Washington is one of the nation's potential dark horse teams. Rutgers would just like to put a handful of dim seasons behind it. When the Huskies host the Scarlet Knights in both teams' 2016 season opener at 2 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Network, it will be a tale of two very different college football programs.
Washington's the one with the sunny future, despite being stationed in oft-soaked Seattle. The Huskies closed their 2015 season with three dominant wins, their offense putting up 44 or more points in all three games and their defense holding two of those three foes to 10 points or fewer, and there's a lot of optimism around Chris Petersen's program as the former Boise State head coach enters his third season helming his alma mater. SB Nation's Bill Connelly called Washington "the bandwagon team of 2016" in his extensive preview of the Huskies, but he also found plenty of reasons to buy the hype.
If Rutgers can make it through 2016 with a little of the hype about first-time head coach Chris Ash intact, it would probably be a success. Ash comes to Piscataway from Ohio State, where he served as Urban Meyer's co-defensive coordinator after having previously held that role with Wisconsin and Arkansas under Bret Bielema. Ash has extensive recruiting ties, and should be able to rebuild a Rutgers roster that fell into disrepair after the departure of Greg Schiano. But his Scarlet Knights at least showing more life than they did in Big Ten play in 2015, when they won just one game in conference action, would be immensely helpful.
Washington and Rutgers have never met before, so this game in Seattle will be a first.
Bill C.'s big previews
What all this Washington hype is about
A 7-6 team is now being talked about as a Power 5 favorite. Wait, what? Here's why that's happening, and why we should (slightly) pump the brakes.
Bill C.'s big previews
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 2 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Online streaming: Pac-12 Networks Live
Spread: The Huskies are about a 26-point favorite.
Three big things to know
1. Get the coffee. The 2 p.m. start time for this game means that Washington will be playing at 11 a.m. local time in Seattle. Husky Stadium is sure to be amped up for the first game of the year, but Huskies players might be doing more yawning than usual.
2. Will Browning be golden? Touted freshman Jake Browning thrived at times in 2015, with four excellent games with multiple touchdown passes and a passer rating in excess of 196.00. If a sophomore Browning can have more games like those — and not clunkers like his efforts against Boise State and Cal — then Washington might just get the best quarterback play in the Pac-12 this season.
3. Rutgers has a ways to go. The Scarlet Knights are rebuilding: that's for certain. But if they can get decent quarterback play, their offense has enough timber up front and tinder on the perimeter to make fireworks happen occasionally. So a turnaround might be up to Ash to resuscitate a defense that allowed opponents to rush for more than five yards per carry and complete 64 percent of their passes in 2015 — and while he's overseen good defenses, the jury's still out on whether he's inherited or developed them.