While Washington's 2017 nonconference schedule also looks easy, the Huskies do have Auburn, BYU and Michigan scheduled in the near future.
Jennifer Cohen laughed at the notion.
No, she said, the Huskies won’t be able to alter their nonconference football schedule for 2017. Even if Washington desperately wanted to add a big-name opponent next year, it is simply not feasible, or affordable, this late in the game.
Simply put, that’s just not how scheduling works in college football.
“When it comes to scheduling, any athletic director in the country will tell you this is a very challenging task,” Cohen, the Huskies’ first-year athletic director, said Wednesday. “To try to predict strength of schedule (years in advance), and schedule for strength of schedule, sometimes just doesn’t go your way.
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“But we are committed to having a strong schedule and we are committed to finding a Power Five school every year that is going to help us with that.”
The Huskies’ nonconference schedule this year nearly cost them a spot in the College Football Playoff. Out of 128 FBS teams, UW’s nonconference schedule ranked as the 127th toughest.
On Sunday, the CFP committee, along with ESPN commentators, strongly criticized that schedule before the Huskies (12-1) were awarded the fourth and final spot in the national semifinals. They will play No. 1 Alabama (13-0) in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
This past September, Washington hosted Rutgers (2-10), Idaho (8-4) and Portland State (3-8) — teams that combined to finish 13-22 during the regular season.
Cohen points out that the Huskies began negotiations with Rutgers on a home-and-home series three or four years ago, and at the time Rutgers was in a more stable situation, coming off a nine-win season in 2012 and a six-win season in 2013.
“To look at (schedules) and think ‘intent’ is not really accurate, because a lot of time intent does not get demonstrated by the time you play those teams,” she said.
UW’s nonconference schedule looks just as easy for 2017, when the Huskies open the season at Rutgers before hosting Montana, an FCS team, and Fresno State, which went 1-11 this season (and has hired former UW consultant Jeff Tedford as its new coach).
“We want to play a competitive, challenging schedule that our fans are excited about, that helps us in our cause and those types of things. We all get that. I think we’re all on the same page,” UW coach Chris Petersen said Sunday.
“But I know this: It’s something that Jen will spend a lot of time on and we’ll talk about it,” he added. “It’s not only a hot topic now, it’s been a hot topic. And I think we’re always trying to find out what the right balance is and get it right for everybody.”
Last month, it was announced that UW would open the 2018 season against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Those are the types of marquee games virtually every program would jump at, but not everyone is able to do it: First, you have to be invited.
The discussions for that game began in August, Cohen said, and the Huskies had to negotiate with North Dakota and Nevada to move games that had previously been scheduled against UW.
“We’re super excited about playing Auburn,” Cohen said. “But being able to get somebody off your schedule, with all the contracts I’ve inherited with the buyouts in them, it took us awhile to negotiate that. That was unusual to be able to make a change in the schedule.”
Cohen said the home-and-home series against BYU (2018-19) and Michigan (2020-21) are signs of UW’s commitment to scheduling quality opponents. That the Pac-12 has a nine-game conference season — as opposed to, for example, the Southeastern Conference, which has an eight-game regular season — also adds strength to the Huskies’ overall schedule, she argued.
She also said she has had recent discussions with “top 10” programs about scheduling future games. Right now, UW’s first open date for a Power Five opponent is 2022. And who knows where those programs — or the Huskies, for that matter — will be by then.
That’s part of the guesswork that comes with scheduling.
NOTE: A Pac-12 spokesman said Wednesday that the plan is to release the 2017 conference schedule sometime in January. In the two-year alternating schedule window, the Huskies are scheduled to “miss” USC and Arizona in ’17 and ’18.
UW FUTURE SCHEDULES
Sept. 1: at Rutgers
Sept. 9: vs. Montana
Sept. 16: Fresno State
Sept. 1: vs. Auburn (Atlanta)
Sept. 8: vs. North Dakota
Sept. 29: vs. BYU
Aug. 31: Eastern Washington
Sept. 14: Hawaii
Sept. 21: at BYU
Sept. 5: Michigan
Sept. 12: Sacramento State
Sept. 4: Montana
Sept. 18: at Michigan