This is not your typical cookie cutter list where most look at the 2016 season and returning starters for 2017 and rank games that way. We are not ranking opponents here, we are ranking the difficulty of each game.
4. @ Oregon State, September 30
The Beavs will be a physical team and not afraid of UW. They can have a decent home field advantage. I would be much more concerned if they had good quarterback play. Teams lacking good quarterback play will likely struggle to score 10 points against our defense.
Last year we overwhelmed them with big passing plays but we were not overly efficient on offense. Without Ross, our deep ball game won’t be as good.
UW could have too much talent for them and win going away. Or it could be a difficult game where we don’t have our A game (partially because of a scrappy Oregon St at home) and have to grind out a 10-17 point win.
3. @ Stanford, November 10
Everyone looks at Stanford’s 10-3 mark last season, sees a healthy amount of returning players and automatically projects them to be just as good or perhaps better. They were #13 in SRS but that was because they beat USC handily before USC started playing Darnold. The F+ metric which comprises Bill Connelly’s S&P+ and FootballOutsiders FEI had Stanford at #30 last year. Aside from the USC win their best in league was over the #7 team, UCLA.
I’m not buying the hype on Stanford. Their defense should be fine and stronger in the back end but they lack good quarterback play and McCaffrey is gone. They barely beat North Carolina in the bowl game who was #30 in SRS. They usually play a tough schedule. I could see them being a 7-8 win team and around #30 in SRS. So in reality, just as good as last season but with 2-3 fewer wins.
Their secondary will be much improved so we will likely need to grind it out against them on the ground. Assuming they don’t get good QB play, our defense should be able to handle them. It would be a much tougher game if they had any home field advantage.
2. vs. UCLA, October 28
UCLA has regressed in each of the past three seasons going from #8 in 2014 (SRS) to #14, #32 and #56 last year. However, the #56 was largely driven by missing their starting QB, Josh Rosen for the majority of the season. Bill Connelly notes that UCLA’s defense actually improved last year and so did their receivers. The problem was the OL and no Rosen. Their run game was horrible.
They may be big ifs but if Rosen is healthy and they can somehow fix the OL and get a decent run game, UCLA could be the 3rd best team in the league. They certainly have the talent to do so as Connelly notes on paper they could be a top 10-15 team in terms of talent.
Let’s also factor in that UCLA is our kryptonite whenever we are very good. The 1990 loss to UCLA was the worst loss in program history, costing UW the 1990 national championship. They cost UW a trip to the 1999 Rose Bowl and we blew a big lead against them in 1993 that cost us a share of the conference title.
A big key will be UCLA’s OL. If they are as bad as last year then UW could crush their hopes. If UCLA’s season falls apart again then this could be a game we win by 30. But they are capable of making it a very tough game.
1. @ Colorado, September 23
Most expect Colorado to be a 6 or 7 win team in 2017. I think 8 or 9 wins is more likely. The basis for a big drop from 10-4 down to 6-7 wins is the loss of 8 starters on defense and perhaps a view that Colorado was not a 10 win team. However, they were top 20 in all of the metrics and that includes a loss in a meaningless bowl game. (We know the team that loses the conference championship usually doesn’t care about the Holiday Bowl).
There are a handful of reasons this could be a very tough game for UW.
First, it is early in the season, UW is breaking in new guys in the secondary and I expect Colorado’s offense to be quite a bit better with Steven Montez at QB. Montez was really good last year when thrust into action early in the season and not bad against the likes of UW and USC. He did make a play on 3rd and long that lead to the Buffs only TD against UW. Montez was better than Sefo in 2016 and should be much better in 2017. He’s somewhat elusive and definitely a better passer than Sefo. Colorado returns most from what should be a good OL and solid group of receivers led by Shay Fields.
The Buffs only return three or four starters from a defense which carried them most of 2016. McIntyre is a defensive guy and after a very successful 2016 I don’t expect a big falloff. Derek McCartney was a preseason All-Pac 12 guy heading into 2016 and got hurt very early on. His successful return definitely helps the D as he is a great pass rusher. UW’s offense will certainly have the advantage over Colorado’s defense but not having John Ross could take some pressure off their rebuilding secondary.
Colorado also has a strong home field advantage and they could have an emotional advantage going into the game.
The key for UW will be running the ball down Colorado’s throat and dominating Colorado’s offensive line as they did in the Pac-12 title game. Its capable of doing that but if it does not clearly win those matchups then it will be a tough game.