The Huskies have had difficult schedules for years, whether the team was good or bad. They nearly always rank among the national leaders in strength of schedule, and for years they were one of the only schools to never play a Division II (or FCS) school. Partly the difficulty now comes from playing in maybe the best division in the country, partly from seeking out top non-conference opponents.
Since Scott Woodward and Sarkisian have taken over, the scheduling has changed slightly, which is a good thing for the Huskies win total, although maybe not for their entertainment value. They now schedule an FCS team every year, and limit the top opponents to one per year. Some years it doesn’t even work out that way, like when Boise State has an off year.
This year, the Huskies have faced a different kind of difficult schedule. The non-conference slate turned out to be pretty easy, but the Pac-12 has worked out horribly. Look at this: here is a ranking of the Huskies toughest opponents this year, if the game were on a neutral field. This is subjective, but I think most would agree on the majority of the rankings.
- Oregon State
- Boise St.
- Idaho St.
Four of the top five, the Huskies face(d) on the road. Only Oregon was a home game. Teams ideally want their home games to be against the teams they are closest to in talent, where the home field might be the deciding factor. For the Huskies, that’s the 2-5 group. Oregon is a tough game for them no matter where they play. BSU and Arizona are games they should win on the road, but might not. Still, I would gladly go to Tucson if it meant having Stanford at home this year. If the Huskies could face teams 2-5 at home, instead of those bottom four Pac-12 teams, they might be looking at 1 loss season and a Rose Bowl. Or maybe not, but it would make things much easier.
That’s just the way it goes, I guess. Every team has obstacles to overcome, and the Huskies have thus far done a mediocre job of overcoming this one. They can change that over the next two weeks, where wins in L.A. and Corvallis would be huge steps toward a successful season and an improved future, when some of these games are at Husky Stadium again.
This game is huge, and not just because 7-3 feels way better than 6-4. What makes this game huge is that it is yet another opportunity for a Sark led Husky team to win a big game on the road, and in doing so, take that “next step” in the program’s growth. A loss would mean a 7 or 8 win season is likely, not exactly the growth we are hoping for. As is usually the case in these tough games, the Huskies have the talent to beat UCLA, there’s no question about it. But to pick UW to win on the road against a tough foe, you’ve got to see it happen first. As for the game plan, look for Washington to rely heavily on Sankey and quick reads in the passing game, to keep Keith comfortable. The D will have its hands full but if Hundley is not on his game I like the Dawgs chances. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
UCLA 27 – UW 20
We’re at the stage in the season again where the Huskies play their most important game in a decade. This has happened 3 (maybe 4 or 5) times this season already. You could say that it’s a bit of an overstatement, and surely there were bigger games but I disagree. I’ll look into that further in a few days. This game really does mean a lot though. I fully expect the Huskies to finish with at least 8 wins. I don’t know where the 8th win will come from (OSU, the bowl game or this game) but I think they will get there. If the Huskies pull this game out though, 10 wins really isn’t out of the question. It would be a huge step forward for the program.
I do think the Huskies are at least even, if not slightly better, than UCLA in most of the important phases of the game. UCLA’s offense the last few weeks has consisted of Hundley scrambling and a freshman linebacker running wild. Their O-line is beat up. Defensively, they’re very athletic at the linebacker position and are solid everywhere else. If the Huskies win the turnover battle, get a well-disciplined pass-rush, and score TD’s in the red-zone I think their chances sky rocket in this game. I do expect to take UCLA’s best shot. They are going to be just as motivated and hungry as the Huskies are. They have more to play for than the Huskies too. If this were a home game, I think the Huskies would win but since they’re on the road against a decent team I don’t think I can pick them. I usually pick them and then end up being wrong. Let’s hope I’m wrong this week.
UCLA 34 – UW 27
I don’t really know what to make of this game. Both teams are really similar, in that they’re talented but a bit inconsistent. UW has the better offense, UCLA the better defense. UCLA gets an edge because its pass rush can cause major problems for Keith Price, which sometimes throws him completely off his game. They get an even bigger edge because they’re at home. As usual, if the Huskies can come out and execute well and consistently, they can win this game. They don’t usually do that, so I have to pick the Bruins. This whole season I’ve been waiting for a breakout from the Dawgs. I think it could come tonight, but the odds are it won’t.
UCLA 31 – UW 23