Oct. 28, at Washington
2016 Record: 12-2 (8-1)
2016 Recap: Everything came together for Washington in 2016, as year three under Chris Petersen proved to be a smashing success. The Huskies had their usual stout defense in 2016, but finally, Petersen's offense came alive behind talented sophomore quarterback Jake Browning and a group of very good skill players. The Huskies won the Pac-12, losing just one game to a surging USC team, and advanced to the College Football Playoff, where Washington lost 24-7 to Alabama.
It was one of those seasons where the preseason hype actually bore fruit. Washington was an offseason darling as a potential playoff dark horse (something I, specifically, pooh-poohed), but the Huskies went wire-to-wire as a top 15 team. While they benefitted somewhat from catching certain opponents at the right time (Stanford before they gelled, Colorado and Washington State after they came back to Earth a bit), they also put some monumental beatdowns on quality teams (beating Stanford, Washington State, and Colorado last year by a combined 130-33 no matter when they caught them is damned impressive).
Ultimately, Washington fell short of its ultimate goal, and the Huskies did look a little overmatched against both of the very talented opponents it lost to, lending some credence to the idea that the Huskies might have been playing significantly over their talent level. Still, it was an excellent season for Petersen, who clearly has something building in Seattle.
Returning Starters: 13 (seven on offense, six on defense)
2017 Projection: It's hard to imagine Washington rising to the same level of last year. The Huskies lost a significant amount of their best talent on defense, and also have had some turnover on the offensive side of the ball, most importantly losing speedster John Ross III at receiver. The Huskies do return Browning, Myles Gaskin, and much of the offensive line that really carried the offense last year, and that combination, coupled with the cohesion of yet another year in Petersen's system, should provide the Huskies with another very good offense in 2017.
Defensively, we'd have to guess that Washington will take a step back, albeit perhaps not a huge one. The Huskies have had good defenses in each year under Petersen, and usually when you see that, it reflects a quality scheme that maybe isn't dependent on any one or two players. Replacing guys like Elijah Qualls, Budda Baker, and Sidney Jones isn't easy, but we'd still bet on Washington being pretty good on that side of the ball. Adding three four-star DBs in this recruiting class should help as well, especially a guy like Molden, who could compete for early playing time.
The non-conference slate looks mighty soft for the Huskies, as Washington should be able to sweep through Rutgers, Montana, and Fresno State with relative ease. In conference, you can probably pencil in wins over Oregon State and California, and Washington should be favored against ASU on the road, UCLA at home, and Oregon at home. Say Washington goes 5-1 through that stretch, that'll mean sweeping through at Stanford, against Utah at home, and against Washington State at home to close out the year to match last season's regular season record. That's probably a tall order. Going 2-1 in that stretch, though, would more than likely secure the Pac-12 North for the Huskies, and that seems difficult, but not impossible. 9-3 feels about right.
Outlook for UCLA: UCLA's run of facing weak run defenses will probably end here -- Washington has been consistently good at defending against the run regardless of personnel the last few years, and there's little reason to expect that to change in 2017. UCLA has avoided Washington the last two years under Petersen, so this'll be the Bruins' first look at Browning and company.
This game adds to a tough road slate for the Bruins, especially in conference. Having to take on Memphis, Stanford, Washington, Utah, and USC all on the road is...well, far from ideal. UCLA did a fine job beating Washington the last time they played, in 2014 in Petersen's first year, when Jim Mora called it maybe the most complete game they played to that point, but the fortunes for both programs have changed quite a bit in that span of time. Washington is clearly trending up, while UCLA is scuffling to stay in constant contention in the Pac-12 South.
Winning this game, especially if it's coupled with, at minimum, wins over Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado, should push UCLA into serious contention in the Pac-12 South heading into the second half of the conference season. With road games at Utah and USC ahead, though, it won't get any easier.
Next up: Utah