Jan. 12, 2011
SEATTLE - You wanted a big splash to go with the opening of the new Husky Stadium.
Well how's this cannonball?
I have learned that Washington will unveil renovated Husky Stadium on Sept. 7, 2013, against Boise State, the Northwest's biggest non-conference attraction.
Think that might get the glittering, new place rockin' on Lake Washington?
The Broncos have become a Top 10 power that was a missed field goal from playing in this season's Rose Bowl.
"Historically, the Huskies at Husky Stadium have taken on great opponents," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian told me Tuesday night. "And not just in the Pac-10 - now going to be the Pac-12 - but in the non-conference schedule, as well.
"Having the first game at Husky Stadium against Boise State is something special."
The home-and-home agreement includes the two schools swapping $350,000 and the Dawgs making a return trip to Boise, where few big boys dare to go, on Sept. 19, 2015.
Washington had the nation's second-toughest strength of schedule this past season, according to the annual Sagarin computer ratings. Oregon State, which played at Boise State early this season, was the only team that had a 2010 schedule tougher than the Huskies.
"The reality of it is we went to Notre Dame last year. We went to BYU this year. We are going to Lincoln, Neb., next year. We are going to Baton Rouge, La., the year after that," Sarkisian said. "Again, that's part of Husky football.
"We'll play anybody, anywhere, anytime."
To show that Sarkisian and UW Athletic Director Scott Woodward are taking on all comers, in all venues, during this resurgence of Husky football, Washington's game on the Broncos' blue turf includes a whopping, $1 million penalty if the Dawgs back out of the return match.
"We wanted to have a quality opponent for our first game in our beautiful, new stadium. And we can't think of a better one than Boise State, which has built a strong program and has a rabid following of its own here in the Northwest," Woodward said.
"Sure, we could have scheduled an easier opponent to open our renovated stadium. But we want our schedules to be attractive and challenging - and to help us in our goal to win championships. Playing Boise State, in Seattle and in Boise, gives us the opportunity and exposure that can go a long way towards that. We're excited."
That's not the only attraction coming to the new Husky Stadium. Washington also has agreements for home-and-home series with Wisconsin (2017 in Madison, 2018 in Seattle) plus Illinois (2013 in Champaign and 2014 at Husky Stadium).
"It's where we want to be as a program," Sarkisian said.
This will be only the second time the Huskies and Boise State have met in football. The other time was in Washington's home opener to the 2007 season, when the Dawgs beat 22nd-ranked Boise in Jake Locker's second college start.
Washington is just the fourth team from a BCS conference to agree to play the Broncos in Boise during the regular season. The others who have played there have been Oregon State (in 2010, '06 and '04), Oregon ('09) and Washington State ('01, 1998).
"This is a natural series for the two schools," Boise State Director of Athletics Gene Bleymaier said. "I know are fans will be excited about being able to see a quality opponent like Washington play on the blue turf, and I'm sure we will have a large contingent of fans making the trip to Seattle."
The big-picture story here: Sarkisian and Woodward are getting Washington's scheduling philosophy aligned with their goal of winning Pac-12 and perhaps even national championships.
Let's face it: The Huskies over-scheduled for most of the last decade. That helped keep the Dawgs down since their previous bowl appearance in 2002 -- until Sarkisian revived them upon his jolting arrival in January 2009.
Here is a sampling of the non-conference opponents Washington rammed into from 2002 and 2010, when contracts Sarkisian and Woodward inherited ended: Ohio State (twice), Notre Dame (three times), Oklahoma (twice), Boise State, Brigham Young (twice), LSU and Nebraska.
There is a good, calculated reason Washington in 2011 will lose its status as one of only four major colleges that has never played a lower-division team - USC, UCLA and Notre Dame are the others. The Huskies begin their final season in Husky Stadium before renovation begins on the iconic building by hosting Eastern Washington this Sept. 3.
And that's not the easiest lower-division foe they could have found. The Eagles just won the national title in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The game, plus the 2012 Huskies' opener at Qwest Field against Portland State in another $400,000 contract, represent Sarkisian and Woodward's scheduling philosophies meshing.
"In a perfect world, yeah, you'd like to play top-of-the-line opponents every week. But ultimately, you have to realize this thing is a marathon," Sarkisian said of each season. "You have to allow yourself time to build a program. And there are some games you have to have that allow you to do that."
Indeed, Washington is getting its schedule aligned onto the path that every one of nation's top programs has taken recently to become elite.
