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Washington’s big expectations begin with Rutgers

Chris Ash’s first assignment as Rutgers head coach will come against Washington. (Tae-Gyun Kim / Associated Press)
Chris Ash’s first assignment as Rutgers head coach will come against Washington. (Tae-Gyun Kim / Associated Press)
By Tim Booth Associated Press

SEATTLE – There has been a lot to process for the Huskies before their season opener Saturday morning at Husky Stadium.

First, there’s the opponent.

Rutgers will be playing its first game under the direction of first-time head coach Chris Ash, whose staff has ties to Ohio State, Houston, James Madison and Northern Illinois. That’s a lot of film for Washington coaches to gather and study, in addition to scouting Rutgers’ returning players.

All of that has led to a feeling of uncertainty entering Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff for a Pac-12 Networks broadcast. The Huskies, 7-6 last season, are 26½-point favorites against the Scarlet Knights, who were 4-8 in 2015 and widely picked to finish last again in the Big Ten East Division this season.

“There’s always uncertainties with the first game, for sure, because everybody’s going to be a little different,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “Had a long offseason to work on some things, but then you couple that with a brand-new staff across the board – you’re watching tapes of where they came from, but then they are going to have their own ideas that are tailored to their personnel. So that’s probably the biggest challenge, is a team like this we wish we didn’t have right out of the gate.

“And I think the second thing is they’ll have new energy. I know that staff has done a great job of changing the culture and getting those guys going. The combination of those things make it uncertain.”

For UW, there’s also the new, uncertain demand that comes with expectations.

The Huskies are ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press preseason poll, their highest ranking since 2002. Many media analysts are projecting the Huskies to win their first Pac-12 Conference championship since 2000, even though last year they needed a late-season surge just to finish the regular season at .500 and get to a bowl game.

A year ago, Vegas set the over/under win total for UW at four games. This year, the over/under is set at nine wins.

The website ran its “Predictalator” formula 50,000 times and the most common outcome has the Huskies beating UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game.

Will the outside expectations be a burden for the team? A boon? Come Saturday, we’ll start to get some answers.

“I’m not really worried about that at this point. That’s been going on forever,” Petersen said. “Our kids have worked hard, practiced hard. No matter how this game turns out, that just doesn’t matter. … It’s one game and one game at a time and one play at a time — all that corny coaching stuff is true. Rutgers is going to show up here with some guys ready to play football.”

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