Big year for the Huskies. That’s an understatement to say the least, but even that doesn’t cover the sheer magnitude of the 2018 season for this team.
Two years ago, the Huskies were up 7-0 in a playoff game down in Atlanta against Alabama, 3 and a half quarters away from one of the biggest upsets of the century. Last year, with most guys back, the expectations were just as high, and it was undeniably a disappointment. A late season loss down in Stanford cost us a shot at the Pac-12 championship, but the real culprit was a mind-boggling 13-7 loss to Arizona State (who ended their season losing in the Sun Bowl and firing their coaching staff). The Huskies were still granted a slot in the Fiesta Bowl, but weren’t all that competitive against a really good Penn State team, ultimately losing by 7 as their late comeback attempt fell short.
This year, somehow, some way, most guys are back again! We’ve got a 4th-year starter at both QB and RB. Our defense is loaded (particularly in the secondary), our offensive line projects to be one of the best in the conference, and while this is the second year in a row we have to replace our #1 receiver, the room as a whole looks improved over what it was a season ago. The Pac-12 overall doesn’t look too strong, our non-conference schedule has some non-cupcakes in it; it’s all laid out there for the taking.
Can the Huskies get back to the playoffs?
More importantly, can the Huskies really contend for a national championship?
Simply being able to ask these questions – and not have it sound ridiculous – makes me so overjoyed I can hardly contain myself. The Washington Huskies are a powerhouse in the NCAA. They’re almost certainly the best team in the Pac-12 and probably a Top 10 team in all of college football (currently ranked 6th in both polls). This is fun. It’s so much more fun than the alternative (though, at least when the Huskies are terrible, it’s easier to get tickets to games).
So, let’s take a look at the schedule, and try to predict all the games.
- @ Auburn
It’s a neutral site game, but that site is down in Atlanta, so yeah, this is a road game for the Huskies and a home game for the Tigers.
I’ll say this: I’m coming around to the idea of having this game played week 1. I feel like the Huskies need every advantage they can get to steal this game, and having all off-season to prepare is a great start. Also, wonky things can happen, as there’s no real tape on either of these teams. That can go both ways though, as you figure this year’s Washington team will resemble last year’s team quite a bit, as far as schemes go. We can use that to our advantage by pulling out all the stops, and I really hope we do. Gadget plays, fake punts, you name it!
That having been said, I’m having a hard time seeing the Huskies pull this one out. Unless Auburn is really overrated, it just feels like too much to go on the road and beat one of the best SEC teams of the season. I think we can hang with them, I think we can make a good showing for our school and the Pac-12, but in the end I feel like the Huskies will need to run the ball tremendously to win this game, and I can’t envision a scenario where we blast it down their throats. I think Same Ol’ Jake Browning shows up (you know, the one who’s incapable of winning a big game on his own, without the help of an insane rushing attack), and I think we start out a disappointing 0-1.
- North Dakota
Easy bounce-back game against a creampuff. This should be a 38-0 type of game.
- @ Utah
Woof. Pretty difficult early schedule for the Dawgs. I’m hearing nothing but positive things for the Utes this year, so to also play this one on the road – just two weeks after that showdown in Atlanta – is doing us no favors.
I can promise you this: the Huskies will NOT be 1-2 after three games. I’m very confident we’ll be 2-1 (with an outside chance at 3-0), so either we lose to Auburn or Utah, but not both. Given those odds, I’ll mark this down as a win, but I think it’ll be a very close game.
- Arizona State
Revenge game, against a pushover opponent. I don’t know WHAT they were thinking hiring Herm Edwards, but that looks like a Hindenburg Disaster waiting to happen. This should be another home blowout.
Isn’t this fun? Isn’t it fun to play some quality non-conference opponents?
I don’t have a good handle on what BYU is supposed to be this year, but I always peg them as a pretty big challenge regardless of who they’ve got on roster, since they usually have a pretty veteran group. As such, I don’t expect this to be a walk-over by any stretch, but I think UW will win comfortably (maybe up over 2 scores by the end).
