I Hate Everyone & Everything: The Huskies Lost To ASU

You know what I hate the most, aside from the fact that the Huskies lost 13-7?  I hate that all those smug national (east coast) pundits get to think they’re right.  They get to believe that the Pac-12 is a garbage fire, and they get to believe that the Huskies aren’t very good.

I hate that 1 loss means the Huskies are out of the running (barring about a million other things going right) of the College Football Playoff.

I hate that this ongoing “haven’t won at ASU” streak gets to continue for another two years.  It’s not even clever or interesting, it’s just random and stupid!

I hate that we’ve been ignoring how mediocre this offense has been all year, and now it’s all anyone’s ever going to talk about.

I hate this mediocre offense.

I hate that the offensive line is as mediocre as it is, when it should be one of this team’s top strengths.  We should be the Dallas Cowboys of offensive lines compared to the rest of the Pac-12!

I hate that we were THIS close to the BYE week, followed by 4 of the next 5 games at home.

I hate that we lost to THIS team, a terrible, pathetic ASU team.

I hate that Coach Pete opted to try that chipshot field goal instead of going for it on 4th down.  Worst case:  you back them up at the 1 yard line.  Instead, the worst case became missing the fucking field goal on the most pathetic kick I’ve ever seen in my fucking life!  I could tell by the kid’s body language alone that he wasn’t going to make ANYTHING after that first missed kick!

I hate our shitty fucking kickers.

I hate that our shitty veteran kicker put that Freshman in that position by sucking in all the games before this one.

I hate that our defense keeps coming out flat on the road in the first quarter.

I hate that our defense sucked at tackling throughout this game, particularly on that third down in that first drive, where we could’ve stopped them from ever scoring, except the guy broke about a million tackles to get the first down.

I hate that the rest of these games are effectively meaningless.  Oh sure, there’s still the conference and the Rose Bowl(?) or whatever major bowl is up for grabs, but it’s sure to be a collosal let down.

I hate that we really haven’t taken that next step.  We’re NOT in the realm of Alabama or Clemson or Ohio State.  We’re still a tier down.

I hate that I haven’t been to a tailgate yet, and the first one I go to (on the 28th) is going to feel like a wake, at least to me.

I hate that our shitty schedule means that 1 loss is all it takes to keep us from advancing to the playoffs.

I hate that there are 5 major conferences and only 4 playoff spots.  I think each major conference winner should get a spot, plus 3 at larges.

I hate that we lost.

I hate that everything feels different now.

I hate that this is how we have to spend our BYE week, instead of celebrating a potentially Top 3 or Top 4 team in the nation.

I hate everyone.

I hate everything.

The Huskies Didn’t Let Cal Do Anything

Quick post from my Hawaiian vacation:

The defense held the Bears to an absurdly low number of yards and they were only able to score on a fumble returned for a touchdown.  38-7, Huskies, where the story of the day was Coach Pete complaining about the late starts we’ve had to endure, ESPN taking it as a personal attack when he never once referenced them, then ESPN getting their panties in a wad because he wouldn’t meet personally with their announcing crew the day before the game (even though this is something he similarly avoids with every announcing crew).

I can sort of see both sides of the argument on this one.  It’s a hardship on the fans to have every game be a night game.  And no, the East Coasters are never going to watch our games with any regularity if they keep STARTING at 10:45pm Eastern.  But, the Huskies are still getting more exposure by having that national ESPN timeslot, regardless of how late it starts than they would if the game were on the Pac-12 Network, for instance.  Of course, Larry Scott doesn’t give a shit, because the Pac-12 Network isn’t on DirecTV for some mind-bogglingly stupid reason (the Pac-12 isn’t the SEC or even the Big 10, when it comes to fan fervor, so stop trying to demand equal pay and just GET the fucking network more exposure!), and so the cycle continues.

Anyway, now ESPN is butthurt, and Husky fans are equally butthurt because ESPN called the Huskies out on their easy non-conference schedule, and so now this is a thing we have to waste braincells on.

Did I mention I’m on vacation right now?  I’ve got to go.  God Awgs!

Mount Rushmore: Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

Yesterday:  Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Stand-Up Comedians?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, and Dave Chappelle, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different names.

Today, I’m going to delve into the head coaches and managers of the various local sports teams.

In spite of the fact that Seattle is far from Titletown, U.S.A., this was actually a pretty difficult exercise.  Ironically, because there were TOO MANY good coaches to choose from!  I’ll tell you right now, this one is bound to be my most controversial Mount Rushmore of the week, but IDGAF.  Come at me, broseph!

For starters, right or wrong, I’ve put OVERWHELMING emphasis on those head coaches who led their respective teams to championships.  I mean, it’s obscene, which is why I’m going to start this post with my Honorable Mentions, and I’m going to lead off those Honorable Mentions with probably the most glaring omission (but hear me out):  Lou Piniella.

Look, I love Sweet Lou as much as the next guy, and if I were simply ranking managers of the Seattle Mariners, he’s obviously at the top of the list.  And, while much of this isn’t his fault, I would argue he’s not entirely blameless for the fact that the Mariners only made it to the playoffs 4 times in his 10-year career.  And in those 4 years, they failed to get past the American League Championship Series (often never really making it much of a challenge).  Those teams were absolutely LOADED with talent!  Are you kidding me?  Not even a single World Series appearance in the bunch?  I know, the organizational management of those teams was severely lacking; they bungled a bunch of trades, mishandled two of our greatest players (Griffey and Randy) to the point that both wanted out of the organization, and refused to pony up the cash to keep the best player on the planet – Alex Rodriguez – when he became a free agent.  That having been said, I’ve never really had much respect for baseball managers; what do they do besides write a lineup and make bullpen decisions?  Manage player egos?  Ooo!  Big whup!  Head coaches in other sports do that too, and they do a lot of other stuff that has more of an impact.  Naw, I’m not buying baseball and I’m not buying Lou Piniella.  If Mount Rushmore had 5 people on it, I probably STILL wouldn’t have him on it!

Because that leads me to my next omission:  Mike Holmgren.

At least he took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl!  I would argue both he and Piniella have to be credited with changing the culture of losing for their respective Seattle-based teams, but they JUST didn’t quite get it done when it mattered most.  There were some extenuating circumstances with Super Bowl XL and the officiating that I won’t get into here, but alas, Holmgren just misses the cut.

Some other Honorable Mentions include, in no particular order:  Chuck Knox (very underrated as the leader of the Seahawks in the 80s); Nate McMillan (doing a lot with a little in a mis-managed Sonics organization, particularly in the Howard Schultz years); Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw, Hec Edmundson, Tippy Dye, Marv Harshman, and some of those other old-timer Husky football and basketball coaches (who are obviously WAY before my time); Jim Lambright (who somehow held the Huskies together after sanctions and an acrimonious split with Don James); and Lorenzo Romar (whose ignominious end to his tenure should do nothing to tarnish what was a tremendous achievement for Husky basketball).

So, without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Seattle-based head coaches.

At the top of the list was the easiest pick of them all:  Don James.

The Dawgfather.  Head coach of the University of Washington football team, from 1975-1992.  He’s the closest thing we had to a Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, or Joe Paterno (without all the child rape).  He led the Huskies to a National Championship in 1991 and was poised to continue to do so for years to come if not for the Lack of Institutional Control scandal that ultimately led to him resigning in protest for the unfair sanctions on the team.  Also, not for nothing, but the Huskies were robbed of a second National Championship in 1984 (to a bum BYU team who played a cupcake of a schedule), but that’s another post for another time.

Don James was the G.O.A.T.  We can only hope and pray Chris Petersen someday ascends to that level.

Next on my list, I’ve gone with Pete Carroll.

Like I said, championships are a premium to me when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches, and Big Balls Pete has one, with another Super Bowl appearance to boot.  He’s 17 wins away from being the winningest Seahawks coach of all time, which should go down in 2 years, tops.  After a couple of 7-9 rebuilding seasons, he’s won no less than 11 games every year (including playoffs).  Overall, he has 4 division titles in 7 years, 6 playoff appearances in 7 years, at least 1 playoff victory every time they’ve made the post-season, and with John Schneider (who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of local GMs) built one of the best rosters in the history of the NFL, in the 2013 Seahawks.  He could retire right now and I don’t think there will be another local head coach that will bump him off my Mount Rushmore in my lifetime.