Each of the teams that finished this season in The Associated Press top 10 have played multiple FCS (formerly Division I-AA) opponents since 2002. Auburn, which beat Oregon in Monday's BCS title game, has bullied eight little guys in the last nine years. That included Chattanooga this season.
Oregon's route to Mondays' title game included a September rout of Portland State - on the same day UW was hosting Nebraska. It was the Ducks' fourth FCS opponent since '02.
Boise State has had six lower-division foes in that span.
Texas Christian and Wisconsin met in this month's Rose Bowl, which is the prize attached to Sarkisian's stated goal for his Huskies of winning the Pac-12. The Horned Frogs and the Badgers have played FCS teams nine times between them since 2002.
When LSU won the national title in 2003, it beat Western Illinois along the way. The Tigers have played four other FCS teams in the last nine seasons. Florida beat Western Carolina in 2006 and The Citadel in '08 on its way to a national championship in each of those seasons. Alabama beat Chattanooga in 2009 before winning that season's BCS title game.
Get the picture? Washington does.
But it's not like the Huskies are heading into Cupcake Central by adding Eastern Washington - which actually got a vote in the AP's final big-boy poll this week -- and Portland State. Sarkisian and Woodward are merely applying an "A-B-C" model to their schedules.
Eastern, which is also scheduled to come back to UW for $450,000 in September 2014, and Portland State fall into the "C" category. So does Sacramento State, which Washington hosts to start '15.
The "B's" are FBS-level teams Washington will host and should beat. But in 2012 that is Nevada, which just went 13-1 and beat Boise State, California and Boston College for its best season ever. The Wolf Pack signed a $425,000 contract to come to Qwest Field for UW's second game in '12.
Hawaii is in the "B" category, too, in 2011, '14 and '15 - though UW is playing at Hawaii in 2015. That road opener should help recruiting for the Huskies. They had nine Hawaiians on their roster this past season.
And Hawaii just went 10-3 and to another bowl this season.
The "A" opponents are in home-and-home arrangements with bowl-quality teams from BCS conferences. And not Beef O' Brady Bowl-quality, either.
There's Boise State. There's Nebraska, in this September in UW's return game there. There's LSU, in a Week 3, 2012 return game from the Tigers' trip to Seattle in 2009.
Plus, the Huskies are scheduled to play at Illinois in the second game of 2013, right after UW opens new Husky Stadium with Boise. Illinois comes to Seattle for the second game in 2014.
UW is scheduled to play Wisconsin in Madison on Aug. 31, 2017. And the Badgers have agreed to come to Husky Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018, in a $300,000 swap.
Sarkisian and Woodward would like to have one A, one B and one C opponent in each non-conference season. The list of future schedules listed below show how they've done so far.
The newly remade Pac-12 will also keep Washington schedules beefy. The Pac-10 (to be officially renamed after Utah and Colorado join this summer) unanimously voted to keep playing nine league games each season. That is one more conference foe than most BCS leagues have - thus, one fewer week to schedule a hand-picked non-conference opponent such as the Tennessee Techs, McNeese States and Missouri States on which the SEC feasts.
While the exact schedules inside the Pac-12 in future seasons has yet to be determined, the plan is for the league games to mirror each other in consecutive seasons. Next season Washington hosts Cal, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon and Washington State, and plays at Utah, Stanford, USC and Oregon State. In 2012 it will be reversed, with the Huskies hosting the Utes, Cardinal, Trojans and Beavers while going to Cal, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon and Washington State.
The conference will assign a new, two-year scheduling "pod" for the Huskies for 2013 and '14. UW will play UCLA and Arizona State those two seasons and swap out USC and Colorado.
If all this - plus the new, privately funded, $250 million Husky Stadium that will host much of it - doesn't get your purple flowing with your gold, you ain't livin'.
FUTURE WASHINGTON FOOTBALL SCHEDULES
S3 Eastern Washington
S17 at Nebraska
O1 at Utah
O22 at Stanford
N12 at USC
N19 at Oregon State
N26 Washington State (Qwest)
2012 (home games @ Qwest Field)
S1 Portland State
S29 at LSU
** conf game dates TBD
** at California
** at Colorado
** at Arizona
** at Oregon
** Oregon State
** at Washington State
2013 (new Husky Stadium)
S7 Boise State
S14 at Illinois
** conf game dates/sites TBD
** Oregon State
** Arizona State
** Washington State
A30 at Hawaii
S6 Eastern Washington
**conf dates/sites TBD
S5 Sacramento State
S19 at Boise State
**conf dates/sites TBD
**conf dates/sites TBD
S2 at Wisconsin
**conf dates/sites TBD
**conf dates/sites TBD
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.