The Washington Huskies football team opens at Oregon in what many analysts are calling the toughest schedule in the country, with Oklahoma, BYU and Notre Dame also on tap.
Two weeks from today, the Washington Huskies kick off the season against the Oregon Ducks.
Not that any of the Huskies players really need reminding.
“I don’t think there is anybody on our team you could ask who we are playing, and they wouldn’t know,” said defensive line coach Randy Hart. “They all know we are opening against Oregon.”
It’s the beginning to a schedule that has elicited its fair share of controversy.
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With many analysts calling it maybe the toughest schedule in the country, some UW fans — as well as ex-coach Don James — have questioned the wisdom of those who put it together, particularly the nonconference slate of home games against Oklahoma, Brigham Young and Notre Dame.
James said this week: “I’d shoot my athletic director if I had that.”
Oregon, as a Pac-10 team, is obviously a team the Huskies are required to play, though not necessarily in the first game of the year.
Years ago, in fact, UW had originally been scheduled to play Oregon this season on the second week of October. Then a reconfiguring of the schedule set the game for Sept. 13.
Then, in one of his last moves as athletic director, Todd Turner negotiated a deal to move the game to Aug. 30. One of the motivations was TV — there were initial talks about moving it to Thursday, Aug. 28. Those fell through, but it will still be seen nationally on FSN.
As part of the Oregon maneuvering, UW also moved the Oklahoma game from Sept. 20 to Sept. 13 and the game at California from Oct. 11 to Dec. 6, creating three byes in the schedule, something Turner said would help a young team.
And while some have wondered if heading into the den of their most heated rival with a team carrying loads of inexperience at the skill positions on offense and the line on defense is a good thing, UW coaches and players are looking at the bright side.
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell thinks it’s a plus to have more than just one week to prepare for an offense as explosive as Oregon’s — the Ducks, with their spread-option attack, led the Pac-10 in scoring last season with 38.2 points per game.
“There is a lot of coaching to their offense,” Donatell said. “They are not like the rest of the Pac-10. Their schemes are different. So it’s more of an advantage to have a longer time to get ready for them than three days.”
Having been in the NFL since 1990 before coming to UW this spring, Donatell doesn’t see opening with a big game as anything out of the ordinary. Especially in his years in places like Green Bay and Denver, his teams often opened the season with a heated affair.
“This is a showcase game,” Donatell said. “If you say [you’re playing] a Division II team, that doesn’t bring the same sharpness to your team. They think they cannot be on-spot and win the game. Here, if you are not on-spot, you are not going to like the results. I like that. I think it brings a hum to your coaches and elevates us and lets us know where we are right away. Good or bad, you are going to be fact-finding. You are going to find some information.”
Hart, now in his 21st year at UW, remembers when opening with a Pac-10 game was par for the course. The Huskies opened every year from 1991 to 1996 with a conference game and again in 1998, the last time it’s happened.
Some of UW’s most memorable games during that period came in Pac-10 season openers, such as the 42-7 win at Stanford to kick off the 1991 national-title run, a 45-42 loss at Arizona State in 1996 that ended up determining the Pac-10 title, and a 42-38 win at ASU in 1998 on a last-minute fourth-down pass from Brock Huard to Reggie Davis.
“The high you are going to get for beating them is tremendously high,” Hart said. “If you don’t win, it’s a big low. But you’ve still got to recover and play the next week. It’s not a one-game season.”
Thinking that it is, however, could be one of the biggest dangers.
The uncertainty looming over coach Tyrone Willingham will only grow should the Huskies again lose to the Ducks — Oregon has outscored UW by an average of 44-23 in his three years as coach, including 55-34 in Seattle last year. Washington hasn’t beaten Oregon since 2003.
Huskies players, however, are looking at it in more personal terms, some saying the specter of opening against the Ducks helped push the team through grueling offseason workouts.
“It pumps us up even more, definitely,” said senior guard Jordan White-Frisbee. “Me having never beaten them since I’ve been here and the fact that I don’t like them I think has inspired me. I have put a lot of time in, the offensive line has worked together a lot. We want to go in there and dominate them because I am tired of losing to them. We are all tired of losing to them.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org