Third on my list:  Lenny Wilkens.

Oh yeah, here it comes.  I told you, titles baby!  Lenny took over as a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969 before being fired in 1972.  When he returned to the Sonics as just a head coach in 1977, he took a good team and led it to greatness.  Those Sonics teams went to back-to-back NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets in 1978 and 1979, winning it all the second time around.  The Sonics ultimately went another direction starting in the 1985/1986 season, but he still sits at #2 all time in franchise history winning percentage (keeping in mind, of course, that the Sonics died in 2008, and whatever record the head coaches of that team in OKC may have amassed has no bearing on the Seattle Supersonics).

Finally, the fourth name on my Mount Rushmore:  George Karl.

You may take umbrage with Lenny Wilkens’ inclusion on my list, and that’s fine, I understand.  You may take umbrage with the fact that I have George Karl over the likes of Piniella and Holmgren, and again, that’s your right.  But, you know what?  George Karl won a shitload of games in Seattle!  He has the best winning percentage of a head coach by a million miles over the other professional teams’ coaches at .719.  He took the Sonics to the playoffs every year of his tenure, won 4 division titles in 7 seasons, had the Sonics in the 1-seed twice (best regular season record in the entire league once); led the franchise to two Western Conference Finals, and led the franchise to the NBA Finals once (against the best team of all time, the 95/96 Chicago Bulls).  AND, not for nothing, but took the Bulls to 6 games when they probably had no business getting past Game 4.

I could go on and on.  Maybe only the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had more talent than the George Karl Sonics, but for all his greatness, there was a lot of failing.  George Karl led the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in NBA history.  His Sonics teams squandered two Michael Jordan-less years when they were ripe for back-to-back championships (the Houston Rockets, instead, took advantage of that glitch in the matrix).  And, ultimately, George Karl was destined to be run out of here by poor personnel management by Wally Walker (featuring the obscene signing of Jim McIlvaine and the trading of Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker).

Nevertheless, those Sonics teams were beautiful and exciting and ultimately tragic.  They ignited a love affair with sports within me that burns like a thousand suns to this very day.  At a time when the Seahawks were mediocre, and before the Mariners were relevant, we had the Supersonics and nothing else mattered.  There may have been better teams out there in the 90s, but no team was as thrilling to watch on a nightly basis.  When they were on, they were unbeatable!  When they were off, they were combustable; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  But, George Karl had his hands all over that team, and was the main reason why we were able to take the next step to elite status.  Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of all is that George Karl doesn’t have an NBA title to his credit; he might be the best head coach in NBA history not to have one.

Okay, there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me hear about it.

Looking Ahead To The Washington Huskies’ 2017 Football Schedule

The 2014 Huskies were largely a Sark-based team in Coach Pete’s first season; we enjoyed a Sark-esque record when all was said and done.  The 2015 Huskies were a real transition team, as more of Coach Pete’s players got on the field and the team as a whole became further acclimated to his way of doing things.  In a lot of ways, 2015 looked like a bit of a step back, but it was entirely necessary to get the program to where it was in 2016, which was a huge step forward.

I can’t say enough good things about the 2016 Huskies, it was the most fun I’ve had following this team since 2000, and was almost certainly the best Husky team I’ve ever seen (keeping in mind that I was never a fan of the university during the Don James glory years).  The 2016 Huskies were truly one of the best four football teams of the year and were rewarded as such with an invite to the College Football Playoff.  Sadly, we were turned away by the buzzsaw that was the Alabama Crimson Tide, which only goes to reinforce the fact that we need to build up this program to become that type of buzzsaw.

So, what do we have to look forward to in 2017?  Will the Huskies become that buzzsaw?  Probably a little early in the process to say yes, but I think more than anything you just want to see them continue to take steps forward.

You can look at what we lost and have sort of a Glass Half Empty outlook.  John Ross was drafted 9th overall.  Sure, we’ve still got Dante Pettis, who looks ready to ascend to the #1 receiver spot on this team, but he’s no John Ross.  That’s no knock against him, necessarily, because NOBODY is John Ross.  That kind of speed is once in a generation.  When you tack on Ross’ route running, versatility, and ability to make a catch in traffic, he was really the total package and may be the best receiver we’ve ever had in the program.  So, you can look at the wide receiver position and say, “Yeah, there’s a decline there compared to last year.”

Then, obviously, you’ve got Kevin King, Budda Baker, and Sidney Jones all snapped up before the end of the second round.  Our two starting cornerbacks and our starting safety, gone.  I know the Huskies recruited the secondary pretty well, with lots of highly-rated guys set to step into starting roles, but we just won’t know how good those players are until we see them in game action.

Go on and on down the list of guys we graduated.  Just a ton of talent walking out the door.  In many ways, 2017 will be yet another transitional season.  But, obviously different from how 2015 was a transitional year.  This isn’t going from one head coach to another; this is essentially an evaluation of Coach Pete’s ability to constantly refurbish the depth of this team on the fly.  Guys are going to graduate, guys are going to leave for the NFL after their Junior years; the mark of a truly great head coach is how he’s able to recruit guys who can jump in there and replace those former starters.  I’m talking about recruiting Freshmen who are good enough to play right away, as well as guys who grow into starting-calibre players within a year or two at the most.  It’s about always having the next wave of superstars champing at the bit.  It’s about allowing the linemen and other undersized guys to grow and mature in the program so eventually they can be impact players.  And so on and so forth.

Coach Sark and his team of recruiters were able to land some real whales for this school, but I don’t know if they were on the same level as Coach Pete and Co.  Sark seemed to be more interested in recruiting the glamour positions; Coach Pete seems to be more interested in building up all positions, eliminating as many weaknesses as possible.

In that respect, yes, the 2017 Huskies might have fewer studs than they did in 2016, but it’s entirely possible that the overall quality of the team is improved, from 1 to 90, or however many players you’re allowed to have in college.

All of this comes with the caveat that injury luck is always the most important factor with any sports team.

The offensive line should be a real strength for the Huskies, more than any other year I can remember.  The Huskies return the most experienced line in the conference, which should help our stud running backs – Coleman and Gaskin, among many of the younger guys looking to make names for themselves – as well as, obviously, our quarterback.

If there’s a questionmark, it’s Jake Browning.  Is he healthy?  Will he BE healthy when the season starts?  I’ll never question his ability to study and work on his craft, but given his relative lack of size, can he STAY healthy for the long haul?  He’s obviously a tough kid, playing on a shoulder that required surgery, but I don’t know if he’ll grow into a Heisman contender if he can’t stay on the field and at close to 100%.

If Browning isn’t healthy, how good are the guys behind him?  The Huskies have recruited some pretty highly-rated quarterbacks recently, but are they too raw to step in this early into their careers?  Will our season be totally derailed if Browning is limited?

Wide receiver is the position I’m most excited about.  Obviously, I love Pettis and Chico McClatcher.  But, I’ve also been hearing rumblings about some of these receivers who haven’t had a lot of playing time thus far.  Recent recruits ready to make their marks.  Should be interesting; hope they’ll get a lot of time to work with Browning on their timing and whatnot.

Along the D-Line, in spite of the loss of Elijah Qualls, there is still a significant amount of returning talent.  Indeed, this unit should prove to be the strongest of the entire defense, and will likely have to get home with even more regularity than they did in 2016 (which they did at a pretty high clip) to help compensate for potential challenges in the back end.

Taylor Rapp, at safety, figures to be a force, and maybe the defensive MVP in 2017.  We’ll need him to make that next step to superstar status if we want to maintain our defensive dominance in the Pac-12.  He looked every bit as good as anyone I’ve seen towards the end of last season, so I’m pretty confident he’ll get the job done.

Bottom line is, the 2017 Huskies will be very good.  Where they end up will largely depend on the schedule they play.

