DANNY ONEIL

Huskies need to cut the fat from their non-conference schedule

Sep 14, 2016, 6:30 AM | Updated: 10:05 am
The Huskies have outscored their first two opponents, Rutgers and Idaho, by a combined 80 points. (...
The Huskies have outscored their first two opponents, Rutgers and Idaho, by a combined 80 points. (AP)
(AP)

The resurgence of Husky football was hammered home this week.

We didn’t have to eat money on the Portland State tickets.

Seriously. My friends and I found someone to pay full freight for what amounts to a second straight gimme putt for Washington. That says something about the momentum the Huskies have built up locally. It’s also a commentary on the trend when it comes to their schedule: It’s noticeably light on substance when it comes to the non-conference portion of the menu.

That’s too bad. UW used to look to the Big Ten and schedule Michigan. Now, it picks Rutgers, whose mere inclusion in that conference is downright weird. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Huskies would go play Ohio State or LSU. Now it’s a state school named after a city. Not only that, Portland State is a lower-division opponent. Call it FCS. Call it Division I-AA. Call it the kind of school we never used to play before.

Despite slow going on ground, Petersen says Huskies are ‘on track’

Up until the 2011 season, UW was one of four schools that had never played a football game against a lower-tier opponent since Division I was separated in 1978. It was something to be at least a little bit proud of. Then UW backed out of a pair of games scheduled with BYU, and paid Eastern Washington $450,000 for a game that the Eagles very nearly won.

Served us right.

It feels sheepish to complain about anything these days. The Huskies are undefeated and ranked No. 8, their highest perch in the Associated Press poll in more than a decade. They’ve won their two games by a combined score of 107-27.

They’ve confirmed every bit of optimism placed on them entering this season. They haven’t validated any of it, however, and that has nothing to do with this team’s performance and everything to do with the scheduling. UW has padded its record and it has done so at the expense of the fans who actually go to the games and anyone who wants to see actual competition as opposed to foregone conclusions.

It’s a trend that predates coach Chris Petersen and new athletic director Jennifer Cohen. It goes back to Steve Sarkisian’s tenure when he insisted on getting out of two games with BYU. That’s how Eastern Washington wound up on UW’s schedule in the first place, and a Big Sky opponent has been used to season the Huskies’ record ever since. Next year it’s Montana.

UW stopped challenging itself outside the conference, and that’s too bad. We used to be a school that would schedule one heavyweight bout out of conference. Now, it’s a lineup of cupcakes.

There should be a signature opponent every year on the Huskies’ non-conference schedule, a school considered among the sport’s blue bloods. Nebraska. Notre Dame. Most anyone found in the SEC.

The second non-conference opponent should be a mid-table team from one of the country’s top-five conferences or a better-than-average team from a lesser conference.

The third non-conference opponent can be the empty calories. Pad the record with one game, not three.

UW has won 13 consecutive non-conference games at home, and the only one of those resembling a formidable opponent in that stretch was the 2013 season-opener against Boise State.

It won’t start to get better until 2018 when BYU returns to the schedule. In 2020, Michigan begins a two-year series against the Huskies.

That’s more like it. For now, we’ll just have to be happy finding someone willing to pay the admission price for Saturday’s game against Portland State.

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Huskies need to cut the fat from their non-conference schedule