Apologies to Northwest Directional State.

But your nonconference opportunities might soon be numbered.

At least, that’s the fear in a constantly evolving college football landscape that will soon include both a Super SEC and an alliance among the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC — the latter promising to form expanded nonconference matchups that might nullify the need for FCS or Group of Five opponents.

Of course, in a news conference announcing the alliance last month, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff insisted: “There’s no intention to stop our teams within the alliance from also scheduling games against any other conference that they want to schedule games against. They’ll have flexibility in games that they’ll be able to schedule, and it’s our hope they’ll continue to schedule games against other Power Five conferences and other conferences in Division I as well.”

To date, UW has 14 games scheduled against Group of Five or FCS opponents: Montana (2021), Arkansas State (2021), Kent State (2022), Portland State (2022), Boise State (2023 and 2029), Tulsa (2023), Weber State (2024), Eastern Michigan (2024), Colorado State (2025), UC Davis (2025), Eastern Washington (2026 and 2028), and Fresno State (2027).

And while the alliance has vowed to honor existing contractual obligations, UW head coach Jimmy Lake also doesn’t see these games going away any time soon.

“I think — and again this is probably more of an athletic director question in terms of scheduling and all that — there’s always going to be a place for this somewhere, whether it’s us or in another conference,” Lake said Monday. “I know the SEC, they love to play Northwestern Directional State. I mean, those guys play two of them a year, but nobody talks about that. So, I think it’s still here to stay.

“I think it’s great. I played and coached at an FCS program (Eastern Washington). It’s great for college football. I don’t think those should stop, at all. Even with this alliance, I don’t think the main goal is for all your nonconference games to be against all those teams. Especially geographically it doesn’t make a lot of sense. So, when you have teams out here on the West Coast, that makes more sense for the Pac-12 to play an FCS team out west, or a Mountain West team out west — just like you’ve seen last weekend with UCLA playing Hawaii. The games that are coming up this weekend, in terms of us playing Montana (or) San Jose State playing USC (are similar). Those are geographical games that make sense. So, I don’t see those going away, but that’s just coming from me. I’m that way.”

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A Huard update

UW’s season-opening depth chart included a small surprise at the quarterback spot, where true freshman Sam Huard was listed as the co-backup alongside graduate transfer Patrick O’Brien.

And while this might be partially due to a hand injury O’Brien sustained in fall camp, it’s clear that Huard is making some significant strides as well.

“He’s getting better every day,” UW offensive coordinator John Donovan said. “He’s got a natural feel for the game. He’s learning our system. The biggest thing with him is just the operation with everything. The game’s a little faster. Everything goes a little faster. He’s learning the language. He might have to think at times for certain things.

“But he can see well. He can throw well. He’s got good touch. He gets the ball out. He’s got good accuracy, good vision, good anticipation. He’s got everything you want, and I just think every rep he gets better. Shoot, the last couple weeks he’s gotten better than where he was.”

While that’s an optimistic update, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris remains the unquestioned starter.

But if Morris were to suffer an injury at some point this season, it’s possible Huard — a former five-star recruit from Kennedy Catholic — would be handed the reins to the Husky offense.

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And Lake says he’s always willing to burn a redshirt if it helps his team win.

“I never say I want to redshirt anybody,” Lake said. “If we need somebody to play to help us be really good in 2021, at any position, those guys need to be prepared and ready to go. So, I never want to say, ‘Oh, I want to redshirt that guy’. What I want to do is I want to win the Pac-12 Championship and go to a big bowl game, and so does all of our team. So, whatever we need to do to do that, that’s what we’re going to do.” 

Cultivating a walk-on tradition

When asked Wednesday about his relationship with sixth-year senior outside linebacker Ryan Bowman, inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio credited the former walk-on for helping pave the way at Washington.

“Him and Myles (Bryant) were really the reasons why I had the confidence to walk on here and believe that I could play here,” said Ulofoshio, an All-Pac-12 performer who earned a scholarship before the 2020 season. “Because they were able to do it, so I was like, ‘OK, I have a chance to do this here.’”

Three former walk-ons — Ulofoshio, Bowman and tight end Jack Westover — are expected to start Saturday against Montana, while current walk-on Mishael Powell cracked the two-deeps at cornerback as well.

According to Lake, it’s no surprise that one walk-on’s success has snowballed.

“It’s not just lip service,” he said. “If you come in and you work hard and you make plays at your position and you’re one of the best at your position, we’re going to reward you. We’re going to reward you with a scholarship. And if you’re the best, you’re going to play and you’re going to become a starter. They’ve seen guys that have been rewarded over the years.

“It’s also a huge awakening to our players that are on scholarship, that hey, just because you’re on scholarship doesn’t mean you’re going to sit here and eat all this food and wear this cool jersey and that Washington helmet and everything’s going to be handed to you. Oh, no. You need to go out there and you have to make sure you’re putting yourself in position to be the best player at your position, or you’re going to be passed up.”

Extra point

  • Lake was asked Monday why he feels this team is prepared to win a premier bowl game, something the Huskies failed to do under Chris Petersen. “I mean, that’s what we work for every single day,” he said. “I don’t want to just sit up here and talk about it. We got to go do it. We feel like we’ve got schematics in all three phases that are going to help us. We feel we’ve recruited and have players here that’re going to help us win the Pac-12 Championship, first, and then go to that big bowl game and win that game. So, we feel we are on that right track. But guess what? We have to go do it. So, I don’t want to sit up here and talk about it. We need to go show it. Five months from now, that’s what we’re doing.”