Last year, the Huskies were continuously killed for their weak schedule.  It was the primary reason why people felt they had legitimate arguments against them making the College Football Playoff.  I never bought into that, and if you’re like me – and wanted to throw your remote through the television every time some national pundit knocked the Huskies for this – GET READY FOR MORE OF THE SAME.  Because, holy Jesus, does the 2017 schedule look like the creamiest cream puff wrapped in a cloud of cotton candy.

For the second year in a row, we kick off our season against Rutgers.  It was a Home & Home series that was scheduled way back when Rutgers had a good football team, and you can’t very well just chop them off the schedule without facing a huge penalty.  So, here we are.  This time, on the road, which I suppose makes the game marginally more difficult, but my guess is Rutgers is once again going to be one of the worst teams in the Big 10.

The Huskies round out their non-conference schedule with home games against Montana (an FBS school) and Fresno State (who had all of 1 win in 2016).  The Huskies could sit Browning for all three of those games and still easily walk away 3-0.

Every year, every Pac-12 school plays 9 conference games.  I don’t know if this still sets us apart or not (I believe the SEC only plays 8 conference games, but they might be moving up to 9 or at least talking about it), but I think it’s a great argument when it comes to comparing our schools to those conferences who play 8 or less.  I mean, let’s face it, every conference has their duds.  And you can talk about Washington’s weak non-conference schedule all you want, but every power school schedules their share of powderpuffs.  Regardless of how good or bad your in-conference opponent is, it’s still an in-conference opponent, and those games are more difficult and ultimately mean more.

Anyway, this year, the Huskies catch 5 home conference games and 4 road conference games (it alternates every year).  Their conference schedule kicks off with 2 road games, though – at Colorado and at Oregon State – which means we get 5 of our final 7 games at home.  Colorado should be a lot worse than they were last year, as the 2016 Buffaloes were very senior-heavy, and I highly doubt they recruit nearly as well as we do, so I can’t imagine the guys they’ve got coming up through the ranks are going to be as good as the guys they had last year.  Oregon State is still in rebuilding mode (as they are seemingly every year), so I can’t imagine it’ll take much of an effort to get to 5-0 with this schedule.

Then, there’s a home game against Cal, who is working in a new head coach and ostensibly a new offensive system, so I can’t imagine that’s going to be a very close game.  We follow that up with a road game against ASU, who I’m pretty sure we haven’t beaten on their home turf in over a decade.  They were pretty sorry last year, and figure to be better this year; this could be a sneaky-tough game for the Huskies (who will have played 3 of 4 on the road when they’re finished with this one).  I could see the Huskies winning this one in ugly fashion to get to 7-0.

That leads us to the real heart of the 2017 schedule.  This year, we avoid USC and Arizona.  By all accounts, USC is poised to be the top ranked Pac-12 team, at least going into the season.  They might have the next #1 overall draft pick at the quarterback position in Sam Darnold, which is moderately terrifying.  Obviously, that means even our conference schedule sees a huge downgrade in the eyes of the national pundits, by virtue of not playing the so-called best team in the Pac-12.  And, say what you want about Arizona, but they’ve notoriously been a tricky team for us to play most years, and they return one of the more experienced offensive lines to boot.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see them as a “surprise” team in the conference.

Getting back to the heart of the schedule, we follow up all those road games (and a BYE week tacked onto the end of it) with back-to-back home contests against UCLA and Oregon.  UCLA is up there with Utah among the second tier teams in the Pac-12 South.  They strike me as very much of an unknown, as they seem to recruit well every year, but ultimately produce poor results on the field.  I’m sure they’ll give the Huskies everything they can, and I’d be seriously disappointed if we lost this one.  Ditto Oregon, although they’re in something of a rebuild mode as well (albeit, starting with a much stronger base than OSU).  I just think Washington has more talent than Oregon, period.  As such, I see no reason why we won’t be 9-0 heading into what will likely be the most important game of the regular season.

At Stanford, Friday, November 10th, at 7:30pm on Fox Sports 1.  The Cardinal fell from their perch as one of the top teams in the conference last year, and they obviously lost a lot of talent to graduation/the NFL Draft, so they’ll be breaking in a lot of key positions heading into 2017.  They have a real bugger of a schedule through their own first 9 games of the season, with road games against USC, Utah, and Washington State, as well as home games against UCLA and Oregon.  So, when I call this game on November 10th the “most important”, I really mean it’s the most important to the Washington Huskies, as it’s the one true landmine in an otherwise reasonable slate of football games.

I fully anticipate Stanford to have anywhere from 1-3 losses by the time they host the Huskies, but this is also a well-coached football team, who recruits like gangbusters.  What does that mean?  Well, even if they’re not competing for a Rose Bowl berth (which, for the record, I’m not necessarily taking off the table, as it’s entirely possible they are up there fighting for the Pac-12 North yet again), this is still a team that notoriously gets better as the season goes along.  When you play Stanford, I think you’d much rather face them early in the season.  Facing them in mid-November is sort of my worst nightmare, particularly with a schedule like this, where there doesn’t appear to be many tough games leading into this one.  On paper, I think the Huskies are better than the Cardinal, but with this game being on the road, against a quality team, anything can happen.  Let’s face it, I never would’ve thought the Huskies could’ve lost at home to USC last year, and look at what happened.

There’s a very reasonable chance that the game against Stanford is our last chance to make a big positive impression on the College Football Playoff Committee.  Hell, it might be our ONLY chance, but that’s neither here nor there.  After that, we wrap up the season with home games against Utah and Washington State.  I think everyone is really sleeping on these two teams.  Utah is always tough and really makes you earn every win against them.  They could easily upset a team like USC and find themselves in the thick of things by the time they come to Seattle.  And, as for the Cougs, they’ve definitely been written off after last year, losing two bullshit games early in the season, followed by their final three games (including the Holiday Bowl).  While I agree that the Huskies very much SHOULD beat the Cougars, it’s still the Apple Cup, and weird things can always crop up.  The Cougs obviously have Falk back, and if he can stay healthy, he’ll always give them a chance to win.  And, their defense has always been underrated while over-producing under Mike Leach.  So, you know, while these last two games aren’t necessarily as flashy as the road game against Stanford, we could still be talking about a couple of ranked teams when all is said and done.

The bottom line is, this is a 12-game schedule in which the Huskies could very easily run the table.  There will obviously be challenges along the way, but I’ll just say that it wouldn’t necessarily be a shock to the system like it was last year.  Odds are, the Huskies will likely lose 1 game.  I’d say the odds are equal that they’d lose 2 games as they are to the Huskies winning them all, if that makes any sense.  1 loss SHOULD mean that the Huskies play in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  And, assuming the Huskies face the Trojans in that game, we’re looking at a game that would not only get us into the Rose Bowl, but would get us back to the College Football Playoff.

I’ll say this, just to get it out of the way:  any combination of scenarios where the Huskies finish with 1 loss, and that 1 loss is in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Huskies absolutely will not make the College Football Playoff – even if the Pac-12 South champion has more losses, and ultimately gets passed over as well.  I’m a firm believer that the only way the Huskies are able to compensate for that schedule is if they beat an awesome team in the conference title game, a la last year.  And even then, who knows?

A lot of this depends on what happens in the other conferences.  What happens if there are two 1-loss teams in the SEC?  Or an undefeated team and a 1-loss Alabama team?  On top of whatever the Big 10 throws in there, Clemson, and the Oklahoma schools.

One thing the Huskies really have going for them is that they should start the season highly ranked.  Top 10 or Top 15 at the worst.  Now, imagine that team running the table through the regular season, then beating USC in the conference championship game!  We might get to pick where we play in the College Football Playoff!

All of that is a long way off, of course.  But, it’s still fun to think about as this baseball season drags on.  I very much need football back in my life.

A Bunch More Huskies Are In The NFL Now

I’m on record as saying the Seahawks would be fortunate to have as many Huskies on their team as possible.  I’m also on record as a huge know-nothing homer, so maybe they’re best not to listen to me.  Anyway, with the 2017 NFL Draft in our rearview, here’s a breakdown on where all of our beloved Huskies will be calling home, at least for Training Camp, if not for many years beyond.

