CHRISTIAN CAPLE

Caple: Ranking the UW Huskies’ 2024 schedule from least to most intriguing

Feb 24, 2024, 9:36 AM

UW Huskies Oregon Ducks...

The UW Huskies and Oregon Ducks line up for a play at Husky Stadium on Oct. 14, 2023 in Seattle. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s going to be a fascinating 2024 season for college football’s largest conference. The Big Ten not only has four new members, but five of the 18 football programs have first-year head coaches — including the team that won last year’s national championship, and two of the additions from the Pac-12. One of those, of course, is the UW Huskies, who are preparing for a Big Ten schedule backloaded with games against premier programs — a couple Washington has played for years, and some who are conference foes for the first time — as new coach Jedd Fisch takes over for Kalen DeBoer.

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Here’s a ranking of the games on UW’s 2024 schedule, from least to most intriguing.

12. vs. Eastern Michigan, Sept. 7

This actually would have been a slightly more interesting matchup with DeBoer still at Washington because DeBoer and former offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb worked together at EMU from 2014-16. Chris Creighton has guided the Eagles to three consecutive bowl games, so it’s not like they’ve been a pushover. But this isn’t a game UW should ever be in danger of losing.

11. vs. Weber State, Aug. 31

Any other year, this probably is the least intriguing game on the schedule, but it happens to be Fisch’s UW debut, and will provide fans their first glimpse of a rebuilt roster. Weber State went 6-5 last year and was 4-4 against a tough Big Sky schedule.

10. at Indiana, Oct. 26

As with EMU, the former UW staff had strong ties to Indiana. DeBoer was offensive coordinator there, and Nick Sheridan, UW’s former tight ends coach who is now the OC under DeBoer at Alabama, also worked at Indiana as a position coach and coordinator. William Inge, UW’s former co-DC and linebackers coach, first met DeBoer at Indiana. And, of course, Michael Penix Jr. spent the first four years of his career there. All have moved on, though, so this will mostly just be a chance for Huskies fans to check out Bloomington for the first time (UW has played there just once, in 1978).

The Hoosiers won just three Big Ten games in the past three seasons, leading to Tom Allen’s firing. Curt Cignetti takes over for him after a successful stint at James Madison.

9. vs. UCLA, Nov. 16

This is Washington’s penultimate game of the regular season, so the Huskies should have a pretty good idea what Deshaun Foster’s first team will look like after Chip Kelly’s departure for Ohio State. Their quarterback could be a familiar face, as former UW signee Ethan Garbers seemed to seize that job late in the 2023 season.

UCLA is one of two schools on UW’s schedule that once employed Fisch as an assistant. He was the Bruins’ offensive coordinator — and interim head coach for two games — under Jim L. Mora in 2017.

8. at Rutgers, Sept. 28

UW’s first Big Ten road game will come in Piscataway, New Jersey, where coach Greg Schiano just led the Scarlet Knights to their first winning season (7-6) since 2014. This could be a sneaky-tough spot for the Huskies, who dusted Rutgers in a 2016-17 home-and-home series.

One fun connection: new UW defensive coordinator Steve Belichick attended Rutgers, where he played lacrosse and spent one season as the long snapper on the football team under Schiano.

7. at Iowa, Oct. 12

Will the Hawkeyes figure out how to score points now that their offensive coordinator is not related to the head coach? We’ll see, but Iowa finds ways to win, anyway, and Kinnick Stadium is a great place to watch a game. Washington has played in Iowa City just once, a 28-18 loss in 1964.

6. vs. Northwestern, Sept. 21

David Braun won Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2023 for guiding the Wildcats to an 8-5 finish after taking over in the wake of Pat Fitzgerald’s ouster. But this game is mostly intriguing for the fact that it will be UW’s first conference game as a member of the Big Ten. These teams have played each other three times, and Washington allowed only seven total points in those games. The last two matchups — in 1983 and 1984 — were both shutouts.

5. vs. Washington State, Sept. 14 (Lumen Field)

The two schools reached a compromise to continue their rivalry in 2023, agreeing to play at a neutral site in their first season in different conferences. Emotions should run high. WSU nearly won last year’s Apple Cup at Husky Stadium. The 2024 game is intriguing enough for the mere fact it’s being played in September.

4. vs. USC, Nov. 2

A familiar foe in a new conference, the Trojans are set to visit Seattle for the first time since 2019. Lincoln Riley seemingly will choose either Miller Moss or Jayden Maiava as the successor to Caleb Williams at quarterback. New defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn, hired from UCLA, is tasked with resurrecting a defense that held USC back during Riley’s first two seasons in Los Angeles.

There’s also the Pete Carroll connection, with his oldest son, Brennan, now the Huskies’ offensive coordinator and O-line coach. The younger Carroll was a graduate assistant and then tight ends coach for his dad at USC in the 2000s.

3. at Penn State, Nov. 9

From a logistical perspective, this is Washington’s most difficult trip in its new conference. But I’d still expect a good number of UW fans to find their way to Beaver Stadium, considering its status as one of college football’s most impressive environments.

The Nittany Lions have won 21 games the past two seasons, though they haven’t won a Big Ten title since 2016. James Franklin hired Tom Allen, the fired Indiana coach, as his new defensive coordinator to replace Manny Diaz, who took the Duke job. Penn State has a new offensive coordinator, too, in Andy Kotelnicki. The Nittany Lions also will have a bunch of new starters on defense after ranking No. 2 nationally last season in yards per play allowed. Former five-star prospect Drew Allar returns at quarterback.

2. vs. Michigan, Oct. 5

This will be a rematch of last season’s National Championship Game, though both sides will look quite a bit different than their former selves. They’re led by new coaches — Michigan promoted Sherrone Moore to replace Jim Harbaugh — and will have new starting quarterbacks and key offensive players. This is the second former Fisch employer on Washington’s schedule; Fisch spent the 2015-16 seasons as the Wolverines’ quarterbacks coach and receivers coach under Harbaugh.

1. at Oregon, Nov. 30

The UW Huskies have taken three straight from the Ducks, all in thrilling fashion. Oregon was favored by multiple scores in two of those games, and at least right now, it appears the Ducks could enjoy a similar point spread at Autzen Stadium in 2024.

The bitter rivals’ first game against each other as members of the Big Ten represents another first: it’s their regular-season finale (and it comes after a bye for both teams, just like in 2023). Dan Lanning has a talented roster and a new transfer quarterback (Dillon Gabriel). Did DeBoer’s departure clear the way for him to finally beat the Huskies?

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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