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Originally published August 28, 2011 at 6:24 PM | Page modified August 28, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Scheduling Eastern Washington part of Washington football's change in philosophy

For years, the Huskies have played what have been considered among the toughest schedules in the country, often filled with nonconference heavyweights. Never was that more the case than 2008, when UW played Oklahoma, Brigham Young and Notre Dame, all at home. It was an attractive slate of opponents for the home fans to watch, to be sure. But that gauntlet played a role in UW's 0-12 season.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Eastern Washington @ UW, 4 p.m., ROOT Sports

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A game against Eastern Washington on Saturday not only ushers in a new football season for the Washington Huskies, but also a new approach to scheduling.

For years, the Huskies have played what have been considered among the toughest schedules in the country, often filled with nonconference heavyweights.

Never was that more the case than 2008, when UW played Oklahoma, Brigham Young and Notre Dame, all at home.

It was an attractive slate of opponents for the home fans to watch, to be sure. But that gauntlet played a role in UW's 0-12 season.

So when athletic director Scott Woodward hired Steve Sarkisian in December 2008, the two agreed it might be time to get a little bit more pragmatic about UW's nonconference schedules.

"I think it (had been) a little heavily laden with top BCS schools," Woodward said.

In fact, UW had long boasted of the stat that it was one of just a handful of schools to have never played a team from a lower division (or what is now the Football Championship Subdivision).

But that will end when Eastern Washington — the defending FCS champion — comes to Husky Stadium for a 4 p.m. kickoff.

"I paid attention (to that fact)," Woodward said. "But that was a pride-ego thing more than a scheduling-making-sense thing, and so we went with 'hey, let's do the scheduling-making-sense thing.' "

And what makes sense for Washington, Woodward and Sarkisian say, is what is commonly referred to as an "A-B-C" schedule.

That means playing one established-power type team (or A) that might be a toss-up in terms of getting a win or a loss; another game, typically at home, against a team the Huskies would be expected to win but that would figure to be competitive (B); and another against a team against whom UW would usually be a substantial favorite (C).

The Huskies appear to have almost a perfect A-B-C schedule this season, only in reverse order, opening against the lower-division Eagles (UW has been installed as an 18-point favorite) then hosting Hawaii before playing at Nebraska.

Woodward said he thinks such a schedule "just makes sense" when considering UW's larger aspirations of winning the Pac-12 title.

"Our end goal is to win championships and that's how we schedule and that's the overarching philosophy," he said.

Woodward said making sure the nonconference schedule isn't overloaded is even more important given that the Pac-12 will continue to play nine conference games each year. Of the five other BCS conferences, only the Big 12 also plays nine conference games (though the Big Ten has announced it will also play nine conference games beginning in 2017.) The rest play no more than eight, allowing for more wiggle room in their nonconference scheduling.

Many Pac-12 coaches believe the conference should go to eight conference games to chart an easier path to winning seasons and bowl games. But Woodward says "there is no desire (in the conference) to go to eight."

So instead, UW will adjust, creating schedules in which the Huskies will have a good chance to win two or three nonconference games.

Woodward said he hasn't heard much grumbling from UW fans.

"From a competition standpoint, I think our fan base is more worried about us winning conference championships and Rose Bowls," he said. "And that's our goal, and scheduling is all a part of that mixture of winning championships and that's where we are headed."

Woodward said it's also a misnomer that big-name foes are needed for financial reasons. Washington is paying Eastern Washington a $400,000 guarantee but will otherwise get to keep the rest of the gate from Saturday's game.

When UW schedules teams such as Nebraska for home-and-home series (meaning playing once at home and once on the road) the gates are split (UW keeps what it gets for its home game, Nebraska keeps what it gets for its home game).

"So it's essentially a wash," he said. "Even though you swap money, you swap it evenly so you lose that whole gate that could have been a home game."

And with BCS teams trying to schedule as advantageously as possible, the ante has risen in attracting opponents. San Jose State, for instance, got $900,000 for a trip to Alabama last year. Woodward said "it's just nuts" what some non-BCS FBS schools are seeking in guarantees.

All of that, he said, made FCS teams like Eastern Washington and Portland State (which UW will host in 2012) even more attractive as opponents (UW is also scheduled to play Eastern in 2014).

And, Woodward notes, "Eastern could be competitive with a lot of (FBS) schools that we have played in the past. ... Playing them is comparable to playing an (FBS) team."

Eagles coach Beau Baldwin said the game is a win-win for his program. Eastern has played at Cal and Nevada the past two years, games it desires to bring in needed money.

"We know most years we are going to play one game like this," he said of facing the Huskies. "So we look forward to it. Our kids love it as a challenge, but adding to that the fact that it's an in-state Pac-12 team, it's just a no-brainer for us to be excited about."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

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