Washington's pursuit of the College Football Playoff starts with a bang vs. Auburn
Washington faced a bevy of criticism for its schedule in 2017. That won't be the case in 2018. The Huskies kick off a season with legitimate Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff aspirations playing a top-15 game right out of the gate, travel to face a tough conference opponent in Week 3, and draw various upset-potential dates on the road.
Head coach Chris Petersen may have his best team since arriving at Washington ahead of the 2014 season, and if the Huskies are to contend for the program's first national championship since '91, they'll have earned it.
Washington Huskies 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 11
Week 1 – Sept. 1 vs. Auburn (Mercedes-Benz Stadium - Atlanta)
Detractors — a number of which were on Washington game telecasts — dedicated a considerable chunk of time to malign Washington's 2017 schedule. The 2018 Huskies have the opportunity to squash that narrative if they're again in the College Football Playoff chase. They open the season in grand fashion, facing Auburn in a technically neutral-field contest, though this showdown with last season's SEC West champion is firmly in SEC territory.
With two athletic and talented defenses on both sides of the field, the offense that can break through at a critical juncture will score an early but hugely important win for the resume.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 vs. North Dakota (Seattle)
Washington had never played a Div. I-AA/FCS program prior to 2011. Facing opponents from the Big Sky Conference has become relatively commonplace for the Huskies since. This year's draw out of the Big Sky is North Dakota, which gave Utah a handful for a half in last season's opener. The Fighting Hawks reached the FCS playoffs in 2016, but were in rebuilding mode in '17.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 at Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)
A remarkable, end-of-game rally powered Washington to a thrilling win over Utah last season in Husky Stadium, the second Washington-Utah meeting to end in nail-biting finish in as many years. The Utes' hard-nosed defensive style and that of the Huskies mirror one another, making for an intriguing matchup. With limited game film available in this very early-season Pac-12 matchup, and the always-rowdy Rice-Eccles Stadium crowd raring for a marquee win, Washington will be on high upset alert.
Week 4 – Sept. 22 vs. Arizona State (Seattle)
Washington's hopes of a repeat Pac-12 championship weren't totally dashed, but put in position to evaporate with a shocking loss last season at Arizona State. The desert has been inhospitable for the Huskies for well over a decade, but Washington's fortunes are typically better against the Arizona-based programs when at Husky Stadium. A new-look Sun Devils bunch comes to town this time around with Herm Edwards on the sideline as head coach, and a defense that stifled Washington in last season's upset features a variety of new faces.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 vs. BYU (Seattle)
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake spent time at a pair of Pac-12 programs, Utah and Oregon State, and brought a defense-first mindset in his first head-coaching role. The Cougars are undergoing a badly needed makeover on offense, but will be hard-pressed to find weaknesses against a Washington defense that should be locked in one month into the season.
Week 6 – Oct. 6 at UCLA (Pasadena, Calif.)
Chip Kelly won his first conference championship at Oregon in the 2009 season — a season that opened with the coach's signature, high-octane offense getting shut down by the defense of Petersen's Boise State Broncos. The two coaches lock up for the first time since that August 2009 showdown, each at a different school. The Bruins are undergoing widespread changes, not limited to the coaching staff. UCLA may still be a work in progress come Week 6.
Week 7 – Oct. 13 at Oregon (Eugene, Ore.)
Bitter cross-state rivals Oregon and Washington have reversed roles in recent years. Oregon dominated the series for more than a decade, but Huskies quarterback Jake Browning's finger-point on a touchdown run in 2016 (pictured above) unofficially marked the beginning of a new era. Washington dominated the Ducks in 2016 and '17, and with a win over Mario Cristobal this fall, would score its third victory over as many Oregon head coaches in as many years.
Week 8 – Oct. 20 vs. Colorado (Seattle)
In the 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game and last season's visit to Boulder, Colorado kept pace with Washington for a half. In both instances, the Huskies cranked up the defensive intensity after intermission to rout the Buffs. Colorado turns over a variety of starting positions on both sides of the ball in 2018.
Week 9 – Oct. 27 at Cal (Berkeley, Calif.)
Former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox engineered an immediate turnaround of the Cal defense similar to that which he oversaw with the Huskies. Wilcox has a dangerous dark horse in this edition of the Golden Bears after overachieving with a young lineup in 2017. Many of the principles Cal runs on defense should be familiar to Huskies faithful; as should the offensive system, which former Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin initiated as Golden Bears offensive coordinator. Washington saw Eastern Washington in 2011 and '14.
Week 10 – Nov. 3 vs. Stanford (Seattle)
Two games do not a rivalry make, but the most recent encounters between Stanford and Washington have made for entertaining tussles atop the Pac-12 North. Washington's blowout win in Husky Stadium in 2016 signaled a power shift, but Stanford exacted revenge in a thriller that ostensibly won the Cardinal the North last season.
Cardinal Heisman Trophy finalist Bryce Love is back to face a reloaded Washington defense. The potential for another excellent showdown determining the division remains.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 vs. Oregon State (Seattle)
Oregon State's massive rebuilding project under first-year head coach Jonathan Smith nears conclusion of its initial season. How much progress the Beavers have made after a one-win campaign should be evident when they visit Husky Stadium. Washington romped over Oregon State in 2017. However, the 2018 edition will have a much different look.
Week 13 – Nov. 23 at Washington State (Pullman, Wash.)
The Pac-12 North came down to the Apple Cup in 2016, but Washington cruised — as it has every season since '13. The Huskies' 27-17 win that year was the closest final score in their current, five-game winning streak. The past four went Washington's way by deficits of 18, 35, 28 and 27 points. After three strong seasons for Mike Leach's bunch on the Palouse, Washington State faces considerable turnover in 2018.