Over the next seven weeks, you’ll be inundated with information about the rest of the Pac-12 North and Arizona. The condensed season will concentrate our focus on a shorter list of opponents, which might have the effective of obscuring the rest of the football we won’t play. Instead, let’s take a moment to say “what if,” and take another look at the games that came off UW’s 2020 schedule with a bit more information.
The excitement about Michigan coming to Husky Stadium had a little to do with the Husky-Wolverine history and a lot to do with rewriting the narrative of UW’s recent history. The biggest blemish on Chris Petersen’s tenure was the inability to beat a true blue blood from the Big 10 or SEC- Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, and Auburn all out-classed UW to different degrees. A home game against a Michigan team that looked like a better stylistic match would’ve given Jimmy Lake a chance to start his tenure on a history-defying note.
With two weeks of information on Michigan, I’m even more upset we don’t get a shot at them. They felt good about themselves after a 49-24 win over Minnesota in week one. Week two undid all those good feelings. First, Minnesota lost to moribund Maryland and proved that their defense is as strong as a wet napkin. Then, the Wolverines lost to Michigan State and struggled with consistency in both the pass and run games. I’m confident that UW’s defense would give Michigan QB Joe Milton significant problems. Of course, we have yet to see UW’s new signal-caller, so the Dawgs might have many of the same problems. Even so, this opportunity looked like a better one than the aforementioned blue blood losses before the season and looks like it would have been even better now.
Vs. Sacramento St.
Other than one-off games for individual teams, FCS schools are not playing fall football, so we haven’t learned anything new about the Hornets. It’s unlikely they would have presented a serious challenge to UW. They were a good-not-great FCS team with wins over Montana, Montana State, and Eastern Washington, but double-digit losses to Arizona State and Fresno State. They bowed out early in the FCS playoffs against Austin Peay. They were heavily dependent on their star QB, who could play in this game, but unfortunately for the Hornets, it’s because Kevin Thomson transferred to UW. Without their best player and against a much better team than any they beat in 2019, this game would be an uphill battle.
Vs. Utah State
The Mountain West got started a couple weeks before the Pac-12 and it hasn’t been pretty for the Aggies. They opened with a 42-13 loss on the road to Boise State and followed it up this week with a 38-7 drubbing at home against San Diego State. The biggest problem has been an anemic offense that has turned the ball over too much and failed to run or pass for four yards per attempt. Even though Utah State has been to eight bowls in nine years, it looks like this one would have been a mismatch.
The Utes graduated one of the most successful QBs and RBs in program history and lost nine defensive starters. Despite a poor finish to the season, they were the class of the conference for most of 2019. South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley seems to have the inside track to start at QB, and they have talent at WR. Still, the team will rise or fall or the ability of Kyle Whittingham’s staff to plug-and-play more defensive playmakers. They’ve done it before, and this game would have taken place far enough into the season for Utah to iron out some of the wrinkles. It would have been a tough game, but the lack of fans in Salt Lake City and the departure of Zach Moss would lead me to pick the Dawgs.
If you can get by the inherently uninspiring Clay Helton still at the helm, there’s a lot to like with this year’s bunch of Trojans. Kedon Slovis has a successful season under his belt. They return high-end talent at the offensive skill positions. A defense that was too inexperienced to tap into its own talent is no longer inexperienced. Even with the departure of DT Jay Tufele, the defense is terrifying on paper. By game 10, we would’ve had a better idea of how close Helton got this team to its potential. We don’t have that luxury, so I will tentatively install the Dawgs as dogs and hope we get to see this matchup in week seven.
There are a lot of strange decisions coming out of Boulder, which could either mean the program is crazy, or crazy like a fox. Mel Tucker surprised everyone when he bolted to coach Michigan State and his replacement, Karl Dorrell, was just as surprising. Dorrell spent one year (2014) in college after leaving UCLA in 2007, and he wasn’t even very good back then. Despite replacing Tucker, Dorrell kept both coordinators in place. Sam Noyer, who played safety last year and entered the transfer portal, has been named the starting QB. They struggled against good passing teams last year because they didn’t get pressure on the QB (except, painfully, against UW). What does that add up to in 2020? Probably another below average season, but with so many unconventional decisions, who really knows?