Hello Dawg fans! Husky football’s biggest night in over a decade is finally here. It promises to be a magical night, full of the type of ceremony and occasion reserved for the uniquest of games. Hopefully the pregame magic carries into the game.
I usually write something at the beginning of these predictions, but all of the Good Guys wrote novels this week, so I’ll keep it short. I did hear something this morning while listening to Rick Neuheisel that caught my attention, though. He was giving an overview of the Pac-12, which he expects to be very strong. He then said that the conference is loaded with talented young quarterbacks. This caught me by surprise, because I kind of think of the conference as down in QBs right now. Mariota and Hundley are elite. Taylor Kelly’s very good. After that, there are a handful of veterans who are solid and could get better, and then a bunch of underclassmen in their first seasons as starters. It doesn’t seem loaded to me.
Neuheisel didn’t elaborate, so he could have been referring mainly to Mariota, Hundley and Kelly. Maybe he’s seen some of the young starters and thinks highly of them. Whatever he meant, it will be an interesting year to watch the quarterbacks. For years, the leaders of the conference could be determined by who had senior quarterbacks that year. That’s changed slightly as offensive systems have changed and so forth, but it’s still the most important position and always will be.
The implications for the Huskies are obvious, and have been all off-season. If Keith Price is good, the Huskies should be good. If Price is great, the Huskies should be in for a special season. It could be as simple as that.
2013 is the dawning of a new era in Husky football: the opening of new Husky Stadium. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. When AD Scott Woodward took over in 2008, renovating Husky Stadium was number one on his to-do list. Coming from LSU and helping oversee renovations to their athletic facilities, as well as seeing first hand how Nick Saban won a national title in 2003, gave Woodward the blue print for success: find the right head coach and get the football facilities upgraded to first class. With the hiring of Steve Sarkisian, Woodward went all in and gave the reigns of the program to Coach Sark, therefore freeing him up to focus on renovating Husky Stadium. Five years later, on Aug 31, 2013, Husky Stadium will re-open to the public as arguably the most state-of-the-art college stadium in America. This was the plan all along, to compete at the highest levels of CFB. A lot has been made of the past four seasons under Sark. Year one going 5-7, bringing respectability to the program after the darkness that was the Willingham era. Then three straight 7-6 seasons have left some wondering if Sark has the ability to take the next step. I say he does, but with a caveat: let’s see how the next couple years play out with the new facilities as the recruiting tool we all think it can be. This program has been in “facilities limbo” for the better part of three years, which doesn’t help recruiting. Now being settled into home sweet home, let’s let this regime prove one way or another it belongs with the elite.
On the field, Saturday night’s game is the most important early season home game since hosting Miami in 2000. Short and simple, it’s a must win, for many reasons. Obviously, it’s big because it’s the opening of the new stadium, it’s national TV, it’s a rematch against a team you probably should have beat in the Vegas Bowl nine months ago. But for me it’s huge because of the toughness of UW’s schedule (we’ve been down this road before) and the perceived expectations put on the program by fans. UW *must* go 3-0 in non conference, and then beat Arizona in their Pac-12 opener at Husky Stadium to move to 4-0. The consensus is UW has to get to *at least* 8 wins, but probably 9, maybe 10. In order for that to happen, their margin of error is nil. A 7-0 home record is a must in light of their conference road games: Stanford, ASU, UCLA and Oregon State. Have fun Googling the last time UW won at any of those road venues. It’s been a while. And with the mediocre road performances by Sark’s teams in the past, the “8-10” win confidence from UW fans leaves me a bit scared, but not upset; I love the high expectations. So you can see the math here: UW going 7-0 at home (includes beating Oregon which they haven’t done in nine straight tries, none of which were close), then 1-3 on the road gets them to 8-4. Razor thin margin of error. Hence, the importance of Saturdays game. Throw in the fact UW’s last two games were total heart breakers to the abysmal Wazzu Cougars and Boise State, and this team has a healthy Mt. Rainier size chip on their shoulder. Add all of this up and I see a UW victory Saturday night.
