Jan. 4, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - Challenge and opportunity.
The Huskies' 2012 football schedule released Wednesday is full of both - in unprecedented doses. It has Washington playing four of the nation's current top six teams next season.
"Thanks for reminding me," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian told me with a chuckle.
And the college football world will be watching. Sark's fourth season turning around Washington will include at least three prime-time kickoffs on national television.
It will feature a huge test at current No. 1 LSU in Week Two, a Thursday night home conference opener against Pac-12 North rival Stanford, plus two Friday TV games: at California then a unique Apple Cup the day after Thanksgiving at Washington State.
An Oct. 6 game at Oregon and a home game Oct. 13 against USC at CenturyLink Field mean Washington will be playing four of top six teams in the latest Associated Press poll. LSU, Oregon and Stanford reached Bowl Championship Series games this season.
Of course the top rankings may change by next summer - fifth-ranked USC has quarterback Matt Barkley returning and No. 6 Oregon looks to be loaded again, but fourth-ranked Stanford is losing Andrew Luck to the NFL in 2012.
Still, Washington has never faced more than two teams ranked in the nation's top six during any of its 120 football seasons.
That kind of exposure will immeasurably help the Huskies' national reputation and recruiting. Kids from Maine to Maui will see for themselves how Sarkisian makes good on promises of playing time at UW for freshmen and sophomores based on skill, not necessarily experience.
Yes, these will be prime - and primetime -- opportunities to shift UW's rise into high gear on a national track. These will be immediate chances to measure new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's impact on the program upon his arrival from building top defenses at Boise State and Tennessee.
- All 2012 UW home games will be played at CenturyLink Field
"There's been a history here at the University of Washington of taking on the best teams in the country. And that's not going to change in 2012," Sarkisian said.
He's already taken his Huskies to Norte Dame in 2009, to Brigham Young in 2010 and to Nebraska in 2011. During that span they became just the eighth team since 1960 to reach two bowl games within three seasons of going winless.
"We've got some tremendous opportunities early in the season with our non-conference games," Sarkisian said. "Right away, San Diego State (a bowl team this past season). And then going down to Baton Rouge to play the LSU Tigers. Then on to our conference play, which we all know is as challenging as they come."
Four of Washington's 12 opponents in 2012 won at least 10 games this season: LSU, Stanford, USC, and Oregon. Eight of next season's foes had winning 2011 regular seasons, including San Diego State (8-4), Portland State (7-4), California (7-5), and Utah (7-5).
The combined record this regular season of 2012's opponents was 87-58, a winning percentage of .600. Seven of UW's 12 upcoming foes played in bowl games this holiday season.
"There are some great opportunities in that schedule. And some tremendous challenges," Sarkisian said.
The Sept. 8, 2012, game at LSU will be Washington's second trip to Baton Rouge and the first since 1983. The nationally televised showcase is the return date of a home-and-home series that began with the Tigers playing at Husky Stadium in 2009 to start Sarkisian's first season at UW.
It will be the third-farthest trip the Huskies have taken during Sarkisian's tenure. The 2,161 miles to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl has been the longest trek, four miles further than a 2009 trip to Notre Dame.
"I am excited about the 2012 schedule and the opportunities it provides for competition and exposure on the national level," UW athletic director Scott Woodward said. "The magnitude of the game at LSU on national TV speaks for itself."
Washington will be playing a full schedule of home games somewhere other than in Husky Stadium for the first time since 1919, when they played at old Denny Field. The 2012 home dates begin Sept. 1 against San Diego State at CenturyLink Field.
The Huskies' job against the Aztecs may have gotten easier Tuesday. Ronnie Hillman, currently fifth in the nation this season with 131.6 yards rushing per game, announced he was entering the NFL draft as an underclassman.
After the trip to LSU, the Huskies will host Portland State Sept. 15. It's the first meeting between the schools.
The Huskies will also host Stanford (Sept. 27), USC, Oregon State (Oct. 27), and Utah (Nov.10) at the downtown home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. UW is playing one season at CenturyLink while renovations continue on Husky Stadium.
CenturyLink Field, a few miles south of the UW campus, is renowned for being loud and first-class -- qualities Huskies fans can expect at the renovated Husky Stadium. The on-campus home will be finished in time for the Dawgs to host the 2013 opener against Boise State.
"The home games are bound to make our one season playing at CenturyLink Field a memorable one for our fans," Woodward said. "And the new opportunities inside the Pac-12 - our prime-time, weeknight home game against Stanford, for instance -- make the schedule that much more attractive.
"I am looking forward to another great season."
The Dawgs' conference road games in 2012 were their home ones this year: at Oregon, at Arizona (Oct. 20), at California (Nov. 2), at Colorado (Nov. 17) and at WSU (Nov. 23).
The Huskies' bye will be Sept. 22, immediately before conference play begins with that primetime Stanford game.
"It's a good break point, that `Now, this is where we're headed. The preseason, in a sense, is over and now we're heading into league play,'" Sarkisian said.
The 2012 season is the second one in which Sarkisian and Woodward have been able to fully apply their preferred "A-B-C" scheduling model. Eastern Washington, which came to Seattle this past season, and Portland State are in the "C" category.
The top-flight, "A" opponent in 2012 is obviously LSU. The "B's" are Football Bowl Subdivision teams Washington generally will host. Next season that is San Diego State in what will be the third meeting between the schools. The Aztecs played in the New Orleans Bowl last month.
Woodward and Sarkisian currently have one A, one B and one C opponent on each non-conference schedule through 2015.
Washington is set to begin 2013 with Boise State, at Illinois and against Idaho State. The Pac-12 will assign a new, two-year scheduling "pod" for the Huskies for 2013 and '14. UW is scheduled to play UCLA and Arizona State those two seasons, swapping out USC and Colorado from the 2011 and '12 league schedule.
The 2014 season is scheduled to begin at Hawai'i, followed by home games against Eastern Washington and Illinois. The beginning of 2015 right now has home games with Sacramento State and Hawai'i then a trip to Boise State.
Washington also has an agreement with Big Ten-champion Wisconsin for a game Sept. 1, 2018, at Husky Stadium and on Aug. 31, 2019, in Madison.
So the challenges and opportunities will continue for these rising Dawgs. "That's part of Husky football," Sarkisian said. "We'll play anybody, anywhere, anytime."
HUSKY FOOTBALL FUTURE SCHEDULES
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.