All fans can look at their teams’ schedules and identify the stretches that will likely determine whether the season will be a success.
That’s our objective as we examine the schedules of all Pac-12 teams and attempt to identify the toughest two-to-four-game stretches of 2016 for each club.
Up next: the Washington Huskies.
Toughest stretch: Sept. 24-Oct. 8 (at Arizona; Stanford; at Oregon)
Why: Stanford and Oregon have dominated the Pac-12 North this decade. The Huskies have managed to beat the Cardinal once since 2007 -- a 17-13 defensive battle back in 2012 -- but they haven't had any other recent success against Stanford, and they've lost a staggering 12 consecutive times to the Ducks.
Washington is enjoying plentiful offseason hype this offseason. The Huskies return the Pac-12's best defense, a promising young quarterback, an impressive young running back and a maturing offensive line. There's also a chance that the established kings of the North are vulnerable: Both Stanford and Oregon will be breaking in new quarterbacks in 2016.
If the Huskies are going to live up to their hype, they must finally get over the hump of beating the Cardinal and the Ducks. They'll have their chance to take a bite out of both during this three-game stretch. The good news for Chris Petersen's team is that both games come relatively early in the season. If Stanford and Oregon have any trouble breaking in those new quarterbacks, there's a good chance hiccups will still be present when these games come around.
But there's bad news for Washington, too: The Cardinal tend to bruise opponents with their physical style, so the Huskies will likely head to Autzen Stadium at least a little sore the following week. That's not ideal.
There's one more obstacle here, and that's the Sept. 24 trip to Arizona that precedes the showdowns against Stanford and Oregon. The game against the Wildcats is the Pac-12 opener for Washington and will represent a significantly greater challenge than the Huskies' rather easy non-conference slate (Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State). Coming as it does immediately ahead of the two aforementioned tests, one might call it a potential trap game before two hurdles Washington has long struggled to conquer.
If the Huskies can navigate this three-game stretch without a loss, they might well become legitimate Pac-12 title favorites. The history of the past decade-plus, though, suggests that going 3-0 here will be a very difficult task.