SEATTLE — Sports Illustrated did to Washington this season what it did to UCLA last season. It cursed the Huskies with its dreaded No. 1 preseason football ranking.
Washington reacted similarly, getting off to an 0-2 start before beating Houston last weekend. A year ago, UCLA started 0-3-1 after being rated No. 1 by Sports Illustrated.
Washington's coach is no more gracious about the honor than was UCLA's Terry Donahue. Don James said: "I thought that was totally ridiculous, considering the players we lost and the schedule we had. Our first four games are against bowl teams. We're playing four of our first six games on the road.
"I thought a more realistic poll was the Bottom Ten. They had us No. 1. I can agree with that one."
Things are looking up for the Huskies, though, going into their Pacific 10 opener today against UCLA. It helped a lot to beat Houston in the Astrodome last Saturday. Asked if his team's morale had improved, James said: "I'm not worried about their morale. I'm worried about mine."
In truth, James has had his problems. His team suffered several injuries in training, complicated by a couple of later key injuries in the opener against Oklahoma State. Fullback Rick Fenney suffered a badly sprained left ankle and senior inside linebacker Joe Kelly, one of the defensive leaders, suffered a sprained ankle, a strained knee and a thigh bruise. Both Fenney and Kelly sat out most of the opener, then missed Washington's loss to Brigham Young. Offensive tackle Kevin Gogan also was injured against BYU.
James said: "In terms of productivity near the goal line, I'd guess that not having Fenney might have cost us three or four touchdowns in those games. . . . Take out Gogan, who is without a doubt our best lineman, and that costs us a couple of key first downs."
So much for James' problems. Donahue's problem is that those guys are getting well. "I think Washington is beginning to return to health," he said. "I wish they weren't. I wish they didn't look so good against Houston."
Fenney played most of the game at Houston and is scheduled to start against UCLA. Gogan is back. And Kelly is expected to play today, too, although he is not starting.
"My own personal feeling is that Washington has been first or second in the conference for the last eight years, and I think they'll finish in the top of the conference in 1985," Donahue said. "I don't care what their start was."
Besides finishing first or second in the Pac-10 every year for the last eight years, Washington has gone to six straight bowl games. Last New Year's Day, Washington upset Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, 28-17.
That's what brought on the No. 1 rating.
As James prepared for his game against UCLA, though, he sought to shift the pressure back to UCLA, calling the Bruins the cream of the crop.
James said: "Right now, UCLA is the best team in our league. That's my opinion from the TV games I've seen. They're the best-coached team I've seen this year. By that I mean they don't make errors; they don't line up offsides, their alignments are correct, their strategy is good. And they have good athletes.
"I don't think anybody matches up with them right now. I think they're better than anybody in our league."
Leaving Donahue to counter: "If we get beat in Seattle, believe me, it will be because Washington is starting to get to where everybody thought they would be in the first place."
UCLA, ranked No. 13 by AP and No. 11 by UPI, is 2-0-1 going into the conference opener. Washington is 1-2. . . . Kickoff is scheduled for 12:40 p.m. on Channel 2 and KMPC radio (710).
Tailback Gaston Green, who missed the game against San Diego State because of a knee injury, did not make the trip to Seattle. Terry Donahue said that he would wait until the last minute to decide whether the replacement starter would be James Primus, the sophomore who started in place of Green last Saturday, or Eric Ball, the freshman who came off the bench and scored four touchdowns. Both are expected to play. . . . Backup flanker Paco Craig, who suffered a slight shoulder separation against San Diego State, also was left off the traveling squad. . . . Cornerback Dennis Price will start today. He has not played yet this season because he reinjured his shoulder in preseason practice.