The Gekko Files series is underway in the UWDP right now. When pulling them together, I typically invest about three to four hours per team previewed in order to assemble the insights required to pull together the 3,000 words I write on each team. While we all jones for a little football during this time of year, this research is the ultimate tease.
In short, this is the time of year where I really ache for the return of football.
If you read the Gekko Files, you know that I like to get into each team's schedules as part of the analysis. I always look at things like the number of home games, the placement of the BYE, the conference teams missed and the set up for potential upsets.
Upsets, in particular, is one aspect of the sport that Husky fans have had little opportunity to participate over the past decade. Despite being the underdog in more than half of the games that they've played in over the course of that decade, the Huskies have precious few real upset wins to cling on to. You've got the Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska, the pair of USC wins in Sark years 1 and 2, the Stanford game at Qwest and ...
Despite having had several opportunities (LSU x2, Oklahoma, Nebraska, lots of games versus Oregon and Stanford, etc), the Huskies are notorious for failing to compete in games where they show up as moderate to significant underdogs. This lack of competitiveness is, perhaps, the biggest stain on the record of Steve Sarkisian and was the one factor that made many Husky fans excited about the hiring of established giant-killer Chris Petersen.
But Petersen failed to deliver even a single victory against a ranked team in his first year at UW. In fact, Petersen took the Sarkisian problem and made it worse by not registering even a single victory against a team with a winning record in 2014.
What's up with that? Is this a curse? Has the ghost of Ty Willingham overtaken the program and cast a pall over the players and coaches who are working so hard to return the Dawgs to former glory? Can Chris Petersen find a way to actually crack the code and start winning games that people expect him to lose in a way that resembles what he achieved at Boise State?
Whether or not the Huskies can evolve into the kind of tough and scrappy team that is capable of pulling off the occasional upset remains to be seen. One thing is certain: the expectations are very low for Peteresen's Huskies in 2015. Bovada has tagged UW's projected win total at 4 which ties them for a last place projection in all of the PAC12. UW will be underdogs in most of the games that they play in this season.
All of this begs the question: Where are the most likely upsets on UW's schedule in 2015? This sounds like a great topic for an offseason list.
5. @ ASU (November 14)
While everybody talks about the 11 straight losses to Oregon, the streak against Arizona State is nearly as bad. The Huskies have lost nine straight and 10 of the last 12 to a Sun Devil team that has been mostly mediocre over that period of time. The Huskies will travel to Tempe this year in a game that they will most likely be a big underdog in.
I don't think that this is the year that Husky fans should expect an ASU upset. We don't play well in the desert and will be taking on ASU towards the end of the year where the lack of a midseason BYE and attrition are likely to be taking its highest toll. In addition, UW doesn't match up well versus the Sun Devils. The blitzing, high-pressure ASU defense is the perfect kryptonite for a young offense with a questionable offensive line. While I think that the streak may give a bit of extra motivation to UW's players, this isn't my favorite upset possibility on the schedule.
4. @ Stanford (October 24)
Many people will argue that if ever there were a Stanford team vulnerable to an upset, the 2015 version of the Cardinal would be that team. After all, they are replacing all of their defensive linemen, most of their defensive starters and key playmakers at offensive skill positions. Why shouldn't the Huskies be able to go into Palo Alto and win their first time on the road against Stanford since 2007?
It's possible. The Huskies do match up against Stanford a little better than they might against a team like Stanford. However, Stanford's offense projects as a possible "breakout" unit in 2015 as it will be led by a senior multi-year starter in Kevin Hogan and features a bright young playmaker in Christian McCaffrey. Still, UW may be able catch a few breaks and keep this game a close one. The bad news is that this is the last stop on a gauntlet that features Cal, USC, and Oregon in consecutive weeks before them. It might be too much to expect UW to be able to get up for this game and to go into it fully healthy.
