SEATTLE | Enough with the cupcakes and empty calories.
After gorging on weak opponents for three weeks, No. 7 Washington gets its first real test when it travels to Colorado for Saturday’s rematch of the Pac-12 title game from last season.
It’s the second straight year in which the nonconference schedule for Washington (3-0) has left the Huskies looking good and proving little. Yes, they are very talented and probably worthy of being the overwhelming favorites in the Pac-12 North as the conference season beings for them this week.
But the quizzes Washington has faced so far against Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State haven’t required much extra effort. That changes with the beginning of conference play, and for their part, the Huskies sound ready for the challenge.
Or as Washington coach Chris Petersen put it on Monday, “Away we go and now we start the hard part of our season.”
“The one thing that you notice for the most part it everybody realizes league has started now and the intensity of those games kind of feel a little bit different,” Petersen said. “It’s not like kids play harder or don’t play harder depending on the game … but maybe leading up to it there is a little more focus. Everybody understands how competitive this league is that we play in.”
Conference openers have proven troubling for Washington in Petersen’s three previous seasons. A year ago, the Huskies rolled through their first three home games before needing overtime to escape at Arizona. The year before, the Huskies lost at home to California, and in Petersen’s first season, Washington lost to Stanford.
This year, the game at Colorado represents what likely will be Washington’s biggest challenge until the end of October when UCLA comes to Seattle and starts a five-game stretch that will determine how good the Huskies are.
The Huskies open conference play with three of four games on the road, but two of those are against Oregon State and Arizona State, who are both 1-2.
“I just think it’s really competitive,” Petersen said. “I’m kind of a broken record on our conference and I just think that. I told our guys that. I just really think that anybody in this league can beat anybody on a given day.”
Washington isn’t alone among the top 10 of the AP Top 25 in feasting on lesser competition thus far. Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma all have impressive wins over ranked opponents, but No. 4 Penn State and No. 6 Oklahoma State both have faced schedules just as underwhelming as Washington.
It’s an issue the Huskies are hoping to address in the future, with scheduled games in the coming years against Auburn, Michigan and Ohio State. For now, that nonconference schedule will continue to be a slight against the Huskies, just as it was last year when their place in the College Football Playoff was being debated.
The start of conference play may also raise questions and provide some answers about the depth and resolve of this Washington team that weren’t evident so far.
“I don’t think we have to learn to much. I know this team is going to fight no matter what,” wide receiver Dante Pettis said. “We’ve seen that all throughout the offseason with our offseason workouts and stuff and that’s just the kind of team we are. No matter what happens we’re going to show up the next play and try our best.”