For the first time more in than a decade, the Huskies are a top-10 team with Pac-12-title potential. But instead of shooting for sellouts, the schedulers opted for blowouts.

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Ramen, pizza, the occasional Big Mac and fries. That’s a typical college-student diet.

Washington football players, however, have carved out a meal plan unique to themselves: They feast on cupcakes.

For the second straight week, the Huskies stomped on a nonconference opponent as if it was Bubble Wrap. Only difference is, Bubble Wrap stomping usually has a smidgen of entertainment value. That 59-14 drubbing of Idaho, on the other hand, was a 60-minute ode to yawning.

Kind of like how next week — and next year — will be, too.

Let this be a warning to the Washington athletic administration: Don’t let this happen in the future. A tuneup against a softball opponent is one thing, but a three-week nonconference snooze is another.

Last Saturday it was Rutgers, this Saturday it was Idaho, and next Saturday it will be Portland State. The slate for 2017 is Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State.

For the first time more in than a decade, the Huskies are a top-10 team with Pac-12-title potential. But instead of shooting for sellouts, the schedulers opted for blowouts.

Now, we should probably get a couple of things out of the way before going on. Scheduling a top-flight opponent isn’t as simple as just sending a friendly email.

There are only so many openings, and both teams generally have to be willing to travel. There also are cases in which schools back out unexpectedly, as Wisconsin did with UW for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Still, most Power 5 schools are able to secure a marquee — or at least watchable — nonconference matchup each year. But three games like the one Saturday? Unless you’re a third-stringer who wouldn’t otherwise step between the lines, they don’t do anyone any good.

They certainly don’t do the fans good. There might have been 60,078 people who paid for that Vandals vanquishing, but about half of them had trickled out before the end of the third quarter. A brand-name opponent, however, would have generated a nonconference buzz Husky Stadium hasn’t seen in years.

Outstanding as quarterback Jake Browning was, mesmerizing as defensive back Budda Baker was, cheers can only grow so loud for a 37-point favorite.

These games don’t do the players much good, either. Asked about his nonconference scheduling philosophy Thursday, UW coach Chris Petersen said preparing his team for conference play was the primary factor. But does winning by 40 points each week really do that?

Idaho prepares one for the Pac-12 the way a spin class prepares one for the Tour de France. First-quarter hiccups aside, Saturday might as well have been an exhibition.

Drama-free nonconference schedules cheat players out of potential lifelong memories, too. Just think about the Whammy in Miami, when the Huskies ended the Hurricanes’ 58-game home winning streak in 1994. Players deserve the opportunity to say they beat Notre Dame, or Nebraska, or Ohio State — all schools the Huskies used to host.

And lastly, these games don’t do the program much good. We aren’t in the BCS era anymore, when a nonconference loss could instantly derail a team’s national-championship hopes. If anything, it’s riskier to not play a nonconference power. If UW finishes the season with one loss, a Power 5 school with the same record would likely leapfrog the Dawgs for a playoff spot based on strength of schedule.

Having said that, one can still make a case for the cupcake parade.

Had Stanford beaten a nobody instead of losing to Northwestern last season, the Pac-12 champion Cardinal likely would have sneaked into the College Football Playoff.

But embracing a risk-free nonconference schedule is a lot like playing a prevent defense. More often than not, the conservative approach will backfire.

Look, the intent behind this column isn’t to assign blame. Coach Petersen wasn’t around when any of these opponents were scheduled, and while Washington athletic director Jen Cohen was, she wasn’t the head honcho. Plus, given how Michigan is on the Huskies’ schedule in 2020 and 2021, it appears as if Washington has returned to headhunting big-name programs.

Let’s hope that continues for 2022 and beyond.

Let’s hope that Cohen and company go out of their way to make sure fans and players have a nonconference foe that gets their blood boiling. It’s not always easy, but it happened all the time in the past. You’d think there’d be a way to make sure it happens going forward.

The Huskies appear to be climbing back toward elite status. They deserve the chance to really show what they can do.

A tale of two quarters
Idaho had a statistical advantage in yards after one quarter despite trailing 7-0. In the second quarter, it was all Washington, which took a 35-0 halftime lead.
First quarter Rush yds Pass yds Total
Washington 30 22 52
Idaho 6 72 78
Second quarter Rush yds Pass yds Total
Washington 18 215 233
Idaho 12 -3 9