John Ross got us started by the Cincinnati Bengals picking him 9th overall in the first round.  If the Seahawks couldn’t have him, I’m glad to see him in the AFC.  Quite frankly, too many AFC teams would drop the ball on this, forcing a lot of Huskies into direct competition with the Seahawks.  This is an awesome fit, though, for the Bengals.  He gets to play opposite A.J. Green and will open up a lot for his partner in crime by opposing defenses game-planning against his speed.  This could really further Green’s career, as he’s prone to foot injuries and will likely be slowed further due to age.  Green could become a top possession receiver with Ross blowing out coverages over the top.

No more Huskies taken until the second round, where three guys were selected with the top 11 picks on Day 2.  Kevin King went to Green Bay, two spots above where Seattle picked.  Obviously, he wasn’t a top priority for the Seahawks, otherwise they would’ve made more of an effort to pick him at 26 or again at 31 when they traded down.  It’s pretty clear, in hindsight, that the Seahawks had Malik McDowell targeted all along, and King was more of a backup pick.  I hope this doesn’t bite them in the ass, as I could easily see King being a Pro Bowl player for years to come, while McDowell feels like more of a longshot (with, admittedly, a higher upside if he reaches his full potential).

Then, to make matters worse, one pick after the Seahawks took McDowell, the Arizona Cardinals moved up to nab Budda Baker.  Great, so we get to play against Budda twice a year.  They are going to LOVE him in Arizona.  I think I’m more jealous of this pick than even the King one, as after Ross, Budda was a close second as far as my favorite Huskies are concerned.  That guy just has a nose for the ball, a nose for making a big play, and a nose for beating the shit out of guys.  What that means for his long-term health is another issue, but I wouldn’t have let that stop me from taking him high in this draft.

Then, with the 43rd overall selection, the Eagles took Sidney Jones, who had the achilles injury (and thus MIGHT start the season out on the PUP list), but figures to be a long-term lockdown corner for many years to come.  Part of me hoped he would’ve dropped a little further, with the Seahawks either landing him at 58, or packaging 58 with another pick to move up into the low 50s or high 40s, but alas, at 43, that’s probably a lot more than the Seahawks were willing to move.  Also, aside from the injury issue this year, my main concern with Jones is that he primarily played the Richard Sherman side of the field, so how would he take to playing opposite?  I’m pretty sure he would’ve been fine, but you never know.

From there, a pretty long gap without another Husky taken.  As time went on, and Friday moved into Saturday, more and more people were questioning the decision of Elijah Qualls coming out a year early.  He eventually fell all the way to pick # 214, also belonging to the Eagles.  I attribute a little bit of this to being wary after Danny Shelton really hasn’t done much of anything of impact with the Cleveland Browns since he was picked in the first round.  Either way, I think they got a great guy at a tremendous value.  He tops out as a Sam Adams type player if he can put it all together.  Either way, the Eagles didn’t risk much by using a late 6th round pick.

That’s it for the Husky draft picks.  Not too shabby, though.  Five guys, four of them on defense.  I’d expect this to be a trend going forward as Chris Petersen keeps reloading this team with top talent.

In the undrafted sector, tight end Darrell Daniels signed with the Colts.  Even without knowing their situation at tight end, he would seem like a longshot.  He’ll really, I would think, have to make his hay by improving his blocking a great deal, as I think he’s a sneaky good offensive weapon down field.

Jake Eldrenkamp, left guard who really developed into a nice interior lineman by his senior season, signed with the L.A. Rams.  He’s got good size and athleticism and it wouldn’t shock me to see him get stashed on the practice squad for them and maybe make a bigger impact in his second season, if everything breaks right.

Perhaps the biggest shock of this whole thing is Deontae Cooper, the oft-injured running back and HUGE fan favorite, who ended up transferring to San Jose State in his final season in 2016 (part Fresh Start, part being blocked out by the younger UW running backs), I guess is getting an invite to Training Camp with the Oakland Raiders?  I’m not sure, exactly, what the deal is, as news is pretty spotty.

Safety Brandon Beaver (who I totally forgot was a senior last year) is getting a shot with Budda Baker’s Arizona Cardinals, so that’ll be interesting.  Beaver had some nice impact plays last year, but obviously would be considered a pretty big longshot.

Joe Mathis, defensive end, who missed out on the back-half of his final Husky season due to a foot injury, also went undrafted, much to the chagrin of everyone who saw how impactful he was for the Dawgs.  He signed with the Houston Texans, to either be an end or an outside linebacker.  Either way, I think they’ve got a good one on their hands.  That is a STEAL, especially for a team looking for a cheap way to add some pass rush depth.  I hope he really knocks their socks off in Training Camp, because I could see him – over the rest of the undrafted Huskies – having the biggest impact right away.

Washington Huskies Hired Mike Hopkins

When I headed off to my long weekend in Reno, the talk of the local sports world was on Lorenzo Romar’s firing.  When I woke up on Sunday, preparing to hop on a plane back to Seattle, his replacement had been hired and here we go.

Mike Hopkins has been an assistant coach at Syracuse since 1996.  He’s been the official “head coach in-waiting” under Jim Boeheim since 2015.  I know so little about Syracuse basketball, I was actually surprised to learn Boeheim was still there.  For some reason, I thought he retired a year or two ago.  Other than that, I know Syracuse has been a premiere college basketball program for some time.  I know they play some sort of zone defense exclusively.  And, I know they make the NCAA Tournament almost every year.

What I’ve learned about Mike Hopkins is that he was supposed to take over as head coach for Syracuse at the conclusion of the 2017/2018 season.  I’ve learned that a number of schools have tried to hire him away, including USC and Oregon State, but for various reasons it fell through.  I’ve learned that Hopkins has been the primary recruiter for some time with the Orangemen (with Boeheim being the “closer” for some of the top recruits), and that he’s very actively involved in the team’s gameplans and scouting.  So, you know, we’re talking about a situation with Boeheim that you see a lot when a head coach has been in the same spot for upwards of 41 years:  you see an old man delegating the shit out of his responsibilities.  And so, in essence, we’re hiring away the “real” head coach of Syracuse, in all but name only.

My initial thought when I heard about the signing was:  why would he come to Washington NOW?  If he’s really a year away from taking over at Syracuse – which is the only school he’s ever worked for, as well as the school he played for from 1989-1993 – then why does he jump ship now?  It has since come out that Syracuse is going to extend Jim Boeheim beyond 2018, which they are spinning as a move done in response to Washington’s hire, but I’m not so sure.  It would stand to reason that Boeheim – being effectively forced out by the school when they announced Hopkins would be the head coach in-waiting – resented not being able to go out on his own terms, and has fought behind the scenes to stick around.  I’d be willing to put money down that Boeheim had an extension either in place or in the process of being in place, and once Hopkins heard about it, he opened himself up to moving onto another program.

I’m sure there are other reasons that will be discussed this week when he comes over for his initial press conference.  I can’t imagine it would be fun to be the guy who follows in Boeheim’s footsteps once he retires; that’s a huge burden to bear.  In Washington, he’s got a chance to build something great.  If he’s as good a coach and recruiter as I’m hearing, he could be for Washington what Boeheim is to Syracuse.  And, then there’s the fact that he has family on the west coast and whatnot.  It’s never any one thing that brings a guy to make a decision like this, so I’m sure we’ll get fed multiple lines of reasoning.

As far as how I think he’ll do, I’m going to go with Cautiously Optimistic.  He’s never been the head guy before.  Outside of recruiting circles, he’s a virtual unknown.  While he’s FROM the West Coast, he has no real basketball ties to this side of the country, so whoever he ends up hiring as his assistants will factor HUGELY.  And, even though we’re not going to be able to hold onto Romar’s final recruiting class, I think he’ll be a nice breath of fresh air for the players who stick around.  Hopefully, he’ll be able to light a fire under them, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

I have a general feeling about new college head coaching hires, and it’s this:  I’m never going to trust them completely, until they give me reason to.  The college game, whether it’s football or basketball, is all about jumping from school to school.  And I can’t help but see Washington as a stepping stone to other places.  Just as soon as they have some success here, they’re gone.  It didn’t take much for Coach Sark to fly the coup back to USC.  I’m sure Chris Petersen gets calls daily about going to some bigger program.  Rick Neuheisel was seemingly taking weekly interviews with other schools and NFL teams, for crying out loud!  Washington isn’t a destination; it’s a slingshot to bigger and better things.

