Every year we circle games on the upcoming season's schedule. Games that carry extra weight and significance, where the stakes just feel higher. Last season's reunion with Sark at USC was one I know most players and fans were looking forward to more than anything else.
But what about those games you find yourself unable to turn away from, even though heading into the matchup the outcome did not feel in question? The big games are what make top-level college football great, but so do these sneaky games that can surprise unsuspecting teams.
Where might Washington not sense danger and fall into the jaws of a dreaded trap game? What games should the Huskies be circling on their schedules?
September 24th, Arizona Stadium
Playing the Wildcats in Tuscon has not been kind to the Huskies in recent years. In 2014, they literally fumbled away their victory trying to run out the clock, ruining their chance to beat Arizona on the road for the first time since 2006. Before that, the Dawgs hadn't beaten the Cats at their house since 1999, when Arizona legend Dick Tomey was the coach.
Washington gets Arizona early in the season, immediately after wrapping up the non-conference schedule. The Huskies should be 3-0 and not significantly battle-tested coming off games against Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State. It will be their biggest test by far of the season to that point, against a fast-paced, high-octane team. If Rich Rodriguez gets that offense going in the desert, the pace and the heat could make it a difficult day for the Huskies. Not to mention Arizona no doubt remembers being on the business end of a 49-3 drubbing last Halloween, and are probably eager for revenge. Anything could happen.
September 3rd, Husky Stadium
There's quite a bit riding on this game. The Huskies have pretty much won the "Off-Season Championship" and have the weight of massive expectations on their still-young shoulders. The not-off-base hype that the defense has been generating all summer has set the bar quite high in terms of how they open their season. Media, pundits, and many fans are expecting nothing less than a lights-out defensive performance against a Rutgers team coming off a 4-win season with a brand new head coach.
On the other side of the ball, the offense must be eager to prove that they've grown and can be counted on to not only be efficient and control the clock, but score when they need points. Jake Browning's freshman season provided a lot of optimism for the team's growth under his leadership, and many would like to see him toss at least a couple of TDs against Rutgers.
I have no doubt Chris Petersen knows how to get his team focused on the right things, but the lofty expectations and pressure to come out looking like a championship team in week 1 make this a game the Huskies would be wise not to sleep on, even for a second.
November 5th, California Memorial Stadium
From 1977 to 2002, the Huskies never lost to Cal. Jeff Tedford came along and started whooping Washington's butt for 5 seasons; the Dawgs bounced back and rattled off 6 in a row between 2009 and 2014. In essence, outside of last year's loss, Washington has done quite well against the Bears the last decade or so. They generally play confidently against California, both at home and on the road. In addition, this game comes right after what should be a physical, tough game in Salt Lake City against Utah, and just before USC at home, which is always an emotional game.
Washington's secondary projects to be elite this season, but if Cal's game against Hawaii last night is any indication, they'll be in for a big test. Cal snagged Texas Tech grad transfer Davis Webb from under Colorado's nose and his experience in an air raid offense meshes perfectly with Sonny Dykes's philosophies at Cal. This late in the season Webb and his young wide receivers should have developed good chemistry and understanding of the Bear Raid offense. Coupled with the fact that it's on the road, the Huskies can't let themselves get caught looking ahead to their matchup with the Trojans.
Has to be Arizona. The heat hasn't been Washington's friend and they've frankly struggled against both Arizona schools on the road in recent years. It always seems to be the one game per year where Washington falls completely flat. I don't think that happens this year, when I suspect the Wildcats will struggle on defense, especially up front. Still, there should always be a concern when Rich Rodriguez has a 3rd-year starting QB running his up-tempo scheme.
Only 4 weeks into the season the Huskies will probably not be at their peak and in final form. If there are still issues to address, especially offensively, then against the Wildcats in Tuscon would be a bad place to get those kinks ironed out.