3. @ USC (October 8th)
I'm sure many UW fans have this particular game circled as the best upset opportunity on the schedule. The Trojans will enter the season as a dark horse candidate to go to the College Football Playoffs by a lot of pundits. They are sure to be big favorites in the first match-up between these two teams since Steve Sarkisian made his defection down to Los Angeles.
There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Dawgs here. First, they have a history of upsetting USC (twice under Sark). There is a huge emotional connection between Sark and many current players. The actual matchup - especially UW's secondary versus the USC passing attack - seems to offer some nice opportunities for the Huskies. The fact that UW's staff will have extra time to prepare due to the fact that this is a Thursday night game seems to be an ingredient in any upset. The Thursday night timing may also neutralize the home crowd a bit.
All of this seems to play in UW's favor. I don't think that this is the most likely upset on the schedule mainly because USC's defense projects as a difficult task for a young UW offense to overcome. I'm also not enamored with the matchup of UW's young defensive line against that emerging USC offensive line. Nevertheless, I'm not discounting this one. Given that this is early in that gauntlet I described above and that UW gets a little extra time to prepare, I could see this one being interesting.
2. vs Oregon (October 17)
yada yada yada yada ... "eleven straight blowouts" ... yada yada yada yada ... "insufferable Oregon fans" ... yada yada yada yada ... "not a rivalry anymore".
We've had this discussion each year for the past several. The talking points and points of debate are identical every time. Let's not mince words here: Oregon is the better team. The far better team. They've been the far better team for more than a decade. The record proves it. There is no reason to believe that UW has a chance to beat them in 2015.
But that, my friends, is exactly when upsets occur.
UW doesn't match up particularly well against Oregon just based on what we know now. The key here is that we don't know as much about Oregon as we normally do and these projected matchups are informed as much by expectation as they are by insight. The Oregon QB situation is totally up in the air now that EWU transfer Vernon Adams has officially registered for classes. The defensive secondary is going through a bit of an overhaul. Their defensive line is a question mark given the loss of some key pieces and an inconsistent 2014. The offensive line is being rebuilt. There are legit questions with the Ducks in 2015.
Of course, there is talent galore to build upon in Eugene. That's why they'll be picked to win the PAC and should be heavy favorites at UW. I still like this as an upset possibility for a few reasons. First, it's in Seattle. Second, it's relatively early in the season when you would hope attrition hasn't yet settled in on the Dawgs. Third, the end of the Marcus Mariota era seems like the right time to finally strike back. Finally, its Oregon. It's time. Petersen has beat this version of the Ducks twice. It can happen. 2015 seems like a great time for it to happen.
1. @ Boise State (September 4)
The best opportunity for the Huskies to score an upset in 2015, in my mind, is their first game at Boise State. Before the Boise fans visiting this blog get all crazy on me, keep in mind that I'm not actually predicting an upset. I'm simply stating that I see this as the game with the most upset potential from the UW point of view.
My logic follows a few different tracks. First, UW's short history (3 games) against BSU has always involved UW playing very well including the Huskies handing Chris Petersen the worst loss of his career when he visited Montlake a few years ago. Second, the first game of the year allows an experienced coaching staff ample opportunity to prepare for a familiar foe. I get that this advantage works both ways, but the experience and familiarity factors both favor Chris Petersen and his staff in this regard. Third, the first game of a season is always when things can go most haywire for a heavy favorite, especially for a team that is breaking in a new offensive backfield. Keep in mind that Boise was a 7.5 point favorite going into Seattle two seasons ago.
Finally, we can't ignore the emotional significance of Chris Petersen's return to Boise. This isn't a normal game for anybody and while I tend to discount the value of these kinds of things during a game, I certainly recognize the value of them as a motivating factor in preparing beforehand. Layer in the fact that the Husky players will have had three to four months of hearing about how they are "double digit underdogs" going into Boise and you have the makings for what could be an electrically charged Husky team going into Week 1. As such, I could see UW making this one as interesting as any other upset opportunity they have on their schedule.