While Boeheim isn’t going anywhere for the time being, he’s still over 70 years old.  Who’s to say he won’t retire in the next 3-5 years?  And, when that time comes, what’s going to stop Mike Hopkins from returning to his Dream Job, particularly if he turns the Husky program around and gets us back into the Tourney in that time?

Or, shit, what if UCLA’s job opens up in that time?  His west coast family is in the southern California area, so that has to be of interest.  And, if he does REALLY well at Washington, what’s stopping him from going to any number of bigger basketball schools?

Obviously, money talks, and if you’re a good-enough coach, you can establish a top line basketball program literally anywhere.  If Gonzaga can be as well regarded as it is, there’s no reason why Washington couldn’t.  It then becomes a point of whether or not Washington wants to invest in the basketball program as much as it does the football program.  So, you know, at this point we’re talking about not trusting the university enough, but let’s not go down that road until we have to.

We’ll see, I guess, is the bottom line.  First thing’s first:  how will Mike Hopkins salvage next season’s recruiting class?  It won’t define his tenure by any means, but it’s the first big test on his desk.

Washington Huskies Fired Lorenzo Romar

It’s kind of a bummer.  I dunno.  There are a lot of mixed feelings right now, it’s hard to put them down in a coherent thought.

He’s been here since 2002!  That’s such a long time.  So much has happened since then.  In many ways, with the NBA leaving, the one constant as far as Seattle basketball is concerned has been Lorenzo Romar.  He’s been sort of the face of the 206’s hoops scene.  With Romar, it’s always felt like we’ve had this awesome basketball community.  So many Huskies playing in the NBA, but they all felt like local guys with Romar here.  Now, he’s gone, and it feels like that community is shattered.

Growing up, the Husky basketball team wasn’t even REMOTELY on my radar.  Not with the Sonics in town, kicking ass and taking names.  I briefly got excited for a couple of those Bob Bender teams when I was in high school and they made that run to the Sweet 16.  But, it wasn’t until Romar took over and Nate Rob & Co. came to Washington when I really become a fan.

Under Romar, the Washington Huskies have had an unprecedented run of success.  Six NCAA Tournament appearances; no other Husky head coach has had more than three. Five top 2 conference finishes, tops in school history since we’ve been in the Pac-8/10/12.  298 wins (including NCAA Tourney games), second most in school history behind Hec Ed.  All of this in a period in college basketball that has changed so much during his tenure.  It’s going to take a HUGE name to fill his shoes.

This stinks.  Not just because we’re almost certainly going to lose out on next year’s incoming Freshman class.  But, you know, that’s part of it.  I think the 2017/2018 Huskies could’ve been really special.  I think we were poised to return to the NCAA Tournament and maybe even barge our way into a Sweet 16 spot.  It could’ve saved Romar’s job, put the Huskies back on the map, and kickstarted a run of great Husky basketball teams.  Now, we have to start over from scratch.

What’s worse, it’s very possible we lose what little holdover talent we’ve got on THIS team.  Granted, there wasn’t much to be excited about – particularly with Fultz going to the NBA – but players like Crisp and Dickerson are poised to take a big step forward as Juniors, and who knows if they’re going to want to stick around?

Next year’s Husky basketball team could be rock bottom.  I mean, legendary, all-time awful.

So, that’s the short term.  Long term, of course, is the big unknown.  Since the University of Washington is willing to throw around $3 million to buy out Romar, it would seem like money is no object when it comes to the next guy.  And, you know, it’s not like this decision was made with a hair trigger.  I think UW has been more than fair, and has given Romar as long a leash as could reasonably be expected.  But, when you’ve been in steady decline like the Huskies have over the last 6 seasons, with some of the NBA talent Romar has had, with rising expectations what they are after you make 6 NCAA Tournament appearances in 8 seasons, it’s only natural to want to go in another direction with your program.  15 seasons is a long time to coach at one place, particularly when you’ve never gone past the Sweet 16.  So, I would hardly think this decision should scare away any prospective head coaching targets.

Now, obviously, the trick is finding someone who wants to come here.  Try to avoid listening to the Husky homers around here and think on a more national level:  the University of Washington is not a powerhouse draw for college basketball.  It’s a step up from the mid-majors, but it’s probably not a big-enough step up for a really successful mid-major head coach.  So, you know, probably best to get Mark Few’s name out of your head.  Or that Wichita State guy.  While it’s entirely possible that UW could over-pay to bring someone in here, I think we have to be reasonable with our expectations on just how much the university is prepared to shell out.  Let’s not forget, Chris Petersen and some of his assistant coaches are looking at big raises and he already made over $3 million last year.  I hardly think the UW basketball program is flush with enough cash to pay football-coach money.

The upside is, regardless of who we bring in, he’s likely to be an all-around better head coach than what Romar has been in recent seasons.  Romar has recruited well, particularly at guard, in getting some of these recent one-and-done guys (including next year’s class that will be transferring in short order), but his coaching has left a lot to be desired.  There’s no real offense to speak of.  He’s all but abandoned his old defensive identity in favor of letting his stars do whatever the fuck they want.  The team has been relatively competitive on athletic ability alone, but that’s meant that we haven’t beaten a quality basketball team in years.  We find ways to lose, or we get run out of the gym, by smarter, more technically-sound teams.  And in 2016/2017, we weren’t even competitive, so what good has all that recruiting ability been?

So, here we are.  The great unknown.  It’ll be an interesting next few weeks to see what the Washington Husky basketball program looks like, but for now I think it’s appropriate to reflect on the end of an era.  Lorenzo Romar has meant so much to the University of Washington and the city of Seattle when it comes to local basketball.  While I understand why it happened, I hate to see it end like this.

A Murderer’s Row Of Outgoing Huskies & Some Other Peach Bowl Thoughts

The big news of the week is the four underclassmen who are declaring for the NFL draft.

  • John Ross – WR
  • Budda Baker – S
  • Sidney Jones – CB
  • Elijah Qualls – DT

We more or less all saw this coming a hundred miles away, so it’s not like it’s a shock or anything.  And, really, it shouldn’t be a source of frustration; these kids balled out for the Huskies and have achieved all there is to achieve (for the most part).  I don’t begrudge them taking their talents to The League.  Nevertheless, can we take just a moment to fantasize about what next year’s team would’ve looked like with these guys returning as seniors?

Ahh, that’s the stuff.  It could’ve been massive, but in a way it’s exciting to see the guys coming up behind them.  Sure, they could be worse, but what if they’re better?

This is on top of the guys who were Seniors and have thus run out of eligibility:

  • Kevin King – CB
  • Joe Mathis – LB
  • Psalm Wooching – DE
  • Jake Eldrenkamp – OL
  • Jeff Lindquist – TE (erstwhile QB)
  • Brandon Beaver – DB
  • Darrell Daniels – TE
  • Cameron Van Winkle – K
  • Shane Brostek – OL

Some pretty big names on this list, but in going down the roster, it’s heartening to see the large pile of Freshmen and Sophomores.  The hope being that Coach Pete and Co. mold these guys into the next great Husky football teams in coming seasons.

And, quite frankly, the number of star players returning really dwarfts those leaving, and that’s not even counting all the red shirts and incoming Freshmen we’ll have this fall.  Assuming there aren’t too many high-profile transfers, the Huskies will still be great next year and for years to come.

Tip of the cap to the guys leaving though.  I know there was a bit of snark in my previous Husky post this week, but I’ll always have the fondest of memories for John Ross.  I haven’t sat down and really put in the thought, but I have to think he goes down as one of my top 3 favorite Huskies of all time, up there with Tui and Reggie.  I can’t wait to see Ross in the NFL and will be rooting hard for him to be great.

Same deal with the secondary guys.  Budda?  Are you kidding?  My God is he going to be fantastic at the next level!  I would give absolutely anything for him to fall to the Seahawks in the first round.  Sidney Jones was always a comforting presence there, locking down one side of the field.  He should have no problem proving his greatness at the next level.  And Kevin King had, without question, the greatest interception I’ve ever seen in my life against ASU.  Like I said before, it’s going to be TOUGH to replace these guys.  The secondary will be the unit to watch in the early going, to see who steps up.

