- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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On Aug. 31, 2013, Washington will play a hugely important game.
After a lengthy and sometimes contentious bureaucratic process, it finally will open a renovated Husky Stadium, as one of the most spectacular settings in college football finally gets a stadium worthy of sitting on the banks of Lake Washington in the shadow of Mount Rainier.
It likely will own its first preseason ranking since 2002.
And it will face Boise State, one of the nation's top programs.
On Saturday, Washington will play a hugely important game. It will try to shake off the frustration of a horrible collapse in the Apple Cup against rival Washington State and end its season on the uptick in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.
And it will face Boise State, the nation's 19th-ranked team.
Yes, Washington and Boise State are set to play back-to-back games connecting this season to the next. Yes, it's strange.
But Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian isn't obsessing about it. The preparation for the Las Vegas Bowl is no different than any other game, no matter that it amounts to Game 1 of a two-game series.
"We've got basically nine months to worry about the next game," he said.
Sarkisian acknowledges that there are certain to be plenty of moments he will file away -- matchups, tendencies, formations -- that he will grind over the next few months. Both teams surely will.
"There's going to be plenty of stuff we take from this game, good and bad, that we will be able to apply in the preparation for the second one," Sarkisian said. "That goes without saying. It's hard to prepare that way now for what is down the road, but I do think, whether it's during the game or looking at the film of returning personnel, we'll be thinking of things we can take from the game."
The reality is the Huskies are just glad to have a next game on their schedule. The stink of their last game has surely been hard to shake.
Washington arrived in Pullman riding a four-game winning streak. It seemed on its way to its first postseason national ranking since 2001, which would have further boosted the perception of promise for 2013.
Washington State, meanwhile, was in seeming disarray, coach Mike Leach's first season turning from hopeful to massively disappointing. The Cougars were 2-9, had lost eight in a row and were coming off a 46-7 shellacking at Arizona State. Their best defensive player, outside linebacker Travis Long, wasn't going to play.
While it was a sloppy game throughout, things seemed to be going according to the Huskies' plan. They led by 18 heading into the fourth quarter, and there was little to suggest the Cougars could overcome a 28-10 deficit. It seemed more likely they would mail it in and hustle into the offseason.
Then things went completely haywire for the Huskies. In one of the worst fourth quarters a team has posted in Apple Cup history -- a fumble, six penalties and a missed 35-yard field goal for the win -- the Huskies allowed the Cougars to tie the game and force overtime.
In overtime, QB Keith Price's first pass was intercepted.
Yeah, it was really bad. Sarkisian even laughs when a reporter awkwardly tries to accurately describe its badness without giving offense. Sark has no illusions about what happened in Pullman, but his message to his team is the big picture, which it still has significant control over.
"We told them one quarter of football wasn't going to define our season," Sarkisian said. "We've come a long way as a football team. We've matured greatly the second half of the season. I couldn't have been more proud of what our defense was able to get accomplished. I'm really proud of some of our younger offensive players, as they matured as the season went on. But unfortunately we played a bad 15 minutes. We gave up an 18-point lead, and we really didn't execute in any of the three phases to win the game."
Boise State offers an opportunity to make at least some of that bad taste go away. It would provide momentum heading into the offseason. And it would quiet some of the grumbling about Sarkisian, as some fans forget he inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2008.
So the Las Vegas Bowl is a big, meaningful game -- but not as meaningful as Aug. 31.
Further, Sarkisian points out that the second game won't be a complete redo.
"One of the differences is I think Boise State is starting 13 seniors and we're starting about three," Sarkisian said. "A lot of new faces will be playing for them significantly next fall."
New faces in a new stadium for a hugely important game.
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