Saturday was a celebratory day for college football fans. The first weekend of the season. New hopes. New aspirations. An opening day slate to be remembered.
It was a disaster for Pac-12 football fans.
UCLA watched its Chosen One, Josh Rosen, stumble badly in an overtime loss to Texas A&M, throwing two consecutive incompletions from the 5-yard-line to close the game.
USC was sent back to the kiddies’ table by Alabama.
Arizona couldn’t squeak by BYU.
Washington State, the much-hyped dark horse contender to win the Pac-12, lost to an FCS team for the second consecutive year in its season opener.
Just like that, four of the supposedly stronger teams on the West Coast went down, taking any realistic hopes of a playoff berth with them.
There were, however, bright spots – Christian McCaffrey, Davis Webb, Colorado’s drubbing of Colorado State. The University of Washington, which drubbed Rutgers, 48-13, was without a doubt the brightest of them all.
Much like Washington State, the Huskies were adorned with the “dark horse” label by many, despite posting a barely-.500 record last season with a pair of true freshmen as their best players. Yet, those Huskies — unlike Washington State — delivered on every last syllable of hype uttered over the offseason.
To be clear: Washington beat a very bad Big Ten team in Rutgers, but the manner in which the Huskies beat Rutgers made the opener so auspicious.
It took 15 minutes for Washington to claim a 24-0 lead, a testament to both its vaunted defense, anchored by safety Budda Baker, and a green offense that appears to be as explosive as any in the country.
Jake Browning threw three touchdowns, none of which went for fewer than 38 yards. He found Chico McClatcher for a 43-yard-score on his second pass of the season, then hit John Ross, fresh off a season-ending knee injury from 2015, on throws of 38 and 50 yards.
“It’s good to get out of the gate fast, especially with so many unknowns, unknown coaches, unknown players on both sides,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
Ross was an unknown who made his presence immediately known. Aside from his two touchdown catches, he also returned a kick for a touchdown, adding another offensive threat to a team that scored more than all but two Pac-12 teams in Week 1.
The only strange aspect of the win for Washington was that Myles Gaskin, arguably its most explosive player, was largely absent, carrying just 15 times for 57 yards, nearly two full yards per carry under his 2015 season average. As a whole, the Huskies averaged just three yards per carry.
In most games, this would be a matter of concern, but in a game in which Washington gained more than 300 yards in the first half, it might actually be a bright spot: In spite of a lackluster game from one of its most promising strengths, it still scored 48 points.
“There’s definitely a lot to clean up when you start looking at the whole picture,” UW offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said. “But we were happy with the start.”
In the Pac-12, that fast start from Washington was one of the few to be found on the opening weekend of the season.