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Ranking the Toughest Games on Washington Football's Schedule


The maligned schedule Washington played in 2017 is truly a thing of the past. The Huskies open 2018 with a potential College Football Playoff play-in game on the other side of the country, setting up head coach Chris Petersen's team for a challenging slate the rest of the way.

Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen

Washington will make a push for the Pac-12 championship and another berth in the playoff this season, but must avoid some potential pitfalls along the way -- starting right out of the gate. The Chick-Fil-A Classic in Atlanta vs. Auburn is a highlight on the docket, and a game that carries implications not just for the Huskies, but the Pac-12 as a whole.

12. Sept. 8 vs. North Dakota

Washington never played a Div. I-AA/Football Championship Subdivision opponent before 2011. North Dakota makes the eighth such team to visit Husky Stadium since the 2011 campaign. Barring competitive games against FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington in 2011 and '14, Washington's average margin of victory is 47.6 points per game.

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Do not expect North Dakota to put up much more resistance than that when it visits Seattle.

11. Nov. 17 vs. Oregon State

Since Chris Petersen became head coach at Washington in 2014, the Huskies' scores against Pac-12 North counterpart Oregon State are 37-13; 52-7; 41-17; and 42-7.

College football rankings: Oregon State

Facing an old colleague -- former Huskies offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith --  might make for a more competitive contest. However, given the 2018 Washington lineup looks like it could be Petersen's best from top-to-bottom, and Oregon State is in a clear rebuilding phase under Smith, another Huskies blowout is likely.

10. Sept. 29 vs. BYU

BYU limped to a surprising 4-9 record in head coach Kalani Sitake's second season. The Cougars underwent an offseason overhaul, with former BYU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes returning to Provo as offensive coordinator. Grimes, who was Auburn's offensive line coach a season ago, should implement a style that combines physicality with spread principles. The new-look Cougars offense will not face a test as stiff as the Washington defense at any point in the season, however.

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9. Oct. 20 vs. Colorado

Last year's rematch of the 2016 Pac-12 Conference Championship Game followed a familiar routine. The first half was competitive and low-scoring in both instances, but the flood gates opened for the Huskies in both. Colorado faces some uncertainty with a young roster in 2018, particularly on the offensive end -- the side of the ball on which the Buffaloes struggled most against Washington in the previous two meetings.

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This year's pairing is the first played between the two programs in Husky Stadium since 2013, before Chris Petersen arrived at Washington and Mike MacIntyre's first season with the Buffs.

8. Sept. 22 vs. Arizona State

Road trips to the Arizona desert have been notoriously hard on Washington. Last season's head-scratching, offensively anemic loss in Tempe was no exception. This date should be marked in red ink on the Huskies' calendar. With Arizona State coming into Pac-12 play for the first time under Herm Edwards off a challenging non-conference slate, expect an inhospitable environment awaiting the Sun Devils in Seattle.

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7. Nov. 23 at Washington State

The Apple Cup has been all Washington in recent years. Last year's 41-14 Huskies romp was actually the second-most competitive final score in Washington's favor since Petersen took over in 2014. Cougars head coach Mike Leach has not won an Apple Cup since 2012, and the 2018 Washington State roster faces considerable turnover after contending for the Pac-12 North crown in the previous three seasons.

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6. Oct. 27 at Cal

Former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox surprised plenty of folks in his debut season as Cal head coach. The Golden Bears are more experienced in 2018, and could be bowl qualifiers by season's end. They'll need to score an upset or two at home. Washington's visit to Berkeley is a potential trap for the Huskies not unlike last season's trip to Arizona State.

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This falls one week before a marquee matchup with Stanford, and could easily become a look-ahead game for Washington as a result.

5. Oct. 6 at UCLA

Much like Washington's trip to Cal later in the month, the Huskies' trek down to Los Angeles has trap-game potential. Washington faces a new-look UCLA under head coach Chip Kelly, whose high-speed offense and turnover-hungry defense at Oregon dominated the rivalry series with the Huskies from 2009-12. Chris Petersen's Boise State teams flourished against the Ducks with Kelly as offensive coordinator and head coach, but new dynamics are at play now.

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Speaking of Oregon, Washington's visit to the Rose Bowl falls one week before the border rivalry contest.

4. Oct. 13 at Oregon

Washington's most bitter rival also became the Huskies' most consistent thorn-in-the-side from the 2000s into this decade. The past two seasons provided some receipt from Washington's decade-plus of suffering, but the Ducks appear on the mend heading into a new season. Head coach Mario Cristobal inherits a talented roster, featuring plenty of veterans like linebacker Troy Dye, who was on the opposite end of Jake Browning's infamous finger-point in 2016.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oregon

The Autzen Stadium audience should have the place rocking in what could realistically be a showdown of two undefeated teams and the highest-stakes showdown in the series since 2013.

3. Sept. 15 at Utah

Styles make fights, as the old boxing cliche goes, and it's proven true when Utah and Washington get together on the gridiron. The Utes took the Huskies to the brink in 2016, which was Washington's last visit to the always-hostile Rice-Eccles Stadium. Last season, Utah had Washington the ropes in Husky Stadium before some late-game gaffes opened the door for a shocking UW comeback.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah

Depending who you ask, this matchup in Salt Lake City may be a prequel to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Utah should have its best offense since joining the Pac-12 seven years ago, and Kyle Whittingham's teams always play outstanding defense. Utah mirrors Washington in both regards.

2. Nov. 3 vs. Stanford

Heavyweights of the Pac-12 North collide in the regular season's final month. Both the division and an inside track on the College Football Playoff race may be at stake when Stanford returns to the scene of Washington's most emphatic win of the Petersen era. The Huskies' beatdown of the Cardinal in September 2016 sent a message that the division had a new player in town, but Stanford came roaring back with a late-season upset in 2017.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Stanford

It's Myles Gaskin on one side, Bryce Love on the other; a bevy of defensive talent; and two of the very best offensive lines in college football. Don't be surprised if ESPN's "College Gameday" is in Seattle for this one.

1. Sept. 1 vs. Auburn (Atlanta) 

Not often do teams face potentially season-defining games in Week 1, but that's the challenge awaiting Washington when it faces Auburn in what is ostensibly a road game. The Huskies travel to Atlanta for this year's Chick-fil-A Classic, squaring off with the defending SEC West champions, and a team with legitimate Playoff aspirations.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Auburn

After last season's dismal showing in bowl games, Washington is carrying the banner for the Pac-12 as a whole. A good performance is vital for scoring the conference some points with the College Football Playoff selection committee come November. A win positions the Huskies nicely for staking their case for the postseason, should all go according to plan in the games to follow.

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