Qualls, Mathis, and Wooching round out the guys I’m prepared to talk about today.  Big number 11 was a force on the interior, and was a big reason why the beef along the D-Line was able to be as effective as it was.  Joe Mathis was definitely missed when he went down with injury and was lost for the season.  We certainly could’ve used his leadership and athleticism against Bama.  And Wooching, with increased playing time due to Azeem Victor going down, really stepped up and filled some of the pass rushing void, allowing this defense to really not lose a whole lot down the stretch.

The 2016 Huskies will always be something special in my book.  Now, let’s hope 2017’s version blows them out of the water!

***

Just a few random thoughts about the Peach Bowl that I left out of my previous Husky post on Tuesday.

I remember sitting there as the game went along, seeing botched Husky drive after botched Husky drive, silently pleading for this team to start taking some shots down the field.  I mean, that was the key going in, right?  You’re not going to run on Alabama; your only shot is to do what Ole’ Miss did, which is throw deep and throw often and hope for the best.  The fact that we couldn’t complete anything longer than 20 yards all day was a real point of bitterness on my end.  I mean, what the shit?!  I know their pass rush was pretty good, but there were times Jake had PLENTY of time to throw!

But, you know, upon further reflection, that’s probably easier said than done.  If it was so easy to throw deep on Bama, everyone would’ve done it and they probably would’ve lost a game by now.  Even though I was in attendance, I didn’t get a good look at the coverage down field; my attention was predominantly focused on the lines.  I mean, how can you not?  That Bama D-Line is spectacular!  I remember one time in particular, it was 2nd & 3, where it looked like the perfect time for the Husky offense to take a shot, but someone was on Jake’s ass almost immediately and he had to throw it away.  I feel like that happened more times than we realized.  I’m sure the Huskies WANTED to throw deep, but it’s not like you can do that all the time.  You have to pick your spots.  And, my hunch is, more often than not, in those spots you’d find a Bama lineman or linebacker in the backfield harassing our guy.

On top of that, it was pretty apparent that Alabama didn’t have any respect for our running game.  It seemed like all day they went with a 6-man box, just DARING us to run the ball.  Of course, when we did, we still couldn’t, because their 6-man box is way better than anything we could throw at them.  I’ll say this, I was dreading any instance of Myles Gaskin touching the ball.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a solid running back with great vision and patience.  But, you’re not going to get very far being patient against that Bama D-Line.  This was proven by Gaskin having a rushing long of 10 yards, while averaging 3.4 yards on 10 carries.  I would’ve much rather seen Lavon Coleman get the lion’s share of the carries doled out to our running backs.  Not necessarily because I think he’s the superior back, but I think his style lends itself more to potentially breaking one against them.  Now, obviously, on 7 carries he only got 16 yards, with a long rush of only 5 yards, so it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if he had another 10 touches.  But, still, I like a guy who’s quick to decide and hits the hole hard against a line like that.  Because, let’s face it, if the Huskies were able to open ANY holes in the running game, those holes weren’t destined to remain open for very long.

Ultimately, when you combine the fact that Alabama mostly kept six in the box, and rarely blitzed, it allowed them to keep their safeties back and eliminated most – if not all – deep passing attempts.  I will say that, after the pick six, right before halftime, I saw John Ross streaking up the middle of the field, having gotten behind the defense.  Had Jake Browning seen the same, we could’ve stolen a touchdown right back and made the second half a lot more interesting.  But, who knows, he was probably trying to dodge another defender who aimed to take his head off.  It was pretty discouraging to see us almost never attempt a pass in the middle of the field when the game was in doubt.  Again, I don’t know if the defense dictated that, or the game plan, but an offense full of short passes to the sidelines isn’t going to get it done against any defense.

I’ll just close out with a little something on Jake Browning.  I think it’s pretty clear he took a big step forward from his Freshman year to this year.  I feel like he’s getting a lot of flak from fans, who think he “doesn’t show up” in big games.  Let’s just take a step back here and remember he started from the very first game as a true Freshman last year.  So, he was essentially thrown into the fire, and did pretty well for himself.  He was damn near a completely different quarterback by season’s end.  That put him into his Sophomore year this year, where as I noted above, he took a big step forward.  The team succeeded accordingly and we cracked the College Football playoffs!  He even found himself, for a while there, in the national discussion for the Heisman Trophy!  Granted, it was a bit of a down year for the Heisman; I don’t know anyone who thinks Lamar Jackson is literally the best player in college football in 2016 (this probably should’ve been the year it went to a lineman or something).

In 2017, you have to figure Jake will be in the discussion for the Heisman Trophy from Day 1.  He’s coming off of a 12-win season and a playoff berth, the pressure will be ungodly.  So, I’ll be most interested in seeing how he responds.  He’ll be an upper-classman, he’ll have two years’ worth of experience in this system, and you figure he’ll be poised for one more big step forward in his progression.  At this point, he’s got the experience, he’s mastered being a leader for this team, now it’s time to refine and fine tune his game to be an elite college quarterback.  With a target on his back, and all of the Huskies’ backs as conference champions, nothing will come easy for this team in 2017.

How they respond to being in the long shadow of the 2016 Huskies will go a long way towards dictating whether we’ll be even better next year, or regress towards the mean.

Monday Morning Long-Snapper: What I Did Over My Christmas Vacation

Almost Famous goes from being the perfect movie to watch on a long, cross-country flight, to maybe one of the worst?  On my way home, I watched it for only the second time in my life.  It should be – and absolutely IS – right there in my wheelhouse, so I try not to watch it too much.  Better to stave off yearnings that I’ll ever be a William Miller, or that I’ll ever find myself a Penny Lane to pine over to my last breath.  Now that I’m sensibly in my 30s, those naive pie in the sky dreams are sucking fumes in the wake of my lost 20s, so maybe I won’t wait another decade or so before watching this movie again.

Hey there blimpy boy, flying through the air so fancy-free …

***

My break started earlier than anticipated, and on much more of a downer as a result, as I had a funeral to attend in the days leading up to Christmas.  The alcohol was endless and my hangover was relentless, but it was a lovely ceremony and it was good to catch up with family I rarely get to see, in snowy Yakima no less.

This led into Christmas Eve, and a Seahawks performance we’d all rather forget.  That night, we played beer pong and listened to Christmas music like our lives depended on it.  A good time would be had by all, if it fucking killed us!

The next few days harbored a lot of sleep, up to 12 hours per day in many cases.  Almost like a year’s worth of working 5 days per week, with diminishing returns on slumber had finally caught up to me.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so refreshed.  Some people need to work or else they feel their lives have no meaning; I just need a fucking paycheck.  I could EASILY spend my days doing absolutely nothing, as long as I can live as comfortably as I do right now.

***

I bought my plane tickets and hotel reservation the day it was announced the Huskies would be playing in the Peach Bowl.  I’d made a promise to myself that I would FINALLY go to a Husky bowl game this year, as long as they made it to either one of the playoff games, or the Rose Bowl.  And, unlike a lot of people, I didn’t want to hedge and say I’d only go if the Huskies made the National Championship Game.  It didn’t matter to me that the opponent was Alabama.  It didn’t matter that we’d be facing probably the best Alabama defense of all time – and maybe the best Alabama team in general of all time – nor did it matter that the game was taking place in their backyard.  It didn’t even matter that every fiber of my being was screaming out that the Huskies would lose this game.  As I’ve said before, this isn’t my first rodeo.  I’ve gone to plenty of Husky road games where we had no chance of winning.  Much worse Husky teams have been blown out by many more points than what would eventually transpire against Bama, against much worse opponents to boot!

None of that mattered.  All that mattered was that Washington was there.  They were in the thick of things.  They were one of four teams remaining in the chase for the college football championship.  They were the talk of the nation (even if the overwhelming majority of that talk was how they had no chance of winning) in the weeks and days leading up to the game.  And, quite frankly, even though I didn’t believe the Huskies would win, I had to acknowledge there was still a chance, however remote.  There’s a reason why they settle these things on the football field.  On any given Sunday Saturday and whatnot.  And IF the Huskies could pull off the upset, I had to be there.  I had to see it in person.  It would be the greatest win in the history of the program, one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA, and the single greatest sporting event in my lifetime.  I’d give ANYTHING to be there in person, to share in the joy with thousands of other die hards who braved the trip.

