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Ranking the Top 25 Non-Conference Opponents for UW

Who would be the ideal UW adversary?

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game-Auburn at Washington Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Washington announced numerous additions to its non-conference schedule for the rest of the decade. Fans had mixed reactions to the announcements. While securing the home leg of the Michigan series was good news, the home-and-home with Michigan State and the games against Boise State failed to encourage any reshuffling of fan calendars years in advance. Sure, both teams have been more good than bad and have had some great years in recent memory, but neither one is the type of opponent who can help UW rewrite its national narrative and break into the upper echelon of powerhouse teams. The biggest critique of Chris Petersen was his inability to win big games against the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, and Penn State. For Jimmy Lake the rewrite the script, he has to do more than remain among the Pac-12’s top tier; he has to win games that will catch the national spotlight.

With that in mind, I started thinking about what the ideal non-conference slate would look like to me. Of course, non-conference scheduling comes with many considerations and variables, some of which are in tension with one another. Here are some of the checks and balances I kept in mind while thinking about the teams I’d like to see UW schedule in future years.

  • First and foremost, I’m a UW fan, so I don’t want to see the team get pummeled. I think UW can play with just about anyone, but if I think the Huskies don’t have at least a ~40% chance to win the game, I’d rather take my chances elsewhere.
  • On the other hand, beating bad teams isn’t enough. Scheduling New Mexico State three times every season and running up the score won’t move the needle for UW and it won’t make for entertaining games.
  • The opponent has to be in a position where a home-and-home or a neutral site game against UW makes sense. We’ll learn more about non-conference incentives in the first few years of an expanded CFP, but we’re still not going to see Clemson fly to Seattle without some significant compensation on the other end. Likewise, any neutral site game would have to be remunerative enough for UW to give up a home gate.
  • If there are embedded storylines in a rivalry or a team’s personnel, that counts in favor.

Honorable Mention: Michigan, Michigan State, and Boise State would all make the top 25 if they weren’t already on the schedule, but an immediate return would not pack much of a punch… Tennessee, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Arkansas have the SEC sheen and a chance to finish with a terrible record in any given year due to hellacious conference schedule… Indiana could probably work its way onto the list with another year or two at last season’s level of success… Cincinnati and Louisville are consistent and competitive without the brand name that would help UW “rank up.”

25. Houston

24. TCU

23. Baylor

22. West Virginia

21. Virginia Tech

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Texas Christian Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This group is full of name brands with a rocky recent past. It’s hard to say whether beating an ACC team or a Big-12 team would mean more for UW’s reputation. For any of these five, a win would be good-not-great in the eyes of the national media and fans. For the first three, a road game would have the added benefit of a game in Texas, which has been an increasingly important recruiting hotbed for the Huskies.

20. FSU

19. UNC

18. Auburn

17. LSU

16. Penn State

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

UNC and FSU have taken turns punching up at Clemson in recent years, though rarely at the same time. Beating either of them in a good year would mean a lot, but there’s a fair chance that either would be a dud. While the other three teams have all been good enough and interesting enough to go higher on the list, UW has played them all in relatively recent history and lost, so a win would only even up the score.

15. Georgia

14. Clemson

13. Oklahoma

12. Ohio State

11. Alabama

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 31 CFP Semifinal - Peach Bowl - Washington v Alabama Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I lumped together the teams who would give UW the most trouble. Yes, a win against any of these five would change the perception of the program drastically. I just don’t like the odds of getting the W against any of these teams. I put Georgia last among these give because I think they carry the least national cache. Beating Alabama would mean the most. Ohio State’s recent recruiting wins against UW push them higher on the list. Oklahoma and Clemson are a coin flip.

10. Texas A&M

9. Florida

8. Iowa

7. Minnesota

6. Wisconsin

Purdue v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

A&M and Florida are both very good SEC teams who UW should be able to compete with. Either team would probably demand a neutral site game and I would not mind if UW accommodated. The top eight is where I started to get really excited about the list. The three Big 10 teams are consistently very good and basically on the same level as UW. A home-and-home series against any of them would be prime scheduling. I originally slotted Iowa ahead of the Gophers until I considered the likelihood of traveling to the away game. Minneapolis > Iowa City. By a lot.

5. Mississippi State

4. Oklahoma State

3. Miami

2. Notre Dame

The Mike Leach connection moved Mississippi State about 15 slots higher on the list than they would otherwise be. Plus, I wouldn’t mind a guaranteed win against a pretty good SEC team. I have a grave personal distaste for Mike Gundy, which makes Oklahoma State a great villain, and one that usually wins about 10 games per season. UW and Miami have a great history over the last 40 years and it seems like Manny Diaz has them on an upward trajectory as the #2 team in the ACC. Notre Dame gets into the top 10 almost every year, but they remain the best team I feel confident UW could beat.

Texas Spring Game Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

1. Texas

The Longhorns check every possible box for a prime UW non-conference opponent. While they have one of the biggest possible national brands in the country, they’re definitely at a level where UW would have a reasonable chance to win the game. Playing in Texas would be a recruiting bonus for UW, and even if Texas doesn’t win 11 or 12 games, they have name value that will stick. Add in the Sark storyline and they can’t be beat for this spot.