Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Most important game: Washington
By Kevin Gemmell
Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.
We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.
And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.
We're going in reverse alphabetical order.
Most important game: vs. Boise State, Aug. 31
Why it's important: There is obvious temptation to pick a North Division rival -- and I certainly am not trying to downplay the significance of the Apple Cup. When that game rolls around, the Huskies might be a top 25 team jockeying for a high-end bowl game. And revenge will certainly be on their minds.
Ask any Washington player which loss hurt the most last year and I'm confident at least 7 out of 10 would say Washington State. The other three would say Boise State.
As for Oregon -- yeah, I get how important that game is. But a rivalry is only as good as the teams (note the plural) that play in it. And Washington hasn't lived up to its end of the bargain since "The Matrix" trilogy ended. Wouldn't be shocked to see a few Oregon fans wearing these if they drive up for the game. If Washington beats Oregon -- then certainly it would be huge for the program. But it would also be considered a significant upset. And thus, it's not their most important game.
Stanford is obviously important as well. The Huskies shook up the college football world by stunning the Cardinal last year -- and now they have to prove they can do it on the road. That's a huge game for the maturity of this program under Steve Sarkisian. But it's not their most important game.
Recall, if you will, another team in the North Division that finished 7-6 the year before and kicked off its season in a remodeled stadium against a Mountain West Conference opponent. That would be California in 2012. Remember how that game turned out? Remember the tone that loss set for the rest of the season?
I'm not saying the Huskies will share Cal's fate should they lose that game. But with so many key starters returning -- an improved (and healthy) offensive line, an A-list running back, a defense on the verge of graduating from potent to nasty -- a home loss in the new-look stadium would be absolutely deflating.
Remember, this series is also about what each game might reveal. And I don't know about you all, but I'm anxious to see if Keith Price is going to return to the 2011 form that made him one of the most feared quarterbacks in the league. This first test will be very telling of his progress.
And, of course, there are the rematch ramifications. Boise State's 28-26 fourth-quarter win in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas is still very fresh in the minds of fans, players and bloggers.
In the final two games of 2012, the Huskies failed to finish. And as a result, they enter the year on a two-game skid. A victory over a team that's been a top-25 staple would energize the fan base and lend credence to the whispers that this could actually be Washington's breakout year. It also probably puts the Huskies in the top 25 after Week 1. Then victories at Illinois (currently enjoying a nine-game losing streak) and home to Idaho State and Arizona (no promises after last year's 52-17 whooping, but there are a lot more question marks around the Wildcats than there were last week) would put Washington at 4-0 heading into the critical showdown with Stanford.
A loss, however, would zap any preseason hype and would be greeted with an unenthusiastic "ho-hum, more of the same" attitude.
It's a question of legitimacy. And the Huskies can get some by winning in Week 1.