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Ranking the Toughest Games on Washington's College Football Schedule in 2017

Jake Browning

Jake Browning

When Chris Petersen was introduced as Washington's head coach in December 2013, the longtime Boise State sideline general's arrival came with lofty expectations. Petersen started with a solid foundation at BSU, but took the Broncos to unprecedented heights. They won two Fiesta Bowls to complete a pair of perfect seasons in his tenure, and occupied a regular place in the Top 10 of the Associated Press and Coaches polls.

Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen

Petersen seemed the right choice to return former West Coast powerhouse Washington to past prominence, and he delivered.

The Huskies embark on 2017 as defending Pac-12 champions, College Football Playoff participants, and credible contenders for the coming season's national championship. With returning talent like Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, Dante Pettis and Trey Adams on offense; and Taylor Rapp, Vita Vea, Greg Gaines and Azeem Victor anchoring a top-10 defense, there's little doubt the Dawgs will hunt.

What's more, Washington plays a favorable schedule. The non-conference is one of the lighter in the Pac-12. The Huskies also draw quality opponents like Washington State and Utah at home, but must navigate through some difficult road trips. 

12. Sept. 9 vs. Montana

Perennial Football Championship Subdivision contender Montana is the first visitor to Husky Stadium in 2017. Washington only began playing FCS opponents in 2011, but have faced one every season since. All came from the Big Sky Conference, and Washington's average margin of victory in those contests is 32 points. However, pass-happy Eastern Washington hung within a score of two Washington teams, including one coached by the current staff in 2014.

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That game's relevant, as this Washington team must be prepared for a similarly dangerous passing attack when Montana visits. The Griz adopted a high-powered attack with the hire of air-raid offense guru Bob Stitt two years ago, and ranked fifth in the nation in passing yards a season ago.

However, Montana's breaking in a new quarterback after a few years of Brady Gustafson. All those passes coming from an inexperienced quarterback could be ripe for the picking from a Washington defense that led the nation in takeaways a season ago.

11. Sept. 16 vs. Fresno State

One-time non-power conference powerhouse Fresno State is trying to restore its former glory with a new coaching staff in 2017. On the Bulldogs' sideline is a familiar face, former Cal head coach and Oregon offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford.

College Football Rankings: Fresno State

Tedford takes over a Fresno State program that hasn't had a winning season since going 11-2 in 2013. The bottom fell out last season in a dismal 1-11 finish, which makes 2017, unquestionably, a rebuilding year. If it's any consolation for Tedford, it's that he inherits a veteran roster with nine starters returning on offense. Perhaps Tedford, once heralded as one of college football's most innovative offensive minds, can reconjure some of the magic that produced contending teams at Cal.

The bad news for the Bulldogs in this one? Recapturing that magic against the Washington defense is highly unlikely.

10. Sept. 1 at Rutgers

Chris Ash's first season as head coach at Rutgers could be described as trying, if we're being generous. The Scarlet Knights ran a brutal gauntlet, facing two College Football Playoff participants, and two more New Year's Six bowl participants. The first matchup in that vicious series was at Washington, and the 48-13 drubbing was the closest final score in a quartet of games that also included Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.

College football rankings: Rutgers

Rutgers should be improved in Ash's second season, particularly on defense. There's some talent in the front seven in Piscataway. Scoring points, however, may be an uphill climb.

While Pac-12 teams sometimes struggle with early-season, cross-country trips — including Rutgers going down to the wire with Washington State in 2015 — this opening weekend mismatch should be evident immediately.

9. Oct. 7 vs. Cal 

It's a reunion of different varieties when Justin Wilcox and Cal visit Husky Stadium. Wilcox was the Huskies' defensive coordinator in 2012 and '13. Under his guidance, one of the most porous defenses in college football improved dramatically. He's also reuniting with Petersen after having worked in the same job on Petersen's staff at Boise State in 2009.

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This matchup also marks Beau Baldwin's return to Husky Stadium. Those two nail-biters Washington endured facing Eastern Washington in 2011 and '14? Baldwin was the Eagles' head coach for both. He's now running the Golden Bears' offense.

Washington's won all but two matchups in the series since 2017, including last year's game in Berkeley, 66-27. Don't expect the trend to change now.

8. Nov. 4 vs. Oregon

The Apple Cup and Washington State may conclude Washington's schedule every year, but a compelling case can be made that Oregon is the Huskies' most bitter rivalry. Hostilities are going to be accrued when two universities meet 109 times.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oregon

While this series dates back to 1900, it started to lose its luster as a rivalry from the 2000s through '16. Oregon won every meeting — many handily — in what amounted to little more than a speed bump on the way to the Pac-12 title.

The roles were reversed in 2017. Washington's 70 points last season in Eugene were a series record, with the six most exciting coming on Jake Browning's first-quarter touchdown scamper that earned him 500 push-ups.  Browning accounted for eight total touchdowns, including a Pac-12 record six passing scores. The Ducks' defense may improve under new coordinator Jim Leavitt, but it might not be enough to contain such a torrid attack.

7. Sept. 30 at Oregon State

Since going 3-7 against Oregon State in the 2000s, Washington has taken firm control of the series. The Huskies' 41-17 victory last season extended their winning streak over the Beavers to five games, which began with a 2012 upset to knock the previously undefeated OSU out of the top 10 of the polls.

