The Huskies' grueling early schedule is also their greatest opportunity. The Huskies won't be favored in any of their marquee non-conference games. They will be the underdogs, and they've got nothing to lose - which is a great platform for a young team to play from, particularly early in the season when scouting reports are slim and teams are still finding their footing.
However unlikely, for Washington to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament they need to win a couple of games in November that they shouldn't. A win or two in the Bahamas would be a huge boost to their collective psyche. Conversely, five losses in November pretty much knocks them out of the Tournament conversation altogether, even though the Huskies' schedule simmers down to merely a slow boil in December.
It won't be until January that we find out what this team is really made of. Is it fair to assume that the Huskies could post a .500 record in conference play? Probably not. The upper echelon of the Pac-12 is loaded with top-25 caliber squads in Arizona, Utah, California, Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA. The rest of the conference is less inspiring. Little separates Colorado, Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington State and Washington. So there's a realistic scenario where Washington finishes right in the middle of the conference. Still not a NCAA Tournament team, but certainly in the mix for an invitation to NIT and valuable post season experience as they prepare for an expected return to the conference title race in 2016.
In fact, from a raw talent perspective, Washington trumps those five other programs if you don't factor youth. By the time league play comes around, the Huskies won't be able to lean on youth as an excuse for poor results.
Washington has two major barriers to success working against them this season: They're young, and they're undersized. Time and time again over the last couple of decades, freshmen-oriented squads have made plenty of noise in the Big Dance. Same story for smaller teams, Washington included. But it's rare to see a team navigating both of those challenges and still remain consistently successful.
The offseason buzz has faded into the realities of a young squad playing a tough schedule in a loaded conference. While the Huskies are going to be a lot of fun to watch grow and mature over the next year, their record may not be an accurate barometer of where the program is headed when looking back post-season. Over the coming weeks as we witness this season's roster, the sheer talent in the program will become clear. But it's going to take some time to develop.
Be patient Husky fans. If all goes to plan, the payoff will be well worth the wait.