HUSKIES NOTEBOOK: Washington aims for winning start

By late Saturday night, the Washington Huskies will have begun their football season 1-0 or 0-1.

They'll also be 1-0 or 0-1 in the Pacific-10 Conference race, and 1-0 or 0-1 in the annual round-robin against their Northwest rivals.

That raises the stakes for the Huskies' opener at Oregon, but not necessarily the degree of difficulty.

"I've said that it's a total advantage to us to have them in our first ball game," new UW defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. "Because we (began preparing for Oregon's complex spread offense) a little bit earlier, and that gives you a big advantage; rather than if you played them the second game, you'd have four days to work on their scheme."

The mere presence of Donatell also works in the Huskies' favor, said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, noting that his staff doesn't know what new UW defensive schemes might have been installed.

The Ducks' challenge also is multiplied by all those new, young players dotting the Washington depth chart. Bellotti admits he doesn't know much about any of them.

Despite those disadvantages, Bellotti said he also is looking forward to opening the season with such a high-stakes game.

"The fact that we're playing a rival, a Pac-10 game, I think we're going to find out very quickly what kind of team we are," Bellotti said. "I think sometimes you might play somebody where even after the game you don't know how good you can be. We're going to know. I think this is a test for both teams."

The Huskies and Ducks aren't the only Pac-10 teams hoping to ace significant tests.

Conference play will begin Thursday night as Oregon State visits Stanford.

"We get a chance to be one of the first teams to play - (and in a league game that is) nationally televised," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It's a great opportunity for us to play a home game early and find out where our football team is."

Those are the only conference games on tap this week, but four other Pac-10 teams will open with prime intersectional pairings: Southern California at Virginia, Michigan State at California, and Oklahoma State vs. Washington State at Qwest Field on Saturday; and Tennessee at UCLA on Monday, which marks former UW coach Rick Neuheisel's return to the league.

"There's no question that it will be fun to run out of the Rose Bowl tunnel," Neuheisel said. "But that will be short-lived because as I look to the other side, there will be the Tennessee Volunteers, and we all know what kind of program they are. You can't get too lost in the moment or you're going to get it rained on your head very quickly."

Only the Pac-10's Arizona schools open with games that project as mismatches: Idaho at Arizona, and Northern Arizona at Arizona State.

Tyrone Willingham may secretly wish he had some similar soft opening for his young team. However, Willingham is a man who believes in taking every schedule as it comes, and so he has chosen to stress the advantages of beginning with a game that got his team's attention from the moment it was announced.

"I think it went back to your winter conditioning when you knew you had a conference opponent to open the season," Willingham said. "It kind of changes the entire focus. There's no margin for error. We've got to get out of the box pretty quick."

Extra points

The Huskies scheduled night practices Tuesday and again tonight in an effort to prepare for the 7 p.m. Saturday kickoff in Eugene. ... UW center Juan Garcia said he believes his Lisfranc foot injury and his conditioning are both sound enough for him to play a full game Saturday. ... Kicker Ryan Perkins retained his place atop the placekicking depth chart despite admitted limitations from knee surgeries. He said his kicking range remains "probably 50 yards and in." ... True freshman tailback Chris Polk had spoken all camp with a confidence that bordered on cockiness, but he admitted Tuesday that he wasn't certain he had won the starting job until he saw the new depth chart. He also repeated - in more detail than we necessarily need to pass along this morning - that he gets so nervous that he vomits before every game.