Washington set to face FCS team for 1st time

BY foxsports • August 30, 2011

When Steve Sarkisian arrived in December 2008, one of his first tasks was changing the way Washington scheduled and finally venturing into the world of playing teams from the Football Championship Subdivision.

He sure picked a doozy to begin with - the defending FCS national champions from Eastern Washington.

Washington's claim of never facing an FCS team will end on Saturday when the Huskies open the season against their in-state foe. With the Huskies facing the Eagles, the only remaining schools never to schedule from a lower level are USC, UCLA and Notre Dame.

While Washington's decision is noteworthy from a regional perspective, it's now the norm in most of college football. And for Washington, it's become a decision of survival after years of loaded non-conference schedules that rarely helped with the ultimate goal of competing in the conference and reaching the postseason.

''I don't think it's disappointing. I think that's college football. It's Pac-12 football really for us, you are talking a nine-game conference schedule,'' Sarkisian said. ''We are the only conference in the country that does that, and it's a good schedule, a hard one, a tough one and so the reality of it is you look at our conference the last two years, we haven't filled our bowl slots - I think we have seven available to us and we can't get but 4-5 teams eligible for bowl games.''

The move to add the Eagles to Washington's schedule is part of a new philosophy.

Instead of playing a non-conference schedule against all top-caliber competition, the Huskies begin this season with an approach that features either an FCS team or what's considered a lower-level non-BCS school; hosting a mid-tier team; and one marquee matchup against a BCS conference team either home or away.

After playing the Eagles, Washington will host Hawaii before traveling to No. 10 Nebraska on Sept. 17 to close out the non-conference schedule.

Washington already has Portland State, LSU and San Diego State scheduled for 2012; Boise State and Illinois in 2013; Hawaii, Eastern Washington and Illinois in 2014; and Sacramento State, Boise State and Hawaii in 2015.

''And so I think you are seeing that trend occur more now where teams are willing to play FCS schools and not to guarantee a win per se but just not to be so beat up,'' Sarkisian said. ''You go and play a top-tier Big Ten team, a top-tier Big 12 team, a top-tier SEC team and maybe it may not be so much that game alone, but a factor of what it can do to your roster moving forward and guys getting beat up.''

Whether the Huskies have their full assortment of starters for Saturday's matchup is still to be determined. Starting running back Chris Polk, coming off the second-best rushing season in school history, had his knee scoped less than two weeks ago to clean up meniscus damage.

Sarkisian said Monday that he hopes at least a decision is made internally by midweek as to if Polk will be able to go.

Last season, Polk ran for 1,415 yards and had 284 yards rushing in the Huskies' Apple Cup victory over Washington State that sent Washington to a bowl game for the first time in eight years.

If Polk can't play against the Eagles, sophomore Jesse Callier would likely get the start. But concerns about depth at running back extend beyond Polk with backup Johri Fogerson nursing a hip flexor injury and also a question mark for Saturday.

There's also worry in the secondary where an ankle sprain has sidelined starting cornerback Quinton Richardson for much of training camp.

''They were fluky deals. It wasn't about the wear and tear,'' Sarkisian said. ''It's not like we have a bunch of sore shoulders or concussions or things. We had a physical camp and we had a couple of fluky deals where guys got injured.''

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