- @ UCLA
If you had to ask me who the most over-rated college football programs are in the country, I’d put the Bruins pretty high on that list. How many times are they rated super high – because they’re an L.A. school – only to greatly disappoint? I guess you could say the downside here is that Jim Mora is gone, because PEE YOU does that guy suck at coaching. Not only that, but Chip Kelly is back?!
That actually brought a shiver to my spine a little bit.
While I think it’s great for the conference (if terrible for the Huskies) to have a head coach like Chip Kelly back in the fold, I do think this will be a transition year for the Bruins. As such, I would expect the Huskies to prevail in this one. Mark us down for a record of 5-1 at the midway point in the season.
- @ Oregon
We go from one Chip Kelly school to another. Oregon is sans Kelly, but otherwise running his program, so I guess if you have to play both of these teams on the road, playing them back-to-back at least affords us the luxury of game-planning for two similar offenses.
The Huskies ended up missing both USC and Arizona, who I believe will be two of the better schools in the conference. While I like Utah an awful lot, I don’t think they’ll ever get the national respect they’re due. As such, I could see Washington’s schedule looking A LOT easier in retrospect, if some of these teams don’t pan out.
Oregon is supposed to be good this year. Quarterback Justin Herbert is supposed to be a stud, and a potential first round NFL draft pick in 2019. As such, I believe this game will be one of the most important of the season (and not just because Fuck Oregon). I think this could be a lot like last year’s road game against Stanford, where the winner decides who is going to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
My concern lies not with our secondary – though I don’t think they’ll be perfect – but in our defensive line. If Herbert has clean pockets, he could potentially pick us apart. If they’re able to run for a good average, then he’s not going to need to beat us deep. It’s the same strategy teams have used to move the ball on the Seahawks for so many years: long sustained drives of dinking and dunking. In the end, I think the Huskies slip up here; I just hope Oregon has enough losses on their record to let this not be the disaster I’m worried it’ll be.
After Oregon, the schedule opens up and is a lot easier. 3 of our final 5 are at home, with the road games not looking too dire. I think Colorado will be bad this year and we’ll take out our frustration on them.
- @ California
I’m hearing good things out of the Bears, but I think they’re a year or two away from being good again. While they might put up a fight, I think the Huskies take this one as well.
They’re ranked #13 in both polls right now, but I don’t think Stanford will be ranked by the time we play them in November. I think they’re set for a VERY disappointing season and I don’t think this game will be very competitive at all. Huskies roll.
- Oregon State
Save our two worst games for last, as the Beavs look like one of the worst teams in the conference. Easy win for the Dawgs.
- @ Washington State
If the Beavs aren’t the worst, the Cougs will be. The Apple Cup is in Pullman this year, but we’ll be bringing it back home to Seattle without any trouble.
So, I’ve got the Huskies as a 10-2 team, 8-1 in the Pac-12. Is 8-1 good enough to win the Pac-12 North? Well, the way I see it, our only competition is Oregon. The Ducks miss USC and Colorado. They host Stanford at the end of September for their first conference matchup; I’ll be rooting HARD for the Cardinal in that one. They also obviously host the Huskies, which sucks.
The toughest stretch of games for the Ducks (outside of Stanford-@ Cal-BYE-Washington) will be @ Arizona-UCLA-@ Utah (they close out with creampuffs against ASU and OSU). If the Huskies end up losing to Oregon like I predict, then we’re going to need them to lose at least 2 games against those three teams if we want to represent the Pac-12 North. I dunno, I have my doubts. I hope I’m wrong.
If 8-1 is good enough to win the Pac-12 North, I’m going out on a limb to say that Arizona wins the Pac-12 South. It’s one of those things where you probably would rather see USC – as it looks better beating them, from a national perspective – but I just believe the Wildcats are the better team. I think we CAN beat them (we certainly SHOULD beat them) so I’ll predict that as a win now.
