Huskies host Fresno State on Saturday in their final nonconference game of the season. Starting in 2018, the early-season slate gets more interesting.

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Cupcake season is almost over.

The No. 6 Huskies (2-0) will wrap up their nonconference schedule against Fresno State (1-1) on Saturday night at Husky Stadium, ending a doughy-soft stretch of games in which the Huskies have been the betting favored by an average of 33.5 points.

Washington is coming off a 63-7 thumping of Montana in its home opener last weekend. And no disrespect to Fresno State — which didn’t back down in its 41-10 loss at No. 1 Alabama last week — but the Huskies should put the Bulldogs away by halftime on Saturday night.

Everyone wants intriguing matchups and a compelling early-season schedule. That certainly has not been the case for the Huskies the past two seasons. Their nonconference schedule was so weak last year — ranking 127th out of 128 FBS programs — that it nearly cost them a spot in the College Football Playoff.

On paper, their nonconference schedule doesn’t appear much better this year, either.

That, finally, will change in 2018, when the Huskies open the season against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Huskies have never played in one of those nationally-televised kickoff classics, and the Pac-12-vs.-SEC matchup will no doubt be one of the most talked-about Week 1 games going into next season.

“You just want competitive balance. I think everybody’s into that,” UW coach Chris Petersen said this week. “You just don’t want the lopsided (result) — coaches, fans, everybody wants to have competitive football games.”

Washington has more top-tier opponents on the horizon — notably, a home-and-home series with Michigan in 2020 and 2021, and then another home-and-home with Ohio State in 2024 and 2025.

UW also begins a home-and-home with BYU next season.

It’s typical for such games to be set several years in advance. (Washington announced its 2016-17 games against Rutgers, for example, in March 2014, just a few months after Petersen took over at UW.)

“When it comes to scheduling, any athletic director in the country will tell you this is a very challenging task,” UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen told The Times last December. “To try to predict strength of schedule (years in advance), and schedule for strength of schedule, sometimes just doesn’t go your way.

“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 reported an announced attendance of 68,491 for last Saturday’s home opener at Husky Stadium (which has a seating capacity of 70,138). UW had to be disappointed that it wasn’t able to sell out its first home game in a season in which the team is considered a bona fide national-title contender, and coming off the program’s first outright conference championship in 25 years.

There are a number of modern dynamics at play when it comes to tickets sales for major-college football programs — with late kickoffs a deterrent for some fans, plus an increasingly better television-viewing experience from home. Nationwide, college football attendance in 2016 fell for a sixth straight year.

UW did make significant progress in its season-ticket sales this year, reporting 45,089 season-tickets sold last week, up from 40,324 last year. Ticket sales should, in theory, climb even more as more high-profile opponents get set to come to Husky Stadium in future seasons.

But for now, the Huskies — and their fans — will have to get their fill on the soft stuff.


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

Sept. 14: Ohio State

Sept. 13: at Ohio State