Prediction: UW 30 – Boise St 21
Finally, it’s here. I’ve been counting down for 91 days. I just spent half an hour watching Husky highlights and I have some other games in mind for later this evening. This game comes with hype and no lack of story lines. Last night, news broke that ASJ has been suspended for this game, met with the media’s approval. We have Deontae Cooper’s first game in a Husky uniform after working back from 3 ACL tears. We have two teams playing a rematch from last season’s bowl, which was a very close football game. Not to mention, this is the first game of the year which holds it’s own excitement. None of these really matter to me.
Tomorrow night, a new age of Husky Football begins. A renovated Husky Stadium will be open after 20 months of Dawg fans being held out of it. There have been only been rave reviews of this place from those that have gone inside and toured. It’s expected that Husky Stadium will now be considered one of the very best stadiums in the nation. With this new stadium comes a new team that is as talented as any team the Dawgs have had in a decade. There is more depth, potential stars, and speed than Sark has ever had.
Boise State comes to play the Huskies tomorrow night and I can hardly focus on the game. I’m just so excited to be back in one of the places that I grew up. With that being said, how can I pick a Husky loss? The renovated stadium brings hope and that hope transfers over to the feelings I have for this team. Yes, I’m concerned about Boise State’s pass rush against our offensive line. I’m concerned about the defensive line holding up against BSU’s up and coming running back. Yes, I’m concerned about their tall receivers against our smaller cornerbacks. Yes, I’m concerned about how efficiently Boise usually operates under Coach Petersen’s great coaching. But, that’s not enough for me to think even once about picking the Broncos.
I believe the crowd will be rocking and no amount of training will get Boise ready for the noise they’ll hear on that first third down. Like Green Bay at the Clink last year, it may take them a whole half to adjust to the noise. I believe the Huskies will have some more playmakers step up in ASJ’s absence (if he is indeed suspended), notably John Ross and Kevin Smith. I believe the defense will speed around like we haven’t seen in years. I believe that Keith Price will finally be back to himself after a year hiatus. I just believe in this team. It’s good to be home.
Prediction: Huskies 31 – Boise 21
Anyone else sick of Boise? I won’t be heartbroken if we don’t play them for another decade, but for tomorrow, they are the perfect opponent. Boise commands respect, and the Huskies know it first hand, so whereas some opponents may get overlooked with all the hype surrounding this game, I am confident UW is focused on Boise. Speaking of the hype, all forms of mojo will be on Washington’s side. The stadium, night game, revenge from last year, you name it. Tomorrow really will be a special night, and I can’t envision a script that doesn’t end with the Huskies winning. The ASJ suspension hurts, but it is not a death blow by any stretch. These teams were as even as could be last December in the Vegas Bowl. Fast forward to now, and you have a Boise team bringing back 6 starters, the fewest in the country. UW brings back 20, and is playing at home. I think the defense will carry the Huskies, and the offense will have enough to send us all home happy.
Prediction: UW 24 – Boise 16
I see three keys to this game. First, the Husky defense must make Boise State one dimensional. I don’t expect them to stop the run and the pass consistently, but they have to do a solid job against one of them. Second, the offensive line has to make it’s presence felt, both in the run game and while protecting Keith Price. Finally, a receiver (or two or three) need to make a difference, especially if ASJ is indeed out.
I have to admit, this game scares me. BSU is talented and the type of team that doesn’t usually get rattled first game of the year. They should be ready to go and well-prepared. They’ve also likely never played in an environment like this game will have, so to some degree, this game will be a test of who better handles the moment.
Too often of late, we’ve watched the Huskies come out flat or inconsistent, losing games or making them closer than they need to be. It makes it hard to trust them. If the Dawgs are going to take the next step this year, playing with consistent toughness and effort while minimizing mistakes will be key. Ultimately, the Huskies just need to be better. I think it will be readily apparent early on what type of team this will be. They don’t have to blow out Boise State, but I expect a higher level of proficiency this season. I’m crossing my fingers that UW is able to feed off the excitement rather than being distracted and burdened by the moment. I think a magical night will end with a win.
Prediction: Huskies 30 – BSU 24