The question boils down to: is 11-2, a conference title, a tough-looking non-conference schedule, and wins over Utah, Arizona, Stanford, and BYU enough to get us into a 4-team playoff?
Probably not. It obviously gets us into a major bowl, but if things go the way I think they’ll go, we won’t be playing for a National Championship in 2018.
So, since the season hasn’t started yet, exactly how huge is this Auburn game? Are we playing for our playoff lives right out of the gate?
In a way, yes! I think, from a national perspective, everyone is super down on the Pac-12. Teams have new coaching staffs in place, the L.A. schools are breaking in new QBs. There’s a lot of transition right now. I think the Huskies are deemed to be the best team by far in the Pac-12, and everyone else is at least a tier or two below us. We’re the great hope! We’re the ONLY hope! Outside of someone running the table out of nowhere, the only team that figures to have a shot at the playoffs resides in Seattle.
That having been said, I just can’t EVER see a 2-loss Pac-12 team making the NCAA playoffs (probably not until we expand to 8 teams, anyway). So, either the Huskies win this game on Saturday – and put ourselves squarely in the driver’s seat for that spot – or we lose that game and have to run the table to get back into the top 4.
If we run the table and go into the post-season with only 1 loss to a quality SEC team on the road, that’s a no-brainer playoff bid. If we end up with 2 losses, a number of things have to happen.
For starters, we need to beat Stanford AND Oregon. An ideal scenario where the Huskies have 2 losses and still make the playoffs features us probably losing on the road to a very good Utah team. Starting 1-2 is never good, but it’s probably something we can overcome if we win out. Even then, we probably need USC to be the champs in the Pac-12 South and have to beat them in the championship game. That’s asking a lot.
I’d much rather the Huskies just beat Auburn now, and have a loss they can save for later in the season. Any way you slice it, I think a 1-loss Husky team that also beats Auburn makes it into the playoffs (even if we somehow get locked out of the Pac-12 championship).
This has the feel of a grim assessment of the 2018 Huskies; like I’m writing them off before the season even starts. I’d just like to say that I STILL think this is an elite college football team. I’m trying to be realistic is all.
It’s so hard to run the table in college football. Hell, even teams like Alabama slip up here and there! Some weeks, things just aren’t going to go your way. You make too many mistakes on offense, another team’s defense gets lucky with turnovers, the refs call some crazy penalties; you just never know what’s going to happen.
I feel like 10-2 is the sensible prediction for this Husky team. It’s safe. Barring a ton of unforeseen injuries to key players, it’s probably unrealistic to expect anything LESS than 10 wins this regular season. If I’m setting the bar low, just know that this “low” bar is still double-digit wins, which is amazing.
I also feel like the sky is the limit for this team. Beating Auburn FEELS like a longshot, but isn’t impossible. We’ll have to execute. Guys will have to step up and make plays. But, we’re as healthy as we’re ever going to be, so it’s our best shot against theirs, and I have no problem recognizing this team’s potential. Jake Browning COULD shock me. Our running backs are pretty elite; it’s not insane to think they’d be able to run at will. I fully expect one or two of these receivers to come out of nowhere to blow my mind! And we’re so fast and strong across the board on defense that there’s no reason to expect we’ll be pushed around in this or any game, SEC or no SEC.
If I had to put a percentage on the Auburn game, I’d say it’s 55% Auburn, 45% Washington. So, you know, close. Almost a coin flip.
And, of course, if we win that game, the complexion of this season shifts in an instant. We have to be seen as the favorites in every other game we’re involved in through the regular season. While I have to believe we still lose one of these Pac-12 games, I won’t entirely rule out a 12-0 season. Not entirely. Some flukey shit will have to happen, but everything about this program is special. The coaches, the players, everything.
I can’t wait.