SEATTLE — When college football experts examine the 2012 Washington Huskies, they find a lot to like.
Keith Price, a record-setting quarterback. Young, dynamic talent on offense. A defense that can only get better.
Somewhere along the line, though, comes the caveat — “If only it weren’t for that schedule.”
Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com tabbed the Huskies as having the second-toughest schedule in the country, and Phil Steele rated it No. 6.
Not that you’ll hear the Huskies complain much about it.
Instead, they are following the lead of coach Steve Sarkisian, who paraphrased one of former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox’s favorite sayings when asked about the schedule at Pac-12 media day.
“You get dealt a hand, and you have to play that hand,” Sarkisian said. “That’s our schedule; let’s go play it.”
The schedule features four games against teams ranked in the top 18 of the USA Today/Coaches Poll in the first half of the season — No. 1 Louisiana State, No. 3 USC, No. 5 Oregon and No. 18 Stanford.
Many look at UW’s schedule and conclude that the Huskies will, at best, be 3-3 after the first half of the season, and could easily be 2-4. Such a start would give the Huskies little room for error in the second half — which includes four games on the road — in order to play in a bowl game for the third straight year.
Price, though, preferred to look at the positives of playing the tough teams in the first half of the season.
“Obviously, I’d rather play those teams early while we are healthy than later in the season when we are all banged up,” he said. “It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be challenging. But we are looking forward to it.”
Washington’s 2012 slate is partially its own doing, but mostly that of the Pac-12.
When the conference expanded last year, adding Utah and Colorado, the days of playing every team in the conference each year ended. The Pac-12 decided to stay with nine conference games each season — in part to increase the value of its TV contract — even though conferences such as the SEC and the Big Ten play eight.
That rankles UW athletic director Scott Woodward.
“It’s concerning to me because our biggest competition, the Big Ten and the SEC, are staying at an eight-game conference schedule,” he said. “And I’m always looking for parity and a level playing field. If they’ll go to a nine-conference game schedule, I will be the first one to shut up about it because I think it puts them at a better position and puts us at a disadvantage to have to go through that gauntlet of nine conference games.”
There are no indications the Pac-12 plans to change any time soon.
Washington is playing the same nine conference teams it did last season, which means all five North Division opponents, and four of six from the South (the rotation of the teams it plays in the South will change every two years).
This year, it just happened that the Pac-12 handed UW a schedule that sees the Huskies face Stanford, Oregon and USC to open the conference season.
Washington, like all teams, schedules its own nonconference games.
And in many ways, this year’s schedule projects as being right in line with Washington’s general A-B-C philosophy — the A being a game against a Top 25 team, the B being a game against a solid FBS team but one considered winnable; and the C being a game most would consider as a relative tuneup.
This year, the A game happens to be at No. 1 LSU. (Fitting the B and C roles are home games against San Diego State and Portland State).
The LSU game was scheduled in 2008 after Woodward became interim athletic director. He came to UW from LSU, and when each school had openings in its schedule, Woodward was able to call on connections there to set up a home-and-home series with the Tigers. The first part of the series came in 2009 when LSU visited Husky Stadium, leaving with a 31-23 win.