SEATTLE – The boats will be anchored in the lake tailgating on the water, noise will bounce off the cantilever roofs and the purple and gold will once again occupy Husky Stadium.
Washington returns to its home along the shores of Lake Washington on Saturday night after a $280 million renovation project kept the Huskies out of their stadium last season, but this is no soft landing they've arranged, facing No. 19 Boise State to christen the upgraded facility.
The Broncos are 26-3 under Chris Petersen when he's given at least 10 days to prepare — and now he's had a whole offseason to think about this game — and that includes season opening wins over Oregon, Georgia and Virginia Tech in recent years.
Now they'll try to add Washington to that list in a game that could be crucial for the Huskies and coach Steve Sarkisian.
Getting Boise State as the opener for the remodeled stadium was planned years ago, but lost a bit of luster when the Broncos and Huskies met in last December's Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos built an 18-3 lead, saw it all disappear, but were able to pull out a 28-26 win on a late field goal.
This is a much different Boise State team, breaking in a number of new starters at key positions. But Washington won't be at full strength either. The Seattle Times has reported that tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is suspended for the game due to legal trouble during the offseason. The school had no comment on the report.
Here are five things to watch in this key regional matchup:
SIDELINE WATCH: The status of Seferian-Jenkins was thought to be in question up until kickoff, but he reportedly will be suspended for the opener after he pleaded guilty to DUI in the offseason. Seferian-Jenkins also has a broken right pinkie and, as of earlier this week, had not been medically cleared. Sarkisan was growing tired of being questioned about the status of his star tight end, snapping this week at reporters who were asking about Seferian-Jenkins. If he doesn't play, the Huskies will be missing the anchor of their passing game. Seferian-Jenkins had six catches for 61 yards and a touchdown in the bowl game against Boise State. "We're preparing for their scheme. Whoever they put out there, they put out there," Petersen said. "Their tight end is going to be part of their offense, regardless of who's out there."
WHICH JOE SOUTHWICK SHOWS UP: The final four games of last season, Boise State's Joe Southwick was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country, throwing nine touchdowns against just one interception and earning a QB rating of at least 144 in every game. At the start of last season, Southwick was in the unenviable position of replacing Kellen Moore. He's no longer being compared to Moore but is being asked if he can match his performance from late last season. "It is different, very comfortable," Southwick said. "Everyone is on the same page with what we're trying to get done for this game. Everyone is really comfortable, each position has got a really good grasp of what we're trying to do." In the bowl game against Washington, Southwick was just as dangerous running as he was throwing. Southwick threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns but the 39 yards rushing he added all seemed to come at important times. Southwick remaining steady will be important in a loud setting and while the Broncos are breaking in a new fulltime running back in sophomore Jay Ajayi.
DON'T FORGET BISHOP SANKEY: Lost in the chatter about Seferian-Jenkins' status and whether quarterback Keith Price can return to his 2011 playing level is running back Bishop Sankey. In the bowl game, Sankey was the best player on the field, running for 205 yards and earning MVP honors in a losing effort to cap a season where he rushed for 1,439 yards. Even though Washington intends to play up-tempo this season, its running game will still be at the core of its offense.
NEARLY PERFECT: Petersen is 6-1 in season openers and 6-1 against Pac-12 teams since becoming the Broncos head coach. The reason? Boise State rarely beats itself. Penalties, turnovers and missed assignments are rare for the Broncos. "They are a disciplined team. They do not make mistakes," Washington linebacker John Timu said. "That's the thing that happened that game. We were the ones who made mistakes and couldn't dig ourselves out of it."
HOME AGAIN: It's been nearly two years since Washington last played a game in Husky Stadium. In the past, it gave the Huskies one of the most feared home-field advantages in college football. The needed renovations have modernized the formerly crumbling facility. Now, it's up to the Huskies to produce an on-field product worthy of their new digs. "What's really going to make the place special is how we play," Sarkisian said.