saying a whole lot. The Scarlet Knights went 4-8 last season. They were picked to finish last in their division. They return 15 starters, including quarterback Chris Laviano, leading rushers Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, and standout kick/punt returner and receiver Janarion Grant. UW coach Chris Petersen said he expects Rutgers to be a power spread team, implementing the Houston heritage of new offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer.
But with first-year head coach Chris Ash in charge, there’s really no way to know exactly what the Rutgers offense (or defense) will look like. Which makes this game more about the Huskies using their experience and athletic superiority to impose their will.
Washington could again have the best defense in the Pac-12, and, on paper, has a chance to be one of the best in the country. I’ll be interested to see how well they rush the passer, given the departures of Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton. Psalm Wooching and Joe Mathis will get the chance to do that quite a bit, but I also think UW’s massive defensive front -- especially when Elijah Qualls, Greg Gaines and Vita Vea are in there together -- will help in that regard. And I think Rutgers will have a hard time running the ball against that group.
Offensively, it seems reasonable to expect the Huskies to get Myles Gaskin going early, and use some success in the running game to open up the pass. A lot of eyes will be on the Huskies’ receivers; on a team some think to be among the top 15 in the nation, the receivers are probably the biggest unknown. Will be interesting to see how they use John Ross, too, and whether they try to get him the ball in ways other than simply throwing it to him.
Ultimately, I think the Huskies win this one fairly comfortably. Anything less than that would probably be a disappointment.
The pick: Washington 42, Rutgers 13.