It’s officially the first day of summer. We are exactly 72 days away from kickoff. Ten weeks and two days; do you know how short that is? That is NOTHING. In 72 days, we’ll wonder where the Hell the time went! Blink. Now, blink again. IT’S CHRISTMAS!
I haven’t written much of anything Husky-related this offseason. That’s mostly by design. The end of 2012 left a bitter taste in my mouth. The 2012 Huskies were a difficult team to figure out. We expected improvement over the 2011 team, but should we have? We certainly had the right to expect improvement (or at least status quo) on offense, but instead saw a huge regression. That certainly made some of the blowouts less-than-fun to endure. But, we had pretty much no expectations on an improved defense and we ended up seeing a unit that consistently out-played its offensive counterparts!
We won games against nationally-ranked Top 10 teams (at home, vs. a Luck-less Stanford team and an improbably-ranked Oregon State team), but we were also destroyed by the usual suspects (LSU, Oregon, Arizona). We went into the Apple Cup with a 7-4 record and a real shot for the first time in two years to break out of the 7-6 run we’d built for ourselves. Then, we blew an 18-point lead, lost in overtime to a clearly-inferior opponent, and followed that up by choking our bowl game away against Boise State.
No one wants to three-peat as 7-6 football teams, especially when the last two years end with us losing our final games. It’s about time for some fucking improvement.
Over the last few seasons, under coach Sark, the Huskies have been as middle-of-the-road as their records indicate. There are the elite teams (Oregon, Stanford, USC), there are the crap teams (Colorado, Washington State), and there’s a vast pool of teams in the middle, all duking it out for those middle-tier bowls. Your Holiday Bowls, your Sun Bowls, your Vegas Bowls. Thus far, Sark’s Huskies have been at or near the top of that second tier of teams. We’ve had a Holiday, an Alamo, and a Vegas Bowl to our credit since he’s taken over the program. Some of that was thanks to USC’s sanctions, and thanks to the BCS taking two teams into their elite bowls, but that’s neither here nor there. Occasionally, the Huskies have been able to beat an upper-tier team, but more often than not they’ve lost and lost handily. Occasionally, the Huskies have slipped up against teams they clearly should’ve beaten (last year’s Apple Cup, the previous year’s game at Oregon State), but more often than not, the Huskies have won the games they were supposed to win. That’s how you come to dominate the middle class. But, there’s no great prize for being the best of the middle. The Huskies have higher aspirations. And it all starts in 2013.
There is clearly an opening. Yes, Oregon is a great, great football team. But, they lost their head coach. Teams don’t just maintain that elite status when something so traumatic happens. Oregon is poised for a comedown. They’ll still be great, but I think if they’re ever going to be beaten by a Husky team, this has to be the year.
First and foremost, we catch them at home. That’s always a good sign. I anticipate the Huskies will be anywhere from 3-2 to 4-1 going into that game, most likely coming off of a loss at Stanford the week prior. Oddly enough, that’s actually going to be a GOOD thing for us. Makes us unassuming. Remember the last couple of years when the Huskies have squeaked into the national Top 25 rankings? It was usually in the first third of the season and we’d have a single loss. What happened? We immediately got thumped and never saw the Top 25 ever again. I’m not going to say we were out there sniffing our own farts, but I like the hunger in a team coming off of a brutal loss more than I like that of a team coming in undefeated and ranked.
Now, considering I don’t think Stanford is a 1-loss team (I think they’re worse than that), losing a game at Stanford shouldn’t be a big deal. If we follow that up by beating the Ducks, though, that puts us in prime real estate for the Pac-12 title game. The Oregon game kicks off a stretch of 3 home games in 4 weeks, so we need that to jumpstart our title run. With 1-2 losses going into road games against UCLA and Oregon St. (before a home Apple Cup game), that could be just the momentum we need.
Winning the Pac-12 North and vying for a Rose Bowl spot isn’t a rational line of thinking. The smart money is still on Oregon, with Stanford and Oregon St. being right there (and, I suppose I wouldn’t sleep on Cal either, but let’s not go nuts). Nevertheless, this Husky team has a real shot. We’ve got a senior quarterback. We’ve got two real solid running backs. We’ve got talent and depth up and down this roster, on offense and defense, that we haven’t seen in YEARS. And, we’re working into our arsenal a quick-strike, no huddle offense a la the Oregon Ducks. Will they be able to handle a taste of their own medicine? Probably. I mean, they practice against it every day of the week. But, if a bunch of other teams in the conference are trying to do the same thing, how long until a weakness is found and exposed?
We’ve had four full years under Sark. This is year five. We’ve purged all the bad stuff and, in theory, we’re left with the strongest of the strong. This is the feel of a real program. Guys who are supposed to be red-shirted HAVE been red-shirted. The last couple of incoming classes have had a chance to blossom naturally; not being thrown immediately into the fire because of a dearth of talent ahead of them. We’ve become a winning program again (albeit just BARELY). We’ve gone through the growing pains. Now, we’re there. We’re not THERE there; we still have to prove it on the field. But, now we’ve got a fighting chance. We’ve got enough horses that – in theory – if things break just right, we could be in the discussion for a Rose Bowl. No longer are we talking about some crazy miracle from the heavens (and/or multiple airplane accidents carrying opposing Pac-12 teams) as our only shot at glory. Now, we can actually create our OWN shot.
This is what we’ve been waiting for. The first step towards a renewed Husky dominance in the Pac-12. 2013 isn’t Rose Bowl or Bust the way 2013 is Super Bowl or Bust for the Seahawks, but when we look back years from now and get to enjoy some great Husky teams again, we’ll look back at 2013 as the year it all took off.
72 days. My simmer is now a slow boil.