Well, “ANYTHING” ended up being about $900 for the plane tickets, another $600 for the 3-night hotel stay, $175 for the seat, around $80 for the Atlanta City Pass (so I could get into all of the touristy things I wanted to see while I was there), and various other expenses for food and whatnot while I was in the city.  It should prove to be a pretty lean January when it comes to the ol’ budget.

***

My dad dropped me off at SeaTac the morning of the 29th, where I realized I’d forgotten to pack my ticket to the game.  I knew right where it was:  on the front seat of my car, parked in front of my dad’s house.  But, since I don’t think I ever left the house after Christmas Eve, I never got into my car, and as such I never noticed it was still in there and needed to be packed into one of my bags.  Seriously, I had at least 4 days to do this!

I called my dad when he got home, and he was able to get the ticket and scan it for me.  So, that was one crisis averted.  The flight to St. Louis was uneventful (if a little bumpy upon entry), the layover was relatively short, and the flight to Atlanta was relatively short and uneventful (if a little bumpy upon exit).

By the time I touched down, I was into the 6 o’clock hour.  I flew Southwest, which I haven’t done in quite some time, so I forgot about the whole thing with the groups and no assigned seating.  I gather that some people don’t like this feature, but I think it’s great!  Usually, you have to pay more for a seat in an exit row; with Southwest, you just have to be in the A-group (or at the top of the B-group) and as long as you’re flying solo, you should be able to get the extra leg room you desire.  That was the case from St. Louis to Atlanta, and it was a G.D. delight!

Took a cab to the hotel in Midtown, ordered a room service burger and apple crisp, and called it an early night.  This was always pegged to be a wasted travel day, considering I was losing 3 hours on the flight, and considering we’re talking about a lot of hours on a plane and walking through airports.  Plus, since I was going it alone, I could do what I damn well pleased.

Be it ever so humble …

Travelling alone has its benefits and draw-backs, as you can well imagine.  Having total control of the itinerary is nice, because I can do whatever I want, whenever I want.  But, having someone else do all the planning and logistics is nice too, considering I’m a lazy, lazy man.  But, given the shortness of this trip, I really only had to plan activities for one day, and then I could go with the flow the rest of the time.

Flags and whatnot …

I woke up at 6am on Friday, walked over to Walgreens to pick up some deodorant and a razor that I’d also forgotten to pack, printed off my game ticket at the little office next to the hotel lobby, and settled into breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  From there, it was about a mile’s hike to Atlanta’s Olympic Centennial Park.

Isn’t it Christmassy, you guys …

First stop:  the Georgia Aquarium.  I can’t recommend this place enough (as long as you try not to think of it like an aquatic animal prison).  Lots of different fish exhibits to walk through – including one area with a moving floor, and glass all around, so it’s like you’re moving underneath the sea – as well as a bomb-ass dolphin show.  I spent the most time here, and even had lunch in their little cafe (pulled bbq chicken, spinach, mac & cheese, and corn bread).

Hi guy …

Next stop:  World of Coca-Cola.  Upon entry, they herd you into a lobby where they hand out free mini-bottles of a Coke of your choice.  This is where having the City Pass comes in handy, as I was ushered around the long line of people waiting outside and got right in.  From there, you wait a bit in this giant cluster of people until they open the doors to the next room, which has a ramp and a little open area at the bottom.  There, one of the employees talks you through all the memorabilia on the wall and gives you a bit of a history lesson on all things Coke.  After a few minutes of that, we were led through some more doors, where there was a movie theater.  We sat through, I want to say, a 5-minute Coke commercial.  Once that was finished, more doors, and the rest of the 2-story museum.  Lots of memorabilia, an opportunity to take a pic with a guy in a polar bear costume, a giant gift shop, and probably the main reason to go:  a big room full of soda fountains, with Coca-Cola products from around the world.  It was pretty overwhelming, to be honest, and absolutely jam-packed with people (mostly kids), so it was tough to get to most of the sodas you might want to try.  I did end up trying something called Beverly soda, which is a (discontinued?) European product and tastes like dead asshole run through a puke factory.  I ended up cleansing my palette with some pineapple Fanta before calling it.  I mean, this room would’ve been my jam when I was in my teens; I’m pretty sure I would’ve made it a point to try absolutely everything they had to offer had I been 20 years younger.  As it is, who has the time?  Plus, I had other things I wanted to do that didn’t involve shoving a bunch of kids out of the way as I plowed through the sugar-water orgy.

One of MANY pics I took of all the crazy crap on the walls …

Next stop:  The Center For Civil & Human Rights Museum.  I chose this over the Atlanta Zoo mostly because I find the civil rights movement much more interesting.  Plus, I’d already been to an Aquarium that day, and anything to get away from another giant throng of kids.  Lots of cool info laid out in a really cool way; I highly recommend it, particularly now that we’re fully into Trump’s America.

Next stop:  Coffee.  Because I was fucking exhausted from walking around all day, dehydrated as all hell (got a bottle of water too), and needed some time off my feet to recharge and re-energize.

Next stop:  College Football Hall of Fame.  I chose this over the Natural History Museum because I’ve already been to the New York Natural History Museum, and there’s no way Atlanta’s version would be able to top it.  This was pretty great.  There was a mini-Fan Fest going on, what with the Peach Bowl happening the next day and whatnot.  You could run the cones, kick an extra point, throw footballs through a hole, the whole deal.  They also had all the trophies (from each major bowl, as well as the Heisman, among others), an interactive part that showed each College Football Hall of Fame class, where you could use the giant touch-screens to find the coach/player of your choice and read about their achievements.  They had all the helmets of all the college football teams.  Lots of old memorabilia, you name it.  It was pretty sweet.  Not a lot of Husky stuff there though, which I found odd, considering they were playing in the God damn city’s bowl the next day, but what are you gonna do?

So many helmets …

Next stop:  Stats Sports Bar.  Because I didn’t feel much like doing the CNN Tour (which is the final component of the Atlanta City Pass), which is just another hour or more on your feet walking through their giant building.  Considering I don’t even like WATCHING the news on TV, there really wasn’t a great interest to see how the sausage is made.  Also, let’s face it, I needed a beer and some fried pork dumplings!  I needed to sit down, watch some sports on TV, and gather my thoughts.

I ended up leaving around 4:30pm.  I had many options at that point, one of which was a live broadcasting of Softy’s radio show at the German bar next door to Stats.  But, that wasn’t going to start until 6pm.  Which would have been fine under normal circumstances, but I didn’t totally feel like sitting in a bar by myself getting shitfaced for 90+ minutes.  On top of that, I kinda had to poop, and that’s not really an enticing practice at a sports bar, what with all the piss everywhere on the floor and on the seat and whatnot and so forth.  This really ended up dictating my entire evening, as I had planned on going to a bar/restaurant that was playing jazz music, which was closer to all the touristy stuff I was seeing than it was to my hotel.  Given how tired I was from walking around all day, as soon as I made it back to my room, I knew I wasn’t leaving again the rest of the night.

So, I ordered some pizza from a local place, kicked off my shoes, and watched a lot of football and South Park in the room.

***

I opted to sleep in and eat leftover pizza for breakfast on gameday.  Considering the damn thing cost $40 with tip, I was going to make sure that large pizza lasted me a few meals the rest of the way.

When I was finally ready, about two hours before kickoff, I hailed a cab, who got me close to the Georgia Dome.  From there, it was relatively painless getting in.  Frankly, I’d expected more of a hassle getting through security.

I got my ticket through a friend who has season tickets and wasn’t going to the game.  I had no idea where it would be or how much it would cost until it arrived at his home in the days before Christmas.  It ended up being in the Club level, 3rd row, just above the Husky band.  I opted to keep it sober at the game, primarily because I wanted to actually REMEMBER the game, but also because stadium beers are fucking expensive as hell and they were cutting off beer sales at the end of halftime.  Not having to get up to pee and buy more beer every 30 minutes was also a nice little draw.

