No. 16 Washington will be first real test for UA football

Earlier this morning, the rain started coming down on Husky Stadium in Seattle, where the University of Arizona football team will take on the University of Washington later today.  And any predictions of a Wildcat win are just as dismal as the overcast skies and the rain that is expected to continue falling throughout the day.

Arizona couldn’t get any love at all on this morning’s airing of ESPN’s College Game Day.  All three of the sports prognosticators favored Washington, with Lee Corso giving the Wildcats the most props, forecasting just a slight advantage for the Huskies.  But Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit predicted a big Washington win, with Howard even calling it “dominant.”

Actually, the betting line in Las Vegas is kinder to the Cats, with the Huskies installed as an eight-point favorite.

But this is what you get when you play what many consider to be the softest non-conference schedule in the nation and then come up against a team like Washington that has one of the best offenses in the nation and has already been tested against teams like Boise State, ranked No. 19 at the time, and an undefeated Big 10 team in Illinois.

Arizona has played Northern Arizona, a FCS team; UNLV; and University of Texas at San Antonio.  The Cats outscored the three teams by a combined 131-26.

That’s why Arizona enters this afternoon’s 4 pm contest unranked and Washington comes in at No. 16.

It’s also why Arizona looks so good on paper.  The Cats are rushing for 322 yards per game, second-best in the Pac-12 and fifth in the nation.  They’re allowing 8.7 points per game, best in the Pac-12 and third in the nation.

And Ka’Deem Carey, last year’s rushing leader in Division I, is averaging 150 yards a game after missing the opener against NAU due to disciplinary measures.  The team is averaging over 320 yards per game, fifth in the nation.

But the line-up of patsies is done now.  Today they move into Pac-12 play and face real competition.

Washington has averaged 43 points and 629 total yards of offense in their three wins.  The Huskies’ quarterback, Keith Price, is completing 77 per cent of his passes for 879 yards and seven touchdowns and joins with running back Bishop Stankey to form one of the best QB/RB combinations in the country.  Stankey has 440 yards and four touchdowns.

Arizona will counter with what appears to be a much-improved defense over the one that gave up 35 points a game last season to finish the schedule ranked 104th in the nation.  But it is still untested against a quality offense.

And B.J. Denker, Arizona’s first-year starter at quarterback, will have to adapt to running his plays amid the deafening noise of Husky Stadium, one of the loudest venues in college football – even before the school removed the track around the field to bring the fans closer to the sidelines this season.  Now it’s just nuts.

But there is one significant factor that could have an impact on this game and give Arizona an edge.  Washington currently holds the dubious distinction of being the most penalized team in college football, averaging 98 yards in penalties each game.  They’ve amassed 36 total penalties in three games, and last week had to overcome 16 penalties for 130 yards to beat Idaho State.

If the Huskies clean up that part of their game, they’re going to be hard to beat this season.  And will definitely be a good test for Arizona, which is hoping to build on the momentum from last year’s 8-5 season that culminated with a bowl win.

Last year, the Wildcats played host to Washington in the desert and trounced the visitors, 52-17.  This year, the Huskies can return the favor in rain-soaked Washington.

And it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine a similar score – but with a different winner – if Arizona lets this one get out of hand early.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)