College football rankings: Oregon State

That game offers fair warning. The roles will be reversed this year, with a potential dark horse Oregon State team hosting a Washington bunch likely to be ranked in the top 10 when the calendar reaches this date.

The Huskies deluged Oregon State early in last season's meeting, scoring 21 points in the first quarter, and taking a 31-0 lead into the locker room. The Beavers only scored after the outcome was decided. Establishing Ryan Nall and the running game is critical, but Oregon State needs to pose a legitimate passing threat — Washington snuffed that out to the tune of 12-for-27 with two interceptions a year ago.

6. Oct. 28 vs. UCLA 

Washington alum Jim Mora returns to Husky Stadium for the first time since 2014, when the Bruins won, 44-30. UCLA has a different look heading into this matchup — so does Washington. It's the first time the programs have met since that 2014 encounter, making this the first (and probably last) showdown between '15 quarterback recruits Browning and Josh Rosen.

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Rosen dominated the headlines as the Pac-12's preeminent freshman quarterback that season, but it was Browning who led a conference championship team and earned some Heisman Trophy consideration as a sophomore.

Either could be at the forefront of the discussion when this Halloween week matchup rolls around. A win would send one of the two surging ahead in a hypothetical Heisman race.

5. Oct. 14 at Arizona State

The second half of last season was hard on Arizona State. The Sun Devils lost seven of eight, including six straight to finish below .500 for a second consecutive year. Among those losses was a 44-18 decision at Washington. Given the possibility of last season's struggles carrying over into 2017, this date might be a surprising entry in the top half of this list.

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However, Washington has a long and trying recent history with the desert.

The Huskies went to overtime at Arizona a season ago to narrowly escape with their first win in the Grand Canyon State since 2006. Washington hasn't won at Sun Devil Stadium specifically since 2002, including a loss there two years ago in which UW coughed up a two-score lead.

4. Nov. 18 vs. Utah

Not many opponents challenged Washington last regular season, but Utah was among the few to do so. Credit the Utes' similar team makeup. Like Petersen, Kyle Whittingham is a head coach who preaches discipline, and his teams typically thrive on defense.

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Two of the most talented lines in college football will make life difficult for the quarterbacks — who, in Utah's case, could be Washington transfer Troy Williams. He was the Utes' starter last season when they took the Huskies to the wire in Salt Lake City.

Hosting Utah is a major advantage, as Rice-Eccles Stadium has earned a reputation as one of the more difficult places to play in the Pac-12. But then, Husky Stadium has had a similar rep for years now. Add the bonus of this being a possible Pac-12 Championship Game preview, two weeks before the real thing, and the venue on Montlake should be rocking.

3. Sept. 23 at Colorado

Awaiting Washington in the Pac-12 opener is a rematch of the last conference game it played in 2016. The previous campaign was one of redemption for Washington, winning its first league crown in 16 years, but it was also a breakthrough year for South division champion Colorado.

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Mike MacIntyre oversaw one of college football's most dramatic turnarounds, which fell just short of a run to the Rose Bowl.

Washington dominated the December championship tilt, though was rendered surprisingly ineffective on offense. The Huskies only began to break out on the scoreboard when the defense set the table. The Buffaloes' defense actually harassed Browning into a 37.5 percent completion rate (9-for-24) and got to the Husky quarterback for two sacks.

Finding a way to move the ball effectively on the stout Washington defense will be the key challenge. If the Buffs are able, this early-season showdown could be much more reflective of a championship contest than the last meeting.

2. Nov. 25 vs. Washington State

It wasn't out of the norm for the Apple Cup to have Pac-10 championship implications in the 1980s and '90s. These two in-state rivals played some classics in those decades, including a showdown of top 20-ranked teams in 1981; the 1992 Snow Bowl; the '88 nail-biter and a high-scoring shootout in '97.

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With the Pac-12 North riding on last year's encounter, some of the old spark had fully returned to the Apple Cup. Some of it, at least. Washington thoroughly man-handled Washington State for a second straight season, punching its ticket to the conference championship game in a contest that won't go down in the annals of great Apple Cups.

But this matchup could more than compensate. With the Huskies returning as divisional front-runners, and Mike Leach retaining one of the most veteran rosters in the Pac-12, the North could once again come down to this Thanksgiving weekend matchup. For quarterbacks Browning and Luke Falk, there might also be Heisman implications — assuming either can withstand the onslaught coming from some of the conference's premier pass rushers. UW features the duo of Gaines and Vea, while Washington State boasts Hercules Mata'afa up front.

1. Nov. 10 at Stanford

The unofficial passing of the torch in the Pac-12 North came last September, when defending Pac-12 champion and recent three-time league winner Stanford visited Husky Stadium. The Cardinal were wholly overmatched in one of the most impressive blowouts scored by any team in college football last season.

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Games like that can be "burn the tape" events for some coaches, but don't expect David Shaw to let his talented 2017 Cardinal forget about the depantsing they took in Seattle. Sept. 30, 2016 should loom large on Nov. 10, 2017, when the Farm plays host to the new kings of the North.

This should be a good, old-fashioned slugfest between two of the most physical defenses in the nation. In a conference where offenses are most celebrated, the one that can muster a few scoring drives could be the difference.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.