Pac-12 preview: Washington’s opener vs. Auburn is monumental for the conference

League needs a good showing by the Huskies to restore a national presence.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) Washington quarterback Jake Browning launches a pass against Utah during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Seattle.

The Pac-12's 2018 football season starts Aug. 30, when Utah hosts Weber State. It may end two days later, after Washington meets Auburn in Atlanta.

That’s an extreme, yet not uncommon, view of where the conference currently fits into the college football landscape. The Huskies are seen as the conference’s only hope of qualifying for the College Football Playoffs. So what happens if they lose to Auburn and look bad in the process?

And is that kind of opening-day pressure fair to Washington? “It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not,” coach Chris Petersen said last month during the Pac-12 Media Day.

Petersen also said “that’s totally unrealistic” for the entire league to be judged by one snapshot, regardless of how the game goes.

That’s what the Huskies are dealing with. A lot is being asked of a team that didn’t even win the Pac-12 North championship last season (Stanford is the answer to that question). Washington is No. 6 in the preseason AP Top 25, with a productive offense built around quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. The Huskies also may have the country’s best secondary.


This is the fifth installment in a series about Pac-12 football teams in 2018. Today: Washington.

If they beat Auburn, the Huskies will come to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Sept. 15 for Utah’s “Blackout" game with one of the highest rankings ever for a visiting opponent. In the Pac-12 era, the Utes have hosted No. 4 Washington (2016), No. 5 Stanford (2013) and No. 5 Oregon (2014).

Having fielded consistently excellent teams at Boise State, Petersen knows how to downplay expectations. “We have not arrived,” he said. “We've made some progress, but it's all hard work.”

The Huskies will succeed if:

Their receivers develop and they avoid any letdowns. That part is difficult in the week-after-week challenge of the Pac-12, as illustrated last October when Washington’s offense struggled in a loss at Arizona State.

Washington should be aided at receiver by the return from injury of Chico McClatcher. The Husky receivers/tight ends group is ranked No. 7 in the conference by Athlon Sports; no other position area is below the top three.

The Huskies won’t succeed if:

They lose to Auburn and Utah in the first three weeks of the season. That’s not inconceivable, considering Auburn’s No. 9 ranking and how the Tigers basically will have a home-field advantage in Atlanta, coupled with how well Utah has played against Washington the past three seasons. If the Huskies start 1-2 (they play North Dakota in between), it will be very good for Utah and potentially bad for the Pac-12.

Washington’s third nonconference game is Sept. 29 vs. BYU.