By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Season-ticket holders need not worry about seeing marquee non-conference opponents at Husky Stadium this season. The Pac-12 schedule is the best their going to get; Washington plays host to three Pac-12 teams currently ranked in the AP top 25 poll — No. 11 UCLA, No. 13 Stanford and No. 17 Arizona State.
Those games help make up for a three-game home non-conference schedule that lacks a true “A” game, to put it in schedule-speak. With home games against Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State (plus last week’s trip to Hawaii), the Huskies’ non-league slate is not quite as enticing for fans debating a trek to Montlake.
For example: the Huskies host Eastern Washington on Saturday. EWU is a fine opponent, regardless of its Football Championship Subdivision classification, and should provide a competitive game similar to the one it nearly won at Husky Stadium in 2011. The Eagles are talented and well-coached. It would be foolish to look past them. They might even present the UW’s toughest non-conference test this season.
But EWU still isn’t an opponent to circle on the calendar in the same vein as, say, Michigan, with whom the Huskies have scheduled a home-and-home series in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Georgia State, the Huskies’ opponent on Sept. 20, is in its infancy as a football program, and posted an 0-12 record in 2013. When the Illinois game was scheduled, it might have been reasonable to expect the Illini to be a little better than they are now. But as it is, they’re coming off a 4-8 season in which they finished 1-7 in Big Ten play, and the Huskies likely will be a double-digit favorite in that game, too. (Sacramento State and Utah State are on the home schedule in 2015, with a trip to Boise State anchoring that slate. The 2016 schedule is even less attractive for fans, with games against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.)
Add that all together, and you get a pretty underwhelming home slate — though given the Huskies’ current state of transition, that might not be such a bad thing.
Coach Chris Petersen doesn’t seem to care one way or the other — for now.
“I don’t really know,” Petersen said when asked if this year’s non-conference schedule is ideal. “I just think so much about our team, and whoever we play, we play. It doesn’t matter if it’s Hawaii, Illinois, Eastern Washington — we’ve just got to take care of ourselves. … I do think we play in an unbelievable league, that every week is going to be a battle. So I do think we’ve got to keep that in mind as well.”
He isn’t wrong about that. The current state of non-conference scheduling among members of the Power Five leagues (SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC) is in flux, with strength-of-schedule implications being given more consideration as the College Football Playoff is implemented. The SEC recently announced a new scheduling policy requiring each of its schools to play at least one game per season against a team from a Power Five conference beginning in 2016, though it will keep an eight-game conference schedule. The Pac-12 plays nine conference games, one of the biggest arguments for those in favor of scheduling a few cupcakes each year — though a recent ESPN poll showed that a majority of coaches from Power Five schools would prefer an exclusive Power-Five non-conference schedule for those programs. Petersen was one of those coaches, though he backed away from that vote when asked about it a few days later.