A week ago, this would’ve been a much easier pick.
At that point, with Washington coming off an impressive season-opening victory over Boise State, you would’ve figured the Huskies wouldn’t have had much problem pulling away from an Illinois team picked to finish last in the Big Ten for the second year in a row.
That was before Illinois routed Cincinnati 45-17 last week in Champaign.
Suddenly, this game looks a lot more interesting.
Well … maybe.
These two teams, as UW coach Steve Sarkisian noted on Monday, have much in common, at least offensively. The Huskies’ makeover debuted as well as they could’ve hoped in the form of 592 yards of total offense, 38 points and a revitalized Keith Price in the romp of Boise State.
Similarly, under new coordinator Bill Cubit, the Illini also have a remade senior quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase, who leads the Big Ten in passing.
We’ll start to find out Saturday which team has staying power.
My hunch is it’s the Huskies.
Price doesn’t have to be perfect Saturday. Remember, Illinois struggled in Week 1 to hold FCS Southern Illinois, and the Illini come into this week ranked 117th in passing defense.
Having Austin Seferian-Jenkins back certainly shouldn’t hurt the Huskies. He might be the best all-around tight end in the country — I don’t need to tell you that — and the Illinois defense will have to respect that. You figure that will open the outside more for the likes of Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith, Jaydon Mickens and John Ross.
Scheelhaase and that versatile Illini offense will test the UW secondary, probably early and often. Illinois has 17 “explosion” play of 20 yards or more this season, among the most in the nation. I wouldn’t expect the Huskies to shut the Illini down as well as they did Boise State.
But I do expect the UW offense to be revving again. Even if they’re not as fast, or not as efficient, as they were against Boise, the Huskies should have more than enough weapons to wear down Illinois’ defense in the second half — just as they did against Boise.
Prediction: Washington 42, Illinois 27.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12:
Oregon State at Utah: A fun storyline with the Beavers heading to Salt Lake City to take on the Utes and ex-OSU coach Dennis Erickson, the new Utah offensive coordinator. Sean Mannion has been stellar so far for the Beavers, but I just can’t pick a Mike Riley team on the road in September. The pick: Utah 34, Oregon State 24.
UCLA at Nebraska: After tragic week with the death of UCLA receiver Nick Pasquale in an accident, the Bruins must go on the road to one of the more challenging places to play in college football. But UCLA has one of the best linebackers in college football in Anthony Barr, not to mention one of the most exciting quarterbacks in Brett Hundley, and the hunch is UCLA grinds out a tough win. The pick: UCLA 34, Nebraska 31.
Wisconsin at Arizona State: I’ve got back and forth on this one. Some have called this a Rose Bowl preview. Not sure I’d go that far, but these are two very good teams, and I’m tempted to give the edge to ASU at home. I think Taylor Kelly is one of the better quarterbacks in the Pac-12, but he wasn’t good against good teams last season: In the Sun Devils’ five losses, he had more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8). I’m going with the Badgers in a wild one. The pick: Wisconsin 42, Arizona State 38.
Ohio State at Cal: With or without injured QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes shouldn’t have much trouble in Berkeley. Could be a fun offensive show, though, with Cal true freshman Jared Goff leading the nation in passing. The pick: Ohio State 45, Cal 28.
Southern Utah at Washington State: Suddenly, some momentum in the Palouse. After stealing a win over the Trojans in L.A. last week, the Cougs should pull away from the Thunderbirds early. The pick: Washington State 35, Southern Utah 10.
Texas-San Antonio at Arizona: Ka’Deem Carey. Enough said. The pick: Arizona 42, UTSA 10.
Boston College at USC: So Cody Kessler’s the guy for USC at quarterback. We know that much. We have no idea how the Trojans will bounce back from another bewildering loss. The (guess?) pick: USC 21, Boston College 13.
Stanford at Army: Army’s triple-option offense is a pest, but Stanford’s defense is power. I like the Cardinal big, but not sure I’d take then at plus-30 points. The pick: Stanford 42, Army 14.
Tennessee at Oregon: The Ducks have slipped up at least once at home in recent seasons. Could the Volunteers of the mighty SEC be the team that pulls off the upset in Eugene? Not likely. The pick: Oregon 48, Tennessee 27.
Fresno State at Colorado: The Buffs were rough to watch the past couple seasons, so props to the Buffaloes and new coach Mike MacIntrye for the 2-0 start. But, sorry. the early run ends here. The pick: Fresno State 38, Colorado 28.