The schedule means everything in college football, and by one metric the University of Washington has the easiest one in the nation for the 2017 season among Power 5 schools. Can U-Dub return to the College Football Playoff?
College football expert Phil Steele ranked every school’s schedule for 2017. The easiest overall was Mid-American school Miami (Ohio) as the RedHawks’ 2017 opponents had a combined winning percentage of just 34.1 percent.
With all due respect to Miami (Ohio), it isn’t relevant nationally. Among Power 5 schools (and Notre Dame), Washington has the easiest 2017 schedule. The Huskies’ 12 regular-season opponents were 68-80 last season for a winning percentage of 45.95 percent. Five foes finished with a winning record, four played in a bowl game and three closed in the Top 25.
The Washington athletic department should be embarrassed about its non-conference schedule. On Sept. 1, Washington travels across country to face Big Ten doormat Rutgers, with UW an early 29.5-point favorite on 5Dimes college football odds. The Scarlet Knights visited Seattle in Week 1 last year and were trounced 48-13. Huskies receiver John Ross caught two touchdown passes and returned a kickoff for a score. It was over after one quarter with Washington leading 24-0.
Then Coach Chris Petersen’s team hosts FCS school Montana on Sept. 9. Come on! And it’s not even one of the powerhouse FCS schools as the Grizzlies were 6-5 last year and eighth in the Big Sky Conference. Washington closes non-conference play by hosting Fresno State on Sept. 16. That program is a mess as FSU was 1-11 last year and 0-8 in the Mountain West – the only school in the MW without a conference win. Also, FSU will be coming off a destruction the week before in Alabama.
Clearly, Washington will be 3-0 entering Pac-12 play. It catches a nice break in conference as well in avoiding preseason favorite USC and Heisman Trophy betting favorite Sam Darnold. Those two seem likely to play in the Pac-12 title game.
The Huskies’ toughest road challenges will be Sept. 23 at Colorado, Oct. 14 at Arizona State and Nov. 10 at Stanford. Washington had little trouble with those three schools in 2016, though, beating the Buffs 41-10 in the Pac-12 Championship Game, thumping the Sun Devils 44-18 and embarrassing the Cardinal 44-6. The only home challenges for Washington should be vs. UCLA, Oregon and Utah. The Huskies didn’t play the Bruins last year but slaughtered the Ducks 70-21 and won at Utah 31-24.
Browning, Gaskin Lead Returning Starters
Petersen welcomes back 13 starters from last year’s Pac-12 champions who were a bit overwhelmed in the College Football Playoff semifinal by Alabama. Washington has two Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. They are +1500 and +12500, respectively, on college football picks. There might not be a better QB/RB combo in the country. Washington led the conference in scoring with 41.8 points per game in 2016.
Browning’s top receiver, Ross, is gone. Ross was one of the fastest players in the nation and set a record in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine to assure he will be a first-round pick. He caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 scores in 2016. Second-leading receiver Dante Pettis (53 catches, 822 yards, 15 TDs) is back. Browning’s offensive line should be excellent.
Six starters are back from one of the country’s best defenses. The front seven is stacked even with the loss of lineman Elijah Qualls, but the secondary took a bit hit with the losses of cornerback Sidney Jones and safety Bubba Baker. Still, safety seems in good hands as JoJo McIntosh returns, as does Taylor Rapp, the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.
Washington is +4000 to win the national championship, second-best in the Pac-12 to USC (+775). I don’t think there’s any question that UW wins the Pac-12 North again. If I were to project a regular-season record, it would be 11-1 (maybe losing at Stanford). No sportsbooks will give the Huskies a total that high so jump ‘over’ the total when those are released.Bet On College Football Futures At SBR’s Top Sportsbooks