When asked on Pac-12 Networks last week which of Washington’s 2023 matchups intrigued him most, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said: “I’m not going to lie: I wouldn’t say anybody jumped out. For me, it’s all about this offseason right now. I know you’re not going to like that answer.”
So let’s provide a better one.
While No. 8 Washington prepares for what should be a memorable season on Montlake, let’s rank the slate in order of intrigue — starting with a pair of first-year coaches.
12. TULSA | Sept. 9 | Seattle
This will be Tulsa’s second game under new head coach (and former Ohio State offensive coordinator) Kevin Wilson, after the Golden Hurricane fired Philip Montgomery last offseason. Tulsa finished 5-7 in 2022 and 43-53 in Montgomery’s eight seasons at the helm.
Of course, the Huskies learned not to overlook any opponent from the Montana Grizzlies in 2021. But given that these programs have never met, have no prior relationship and Wilson will likely oversee a rebuild in 2023, there isn’t a whole lot of intrigue to offer.
11. At Stanford | Oct. 28 | Palo Alto, Calif.
This isn’t the same old Stanford. David Shaw is out, Troy Taylor is in, and the days of the Cardinal’s Pac-12 dominance appear long gone. After all, Stanford went 14-28 in Shaw’s final four forgettable seasons. Quarterback Tanner McKee is also headed to the NFL draft. And more important, if Stanford doesn’t adjust to the advent of the transfer portal and the NIL era, Taylor and Co. will struggle to compete any time soon.
Granted, UW won on “The Farm” for the first time in seven tries in 2021. Historically, it’s not an easy place for Washington to win. But given Taylor’s monumental task and the lacking game atmosphere in Palo Alto, this might not be an easy watch.
10. CALIFORNIA | Sept. 23 | Seattle
Say what you will about Justin Wilcox and the California Bears — who have gone just 10-18 in their last three seasons — but they always play the Huskies tight. UW is 2-2 in its last four meetings, with those games decided by an average of 4.25 points. Their last two bouts inside Husky Stadium also featured an overtime ending and a lightning delay.
UW opens Pac-12 play with Cal this fall, immediately after returning from a premier nonconference matchup at Michigan State.
The Huskies should be the better team … but best not overlook the Bears.
9. At Arizona | Sept. 30 | Tucson, Ariz.
Washington has won six straight games against Arizona.
And yet, this won’t be easy.
Heading into his third season, Jedd Fisch appears to be building something — led by quarterback Jayden de Laura and a couple of impressive recruiting classes. Arizona brought in a pair of linebacker transfers in Oregon’s Justin Flowe and Washington’s Daniel Heimuli.
In last season’s game — a 49-39 UW victory — Penix broke program records for passing yards (516) and completions (36). Expect points aplenty again this fall.
8. BOISE STATE | Sept. 2 | Seattle
Considering Washington’s tidal wave of talented returners — Penix, wide receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, edges Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui, left tackle Troy Fautanu, defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa, etc. — there should be ample excitement surrounding the season opener. The Huskies will likely be a top-10 team, while Boise State (fresh off a 10-4 season) again has Mountain West title goals in mind.
Of course, these two programs will always share the Chris Petersen connection … but this game is intriguing all on its own.
7. ARIZONA STATE | Oct. 21 | Seattle
Washington fans are well aware that a confounding loss at Arizona State kept the Huskies out of the Pac-12 championship game (and possibly the College Football Playoff) in 2022. Their opportunity for revenge will come against a team with a new head coach (former Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham) and a roster essentially remade by the transfer portal.
It’s unclear whether these Sun Devils will be contenders or pretenders in Year 1 under Dillingham. But Washington won’t lack motivation either way.
6. At Michigan State | Sept. 16 | East Lansing, Mich.
Washington thought it had secured a premier nonconference victory with a 39-28 thrashing of then-No. 11 Michigan State last fall … only for the Spartans to finish 5-7. Regardless, Mel Tucker’s team will be looking forward to a chance at redemption.
As for UW, the Huskies’ schedule is backloaded, with key matchups against USC, Utah, Oregon State and Washington State all slated for November. But a win at MSU would springboard the Huskies into a highly anticipated Pac-12 season.
5. WASHINGTON STATE | Nov. 25 | Seattle
It’s true, WSU lost both coordinators this winter, and its roster was ravaged by the transfer portal. That, and two losses to cap a 7-6 season, have sapped the Cougars of much offseason momentum.
But the Apple Cup will always intrigue.
4. At Oregon State | Nov. 18 | Corvallis, Ore.
Former UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith has built his alma mater into a legitimate Pac-12 contender, having secured a 10-win season (via a win over Oregon and a bowl trouncing of Florida) in 2022. The Beavers added former Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei this offseason and will host the Huskies inside a newly renovated Reser Stadium in Nov. 18.
Cue the chain saws and buckle up.
3. UTAH | Nov. 11 | SEATTLE
Like it or not, Utah is the back-to-back Pac-12 champ, which means Washington will have to go through the Utes to accomplish its goals in 2023. Of course, Husky fans are likely unhappy that Utah won a tiebreaker to appear in the Pac-12 title game at all, or that the Utes then upset USC to knock UW out of a Rose Bowl date against Penn State.
On Nov. 11, the Huskies will meet Utah (and returning quarterback Cameron Rising) for the first time since securing a dramatic comeback victory in 2020. To be the champs, they’ll have to beat the champs.
2. At USC | Nov. 4 | Los Angeles
This is shaping up to be a meeting of two College Football Playoff contenders, two Pac-12 title contenders, two Heisman Trophy candidates (Penix and USC QB Caleb Williams), two Pac-12 Coach of the Year candidates (UW’s Kalen DeBoer and USC’s Lincoln Riley) and two of the country’s most explosive offenses. It’s also UW’s last game at USC before the Trojans bolt for the Big Ten.
But other than that, there’s not much to see.
1. OREGON | Oct. 14 | Seattle
How could the top spot go to anyone else? After throwing for 408 yards and two touchdowns in an iconic 37-34 win in Eugene, Ore., last fall, Penix will attempt to produce a sequel in Seattle. Both Penix and Oregon quarterback Bo Nix are back. Both teams were given a pregame off week to eliminate excuses. And with USC and UCLA approaching the exit, these Pacific Northwest rivals are positioned to compete for Pac-12 titles (and playoff positions) for years to come.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.