O’Neil: UW opener vs Auburn is finally a non-conference game Huskies fans can get excited for
Aug 29, 2018, 3:52 PM
This is a game that’s worth getting excited for.
One that’s worth flying from one corner of the country to the other. On a red-eye flight.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing on Friday night, landing in Atlanta in plenty of time to watch the Washington Huskies play Auburn for the first time in school history.
Husky fans have been waiting for this one for years. Not Auburn per se, but playing a non-conference opponent of this caliber. It’s the first marquee non-conference game Washington has had since 2012.
That’s embarrassing. At least it should be. These are the kind of non-conference games Washington should play every year. They’re the kind of non-conference games Washington used to play every year before the past six years of soft schedules, which have been as big an abomination as the purple helmets the team sported in the mid-‘90s. Maybe worse.
The Huskies used to schedule home-and-home series with powers like Michigan, Miami and Notre Dame, but over the past few years our non-conference diet was shifted to generic empty calories like Illinois and Rutgers. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Huskies started playing lower-division schools for the first time in the school’s history, too.
This wasn’t Chris Petersen’s fault. These weren’t his choices. The fact is that Washington’s former athletic director – the overpriced haircut that was Scott Woodward – oversaw what can only be described as the abject neutering of Washington’s non-conference schedule.
I’ve heard all the explanations, justifications and excuses about bowl eligibility, postseason positioning and the fact that it’s a sign of the times in college football more than any specific cowardice on Washington’s part.
And while I understand the logic behind the decision, I disagree with it. Vehemently.
As a season-ticket holder and alum, I want Washington playing a top-tier non-conference game every season. A perennial power from a big conference. An A game. It’s the way Washington did it back when it went to three straight Rose Bowls. It’s something the school held on to through Jim Lambright’s forgettable tenure.
Auburn is obviously an ‘A’ game. So is Michigan, which appears on Washington’s schedule in 2020 and 2021.
Then there should be a B-caliber opponent. Either a stronger program from a lesser conference or a lesser team from a good conference. BYU is a solid ‘B.’ Boise State is the absolute best ‘B’ out there.
Then there’s a ‘C’ game. Your cupcake. The filler. The pushover. This year, that’s North Dakota in Week 2.
The point of a football season is not to take the path of least resistance. These are the kind of games that energize a fan base, the players and an entire program. Nobody remembers trouncing Illinois on the road. No one can forget beating Nebraska on the road in 1991.
These are the kind of games worth waiting for, and thankfully, we won’t have to wait another six years before Washington plays this caliber of non-conference game.