CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: Ranking UW Huskies’ 2023 schedule from least to most challenging

Apr 14, 2023, 10:40 AM

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Defensive lineman Jeremiah Martin and Bralen Trice of the Washington Huskies celebrate their sack of quarterback Bo Nix of the Oregon Ducks on November 12, 2022. (Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

(Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

It was easy before the 2022 season to identify the UW Huskies as perhaps the Pac-12’s luckiest team, with regard to the conference schedule.

UW Huskies’ ’22 recruiting class is intact — and seeing a ton of reps

The two teams they missed? USC and Utah.

The two teams that wound up meeting in the conference title game? USC and Utah.

But that was good and bad: Good because it meant Washington didn’t have to deal with Caleb Williams or Cam Rising, but bad because the Huskies lacked ammunition when it came time to work through the Pac-12’s complex tiebreaker scenario.

That likely won’t be an issue this season, because the UW Huskies face a far more difficult conference slate, one that includes both the Trojans and Utes.

We rank each game on Washington’s schedule from least to most challenging:

12. vs. Tulsa, Sept. 9

The Golden Hurricane finished last season with a 5-7 record, but did hang with a couple of tough opponents, losing 35-27 at Mississippi and 31-21 to Cincinnati in consecutive weeks. They also ranked 117th in the FBS in scoring defense.

11. at Stanford, Oct. 28

The David Shaw era is over, and now Troy Taylor has the difficult task of rebuilding a Cardinal program that dominated the Pac-12 North not that long ago. Those days feel pretty far in the rearview, though, considering that Stanford is coming off a 3-9 season, has won just three conference games in the last two years and is replacing its starting quarterback … and doing so without the benefit of the transfer portal, at least not to the same degree as its conference peers. On paper, in April, there’s no reason to think Washington should lose this game.

10. vs. Arizona State, Oct. 21

First-year coach Kenny Dillingham is similarly tasked with revitalizing the Sun Devils following the failed Herm Edwards experiment, but he’s already stocked ASU’s roster with some interesting athletes — transfer running backs Cameron Skattebo and DeCarlos Brooks, Notre Dame transfer quarterback Drew Pyne — and at least has the offensive pedigree to believe an overnight turnaround might be possible. With last year’s damaging defeat in Tempe still fresh in their minds, though, the Sun Devils should have the Huskies’ full attention.

9. vs. California, Sept. 23

How much of a difference will new coordinator Jake Spavital and TCU transfer quarterback Sam Jackson V make? That’s the big question in Berkeley, where Justin Wilcox has assembled some good defenses but still hasn’t figured out how to move the ball consistently. This is UW’s Pac-12 opener, and it comes one week after the Huskies travel to Michigan State, so there could be a hangover effect from the long road trip.

8. vs. Boise State, Sept. 2

The Broncos finished 10-4 last season and went unbeaten in Mountain West play before falling to Fresno State in the championship game. They have a talented young quarterback (Taylen Green) and a productive senior running back (George Holani, who put up 1,157 yards rushing in 2022). Plus, it’s the season opener. You never know.

7. vs. Washington State, Nov. 25

Jake Dickert and the Cougars have fond memories of Husky Stadium, where they blasted UW, 40-13, in 2021. The Huskies turned around and put up 703 yards of offense in last year’s 51-33 Apple Cup victory, and should again have the upper hand when the teams meet to conclude the regular season. But Cam Ward did some nice things against UW’s secondary in the first half of last year’s game, and is capable of keeping WSU in a potential shootout.

6. at Arizona, Sept. 30

The Wildcats might not finish with a better record than some of the teams ranked behind them on this list, but they have enough offensive weapons to make you believe they can really test Washington’s secondary. They did last year, after all, as Jayden de Laura threw for 400 yards in a 49-39 UW victory in Seattle. Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan form a strong 1-2 punch at receiver. Arizona’s defense should again make the Wildcats vulnerable, but no trip to the desert is ever a sure thing for the Huskies.

5. at Michigan State, Sept. 16

It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from the Spartans in Mel Tucker’s fourth season. They fell back to earth with a 5-7 record in 2022 after winning 11 games the year prior. Multi-year starting quarterback Payton Thorne is competing to hold off former four-star recruit Katin Houser. Tucker has signed back-to-back top-25 recruiting classes, but are those players ready to make an impact? This will be a tough trip for UW, regardless, considering the distance, and a big road test before conference play.

4. at Oregon State, Nov. 18

This was a battle at Husky Stadium last season, with UW using a late field goal to win 24-21. The Beavers must find some new leaders on defense, but they’re hoping that Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei is the spark they need at quarterback. Damien Martinez will be tough to corral, too. And this will be the Huskies’ first game at the renovated Reser Stadium, one week before the Apple Cup. Should be a fun one.

3. vs. Utah, Nov. 11

Washington hasn’t played Utah since its fever-dream comeback inside an empty Husky Stadium in November 2020. Assuming quarterback Cam Rising is fully recovered from his torn ACL, this will be a stiff challenge for the Huskies’ defense — and Kyle Whittingham’s teams always have a way of giving UW’s offense fits. This will be an opportunity for the Huskies to prove they can out-physical the Pac-12’s best. There’s no beating Utah otherwise.

2. vs. Oregon, Oct. 14

The Ducks will be trying to avenge last season’s loss at Autzen Stadium, and the Huskies will try to beat their cross-state rivals in Seattle for the first time since 2017. Both teams return their best offensive players from last season — quarterback Bo Nix, running back Bucky Irving and receiver Troy Franklin all are back for Oregon — and each team will be coming off a bye the week prior. Each team likely will be favored in each of its games leading up to this one, too.

1. at USC, Nov. 4

Washington’s trip to the Coliseum — its last game against USC before the Trojans decamp for the Big Ten — is on the short list for Game of the Year in the Pac-12. Both teams will receive votes in the preseason media poll to win the conference title, and each features a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback … and USC’s guy actually won the thing last year. This will be the first time the Huskies’ defense has to reckon with Caleb Williams, along with the Trojans’ bevy of offensive playmakers. The game also begins a brutal November stretch that includes UW’s home game against Utah and a trip to Oregon State.

This column from UW Huskies football insider Christian Caple is exclusive to Seattle Sports. Subscribe to OnMontlake.com for full access to Caple’s in-depth Husky coverage.

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