Twelve games are better than seven, or four.
That fact, in the wake of an unsatisfying COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, is essentially unarguable. After UW’s 2021 schedule was announced on Tuesday, Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake told the Pac-12 Network that “it could’ve been 10 road games and two home games at the end, no bye week. As long as we have 12 games, we’re happy here at Washington.”
And yet, not all games are created equal.
So let’s rank the Huskies’ 2021 schedule, from least to most intriguing.
And then let’s hope like heck that all these games are actually played.
12. Montana, Sept. 4, Husky Stadium
Montana did not play a 2020 season, and its last two FBS opponents — Oregon in 2019 and UW in 2017 — won by a combined score of 98-10.
On Tuesday, Lake called the Griz “one of the best FCS teams in the country year in and year out.” But if this game is competitive, that won’t bode well for Lake’s second season in Seattle.
11. at Arizona, Oct. 22, Tucson, Ariz.
To put it plainly, Arizona is awful. Last November, UW scored the first 37 points in an eventual 44-27 win. The Wildcats, in fact, have lost 12 consecutive games across two seasons — dating back to Oct. 5, 2019.
Will the hire of new head coach Jedd Fisch change that? Only time will tell.
10. Arkansas State, Sept. 18, Husky Stadium
The Sun Belt had an impressive non-conference showing last season — as Louisiana defeated Iowa State, Coastal Carolina thumped Kansas and Arkansas State topped Kansas State.
Can Arkansas State — and new head coach Butch Jones — do it again in Seattle on Sept. 18? Considering the Red Wolves dropped five of their last six games, don’t bet on it.
9. at Oregon State, Oct. 2, Corvallis, Ore.
UW is in the midst of a nine-game winning streak against Oregon State. To continue it, the Huskies will have to again silence former UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith’s attack — which, thankfully, no longer features 2020 Pac-12 co-offensive player of the year and NFL Draft entrant Jermar Jefferson. Though the Beavers finished 2-5 last season, three of those five losses came by six points or less.
8. UCLA, Oct. 16, Husky Stadium
UCLA has a pair of former UW quarterbacks on its roster, in redshirt junior Colson Yankoff (who now plays wide receiver) and redshirt freshman Ethan Garbers.
But the Huskies need to be more concerned with Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
In five games last season, the junior from Las Vegas completed 65.2% of his passes, throwing for 12 touchdowns and four interceptions (with three more rushing scores). The UW secondary, meanwhile, is down a pair of starters in nickelback Elijah Molden and cornerback Keith Taylor. Something’s got to give.
7. at Colorado, Nov. 20, Boulder, Colo.
UW travels to Colorado in late November after consecutive games with Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State, and with the Apple Cup looming less than a week later.
So, yes, the Huskies will be on letdown alert.
And not just because the Buffs finished an impressive 4-2 in 2020, either. The last time these two teams met, Colorado physically manhandled the Huskies in a 20-14 win at Folsom Field in 2019.
And, same as this season, UW hosted the Apple Cup less than a week later.
6. California, Sept. 25, Husky Stadium
UW is scheduled to open conference play against Cal for the third consecutive season.
And in doing so, the Huskies will host a stylistically familiar foe.
“They’re very similar to us, almost a mirror image,” Lake said on Pac-12 Network on Tuesday. “They have an NFL-style offense. They run a pro-style defense, and they’re going to play fast. They’re going to be physical. They’re going to play sound. Thankfully, we have them right here at home, so we have one advantage that way.”
5. at Stanford, Oct. 30, Palo Alto, Calif.
Upon succeeding Chris Petersen, Lake said repeatedly that he wanted Washington to be the toughest team in the Pac-12.
He failed last fall.
In a 31-26 loss to Stanford on Dec. 5, the Huskies managed just 117 rushing yards and 3.4 yards per carry, while surrendering 191 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per rush to a team that spent the week sleeping in a hotel and practicing at Seattle high schools. The Cardinal produced a similar result in Palo Alto in 2019 as well.
So, Lake wants to play a physical brand of football? Fine. But Stanford remains the standard, until UW can flip the script.
4. Arizona State, Nov. 13, Husky Stadium
This could be the second half of a season-defining back-to-back for both teams, after UW hosts Oregon on Nov. 6 and Arizona State hosts USC. The Sun Devils may very well tout the Pac-12’s premier offense, after piling up 116 combined points in their final two games last fall. They’re led by rising junior quarterback Jayden Daniels, who has thrown 22 touchdown passes with three interceptions in his first 16 collegiate games.
But that’s not all. Arizona State’s rushing attack — featuring senior Rachaad White and sophomore bruiser Chip Trayanum — finished atop the Pac-12 in both rushing offense (264.25 yards per game) and yards per carry (6.41).
If UW’s defense is still “Death Row,” the Huskies will have to prove it.
3. Washington State, Nov. 26, Husky Stadium
Nick Rolovich installed an Apple Cup countdown clock in Washington State’s locker room after being hired as the Cougs’ head coach last year. That clock was presumably reset after the 2020 Apple Cup was canceled, due to surging COVID-19 cases in the Cougs’ program.
But if all goes well, it’ll finally hit zero on Nov. 26.
And will fresh blood — namely, new head coaches in Rolovich and Lake — influence the ending? The Huskies have won seven straight games in the series, dating back to 2013. Each of those seven wins have come by at least 10 points, with the average margin of victory being 21.3 points.
In short, UW dominated the last decade. Perhaps Rolovich and Co. can turn the tide in 2021.
2. Oregon, Nov. 6, Husky Stadium
As if this rivalry required any more animosity, both fan bases have grappled with the same confounding question all offseason:
Who’s the real Pac-12 North champion?
UW technically won its division last season, after finishing with a 3-1 record and a superior winning percentage to 3-2 Oregon. But the Huskies’ COVID-19 outbreak forced them to cancel the road game in Eugene, Ore., that would have decided the rightful winner of the North, and the Ducks subsequently dismantled USC in the Pac-12 title game. So Oregon won its conference, but not its own division.
Semantics aside, these two teams will likely be Pac-12 North contenders again in 2021. Let’s just hope all lingering arguments are settled inside Husky Stadium on Nov. 6.
1. at Michigan, Sept. 11, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Let’s try this again, shall we?
UW’s highly anticipated home game against Michigan to kick off the 2020 season was canceled, and both programs are working to reschedule it in the not-too-distant future. But this fall, the Huskies have yet another opportunity for a Pac-12 program to claim a critical non-conference win — and perhaps begin to repair a tattered national reputation as well.
And it’s true, Michigan finished with a disastrous 2-4 record last season, and Jim Harbaugh hired six new assistants after somewhat surprisingly holding on to his job. But it’s still Michigan, and it’s still the Big House, and it’s still the 30-year anniversary of UW’s undefeated campaign that ended with a Rose Bowl win over these very same Wolverines.
So, any way you slice it, this game matters more.