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Analysis: Re-ranking the most (and least) intriguing games of the UW Huskies’ new fall football schedule

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 5, 2020

Washington Huskies running back Richard Newton (28) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of a college football game on Friday, November 29, 2019, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Washington Huskies running back Richard Newton (28) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of a college football game on Friday, November 29, 2019, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

On Saturday morning, the persistent Pac-12 released its third attempt at a fall football schedule – comprised of five divisional match ups, one cross-divisional game and a seventh conference game determined by regular season seeding.

And yes, let’s hope the third time’s the charm as we rank the games on Washington’s schedule from least intriguing to most:

Nov. 21 vs. Arizona

UW has won three straight in this series and hasn’t dropped a game to Arizona inside Husky Stadium since 2007. To continue that streak, Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense has to limit ascending sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell – who completed 65.2% of his passes and threw for nine touchdowns with just one interception in eight games as a true freshman for Arizona in 2019.

In last October’s 51-27 UW win in Tucson, the Huskies showed the inconsistency that plagued them all season. Chris Petersen’s team allowed 17 second-quarter points and trailed 17-13 at halftime, before exploding for 38 points in the second half. UW fans will be hoping to see more of those second-half Huskies in a shortened season this fall.

Nov. 14 vs. Oregon State

UW head coach Jimmy Lake knows Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith, and vice versa. For four years, they shared a staff at UW – with Smith’s offense dueling Lake’s secondary in daily practices. Last season, Lake got the better of that duel – as UW’s defense allowed just 119 total yards and zero offensive points in a 19-7 road win (and Washington’s best defensive performance of the season).

Smith’s Beavers made significant progress last season, but don’t forget that UW has won eight straight games in this series … with those wins coming by an average of 25.5 (!) points. Has Oregon State improved enough to steal a win in Seattle? Unlikely, but time will tell.

Dec. 5 vs. Stanford

What’s the polite way to put this? In a 23-13 win last October, Stanford physically dominated Washington. The Cardinal rushed for 189 yards and 4.4 yards per carry and piled up 482 total yards. On the other end, the Huskies managed just 294 total yards and went 2 for 12 on third down. A week after an impressive Husky home win over USC, this was a thorough and unexpected dismantling. It was also arguably the beginning of the end for offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan.

On Dec. 5, inside an empty Husky Stadium, UW will have to prove it can be the physically superior team to Stanford. Petersen’s crew couldn’t do that a year ago. There will be no excuses to offer. The tougher team will likely win.

Nov. 7 at Cal

This game could rank higher for several reasons. Most obviously, it will be the UW debut for multiple people : head coach Jimmy Lake, offensive coordinator John Donovan, starting quarterback (fill in Kevin Thomson or Jacob Sirmon or Dylan Morris or Ethan Garbers). It will be the fans’ first opportunity to watch the 2020 Huskies, and also to witness the overwhelming weirdness that will accompany Pac-12 games in 2020.

Oh, and there’s recent history here, too. Last September, Cal linebacker Evan Weaver – a Washington native who was not offered a scholarship by UW – guaranteed a win, then followed through. The Cal defense stymied UW on a final drive that followed a lengthy lightning storm to pull out a 20-19 victory. And the year before, Jake Haener through a nightmare-inducing pick-6 in the second half of a 12-10 upset loss.

It’s possible the Golden Bears might just have the Huskies’ number. Or maybe it’s not so simple. One thing is certain: The battle of two former UW defensive coordinators – Lake and Cal head coach Justin Wilcox – will be an undeniably intriguing watch.

Nov. 27 at WSU

The date has not changed, even if so much else has.

This fall, the Apple Cup will be played the day after Thanksgiving once again. But the rivalry does have two new head coaches, in Lake and Nick Rolovich. It will have two new starting quarterbacks and offensive systems as well.

But will a fresh coat of paint ultimately alter the result? The Huskies have won seven straight games in the series, and they also conquered Rolovich’s Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 52-20 last September as well. And the last time they were in Pullman, they plowed through the Cougs and quarterback Gardner Minshew in a snowstorm en route to the Rose Bowl.

The names and faces change, but this is a game that will always matter.

Dec. 12 at Oregon

Picture this: On Dec. 12, UW and Oregon could each be 5-0, meeting in an empty Autzen Stadium with an appearance in the Pac-12 title game on the line. Like the Huskies, Oregon will break in a new starting quarterback this fall and has been significantly weakened by several seismic opt-outs. But this is still a team that won the Rose Bowl last season and escaped Seattle with a narrow 35-31 win – its second straight in the series.

Nationally, Oregon is viewed as the current class of the Pac-12 – having apparently ripped that title away from UW (or, less recently, USC). Lake will get an opportunity to prove that his program still resides atop that mountain.

But he will have to win this game – and, let’s face it, pretty much all the rest – to do it.

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