Change can be a good thing.
Or an intriguing thing, at least.
More than two weeks after USC and UCLA agreed to join the Big Ten in 2024, the fate of the Pac-12 — or 10? — remains frustratingly fluid. Conference realignment has temporarily paused, while the Pac-12 negotiates its next media rights deal in an exclusive 30-day window with ESPN and FOX.
(Remember, FOX owns the seismic rights to the jumbo Big Ten, which just poached USC and UCLA, and thus is unlikely to submit a bid.)
If ESPN’s offer satisfies the Pac-12’s remaining members, the conference may stick together … or even expand. The Pac-12 could also proactively partner with the ACC, which would theoretically boost television revenue while positioning the aligned conferences squarely behind the Big Ten and SEC’s dueling Death Stars.
But, should ESPN’s offer fall flat, the Pac-12 could conceivably crumble — with the Big 12 and ACC left to pick up the pieces.
Regardless of which scenario wins, Washington football fans could be presented with some fresh and compelling matchups in 2024 and beyond.
For now, let’s assume the Big Ten and SEC stick with 16 programs apiece, excluding UW (momentarily) from the super conference sweepstakes. In the event of a partnership or membership with the Big 12 or ACC, here are the Huskies’ 10 most intriguing matchups.
10. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has built itself into an annually competitive program — with six division titles, four ACC titles and enough Mike Vick highlights to suck you into a YouTube stupor.
But this is about more than football.
UW and Virginia Tech also tout two of college football’s premier traditions, as sailgaters descend on Husky Stadium from the banks of Lake Washington, while the Hokies enter Lane Stadium to the frenzied fury of “Enter Sandman.”
If you gravitate to college football’s pomp and circumstance, this is a home-and-home series you wouldn’t want to miss.
If UW is serious about recruiting the state of Texas, match ups with TCU — a mainstay in the Dallas-Fort Worth market — could pay some serious dividends.
Of course, UW is currently doing damage in the Lone Star State, with two 2023 commits from Texas — four-star defensive lineman Anthony James and three-star defensive back Diesel Gordon. Four-star Arlington safety Jordan Sanford could also join that list when he announces his commitment on Aug. 4.
UW had moderate success mining Texas under Chris Petersen, with Levi Onwuzurike and Aaron Fuller notable success stories. The Huskies could add to that list under Kalen DeBoer.
8. Kansas State
Four-star 2023 quarterback Avery Johnson took an official visit to UW in early June, but the Maize, Kansas, standout ultimately committed to nearby Kansas State. The Huskies accepted a verbal pledge from three-star Pierre, South Dakota, quarterback Lincoln Kienholz instead.
Come 2024, UW could conceivably face off against Johnson as the Wildcats starting quarterback. The preview stories write themselves.
OK, so UW and BYU have already played plenty — with Washington winning the most recent matchups in 2018 and 2019. The Huskies are 7-4 all-time against the Cougars.
But considering standout wide receiver Puka Nacua’s recent transfer from UW to BYU, BYU’s unwillingness to schedule UW in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and the programs’ shared recruiting territory, there’d be no shortage of intrigue in future meetings.
6. North Carolina
As two premier brands on opposite coasts, Washington and North Carolina have never met in a football game.
So from that perspective, sign us up. But UW and North Carolina are also two of the most valuable programs sitting outside of the Big Ten/SEC umbrella. UW is an obvious choice should the Big Ten continue to expand, while North Carolina — currently tied to the ACC’s grant of rights agreement — might be appealing to either the Big Ten or the SEC.
Perhaps, until the super conferences come calling, these programs will be content to play each other.
UW could have an opportunity to play the best team in Texas.
No, not the Longhorns. Not Texas A&M or TCU or Texas Tech, either.
We’re talking about Baylor.
At 11-2, Baylor won the Big 12 championship last December, then downed SEC foe Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. Oh, and the Bears did it all in Dave Aranda’s second season on the job.
Of course, a lot can change in 2-3 seasons, but it seems Aranda is building something at Baylor. And from a recruiting and results standpoint, this would be a significant matchup for UW.
4. Florida State
Scheduling the first matchup between college football blue bloods Washington and Florida State doesn’t require much selling.
But here’s a partially related question: Would UW consider more consistently recruiting the state of Florida? The Huskies have trended in that direction in the 2023 class, offering 10 prospects from the Sunshine State. But that may have more to do with director of player personnel Courtney Morgan’s existing relationships than a strategic initiative to further expand UW’s recruiting reach.
From a geographic standpoint, it’s a difficult sell. But Florida is always teeming with talent, and an FSU matchup might put the Huskies on some new recruiting radars.
3. Iowa State
On the surface, a UW-Iowa State pairing doesn’t seem particularly interesting.
But consider that Washington reportedly offered Iowa State’s Matt Campbell its head coaching job this offseason, before being rejected and hiring Kalen DeBoer. Now, DeBoer could lead his Huskies into a meeting against Campbell two (or three, or four) years later.
Yeah, that’s a more compelling pitch.
For all the Power Five programs that have long sought to earn membership to the Big Boys Club, Clemson is the blueprint.
When Dabo Swinney took over at Clemson in 2008, the Tigers hadn’t won a conference championship in 17 years. They’d also claimed a single national title to that point, one fewer than UW.
Swinney has helped Clemson secure six playoff appearances and two national titles in the 14 seasons since.
If Washington wants to someday announce itself as a national title contender, toppling Clemson would certainly help.
Where do we begin?
This pairing has history, as the Huskies upset Miami 38-20 in 1994 to snap the Hurricanes’ 58-game home winning streak in a game later dubbed “The Whammy in Miami.” (To put it in perspective, Miami hadn’t lost a home game in nine years before the Huskies headed east.)
It also has hard feelings. After Oregon defeated UW 26-16 inside Husky Stadium last fall, a Duck player recorded head coach Mario Cristobal telling his team, “Those (expletive) guys right there, they represent everything that’s wrong with football. So when you kick their ass, you let them know it.”
Now, buoyed by a boatload of NIL money, Cristobal is attempting to build a dynasty at Miami — his alma mater.
Someday, the Washington Huskies — his former (and future?) rival — might stand in his way.
Honorable mentions: Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Cincinnati