I guess you could call where I was sitting the “Husky section” of the stadium, but there were still plenty of Alabama fans scattered throughout.  If I had to pull an estimate, I’d say it was 75/25 Alabama fans in attendance overall.  It’s really interesting to see how they watch a game, compared to what I’m used to.  Now, this might have been a result of them playing a Washington team they had no fears for whatsoever, but they were pretty quiet when Bama was on defense.  I’d say if anything, they sort of got it up whenever the Huskies were faced with a 3rd down, but other than that, the atmosphere wasn’t really overwhelming.

That is, until Alabama scored, at which point the place erupted and my eardrums throbbed.

I didn’t run into any unruly or rude Bama fans.  They were mostly friendly and chatty and generally curious about a Washington team they knew absolutely nothing about.  What can you do?  They’re an SEC team whose entire world revolves around the SEC.

The funniest part of the game was listening to the Alabama fans bitch about Lane Kiffin.  “God dang it, Lane!” was shouted whenever Bama went away from the run game.  Suffice it to say, they like Lane Kiffin about as much as any other fan base who has had to have him as their coach/coordinator, or any other fan base who has had their team go up against his, or just anyone else in general, because Lane Kiffin seems like he’s really unpleasant as a human being.  I’m sure Florida Atlantic will regret hiring him in no time.

***

So, all right, let’s get into the game itself.

To start, I couldn’t be prouder of this team and especially this defense.  The 2016 Huskies have, without question, a world championship-calibre defense.  Are they better than Alabama’s defense?  Probably not; that was probably the best defensive effort I’ve ever seen in my life.  What Alabama was able to do with five and six-man fronts in stopping the run, while doing what they did to shut down our passing attack, was legendary.  Nevertheless, Washington’s defense wasn’t that far off.  Had our offense come to play, we had a legitimate shot at winning this game.

I’ll always wonder “What If” with this one.  I mean, it’s absolutely remarkable how we were able to march right down the field in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead, followed by how we were totally and completely shut down the rest of the way!  We went 64 yards on 8 plays, in just under 4 minutes, and at that point – when Pettis made the fantastic catch in the endzone – it looked like the Huskies had the blueprint to beat this Bama team!

Then, Alabama showed everyone why they’re so highly regarded.  On the very next drive, they ran on 8 of their 9 plays, moving the ball at will to tie the game at 7.  From there, you had to wonder if we’d ever stop their run game.  I mean, they did it like it was nothing!  Like we weren’t even standing there!  If they would’ve replayed that game and just ran the ball on every down, you could’ve talked me into Alabama winning by 50 points, just based on that one drive alone.

But, it’s a testament to how stubborn Lane Kiffin is that he’d continuously go away from the one thing that was working for his offense.  Alabama’s quarterback, Jalen Hurts, wasn’t able to do much through the air, completing 7 of 14 for 57 yards; and we even held him in check on the ground, with 50 yards on a whopping 19 carries!  If you’d told me he’d have that type of output before the game, I would’ve bet on the Huskies shocking the world.

This game came down to field position and 3 key plays.  There wasn’t much we could do about the field position.  Our offense couldn’t do a damn thing to flip it, and even the few times we did, Alabama was able to get enough yards to get to around mid-field, where their punter was able to pin us inside the 10 yard line more often than not.  I mean, I get that Alabama gets all the best high school players from around the country, but how is it fair that they also have the best punter in college football to boot?

On a related note, the one thing the Alabama fans around me were impressed with when it came to Washington’s football team was our own punter.  They were mesmerized with how many yards he was able to get – with his rugby style of punting – on the bounce, when their return man kept coming up short on the fair catch.

The field position thing could’ve been overcome – I’ll always believe that – had we not suffered the 3 key plays I referenced above.

Play 1 – The John Ross Fumble.  We’ve since come to learn what was plainly obvious all year:  John Ross has declared for the NFL Draft.  It was pretty brutal how much of a non-factor he was in this game, considering he’s the best player on our team (I was honestly shocked it didn’t come out that he’d already declared for the draft midway through the first half of the game).  Compared to all the athletes on the Crimson Tide, John Ross looked slow as shit on his kick returns; no impact there.  He ended up with 5 catches for 28 yards on offense; no impact there.  And, with Washington once again moving the ball near the end of the first quarter, immediately after the Alabama touchdown to tie the game, near midfield, Ross caught a short pass and had the ball knocked out of his 1-handed grasp.  It was obviously pretty demoralizing – because all anyone is thinking about if you’re a Husky player or a Husky fan, is that you CAN’T CAN’T CAN’T turn the ball over against Alabama if you expect to win (indeed, you probably have to play a perfect game, and even that might not be enough) – but our defense was able to hold Bama to a field goal, so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  At that point, as a Husky fan, all I was thinking was, “John Ross will make this up to us somehow.”  Of course, he would not, but I don’t know how much of that was his fault necessarily.

Play 2 – The Pick Six.  This was the back-breaker.  I’m going to have nightmares about this one for a good, long while.  The Husky defense had settled into their dominating performance, having forced three punts on the last three Alabama possessions.  You had to believe, from a Husky standpoint, that if we’d just kept it a 1-possession game, we’d be able to break through at some point.  Then, Jake was pressured, and threw out into the flat before taking the sack.  Unfortunately, he was throwing to Lavon Coleman, who isn’t an ideal target in that scenario.  And, he was wildly off-target on top of that, throwing it right into the waiting arms of the defender who had an easy touchdown in front of him.  When you factor in we were under 2 minutes left to go in the half, and we had a little momentum with a couple of first downs to that point in the drive, and there aren’t any words to describe my despair at that moment.  Scoring on that drive would’ve been huge, but going into halftime down just 10-7 would’ve at least given us hope for a second half run!  But, going into halftime down two scores felt like the game was over.  I wanted to go home right there.  At that point, it felt over to me.  Alabama’s defense had hardly given an inch aside from our lone scoring drive, there was no way we’d be able to make up the difference unless there was some freaky defensive score on the horizon.  But, I mean, Bama could’ve just knelt down three times and punted on each of their second half drives and let their defense do all the work and it would’ve ended up with nearly the same result.  Nevertheless, I stayed all the way to the bitter end, which was made all the more difficult after Play 3.

Play 3 – The 68-Yard TD Run.  Bo Scarbrough was the offensive MVP of this game without question.  He had 180 yards on 19 carries and 2 TDs.  Even without this run – where he broke about a million tackles en route to crushing our hopes and dreams – he still averaged over 6 yards per run the rest of the day.  And, mind you, that’s a day where – as I said before – the Husky defense played out of their minds!  At this point in the game, we still had most of the 4th quarter left to go.  Had we stopped him, I don’t think the Huskies could’ve come up with the 10 points they needed to tie the game.  But, we didn’t stop him, and with that it was decided.  A 17-point lead for Alabama with a little over 11 minutes to go is absolutely insurmountable.

I should’ve left right there and gotten a jump on the nearly 2-mile walk back to the hotel, but I sat and suffered.  I mean, when would the Huskies ever get back to this point again?

***

It’s at this point that I’d like to take a minute to address all these Husky fans who keep saying that we’re “ahead of schedule” in this thing.  Look, I’m as guilty as anyone of “just being happy to be there” when it comes to being in the final four and in the College Football Playoffs.  I could never honestly believe that Washington was going to beat Alabama, and quite frankly it was hard to even imagine a way we’d win this game without the Crimson Tide starters suffering simultaneous heart attacks on the way to the stadium.  And, aside from that, I can appreciate how far we’ve come from how low the program was after the 2008 winless season.  Chris Petersen has done a PHENOMENAL job in his three years, and I absolutely believe he’s the right man for the job.

We came into the 2016 season hoping for some improvement – maybe even an outside shot at the Rose Bowl – but we never expected all this.  We set our sights – probably wrongly – for the 2017 season as the target season to start thinking about national playoffs and whatnot.  In that sense, sure, you could say we’re “ahead of schedule”, but the thing is:  there IS no schedule.  There’s no guarantee the Huskies will even be within a game or two of the Pac-12 Championship next year!  There’s certainly no guarantee we’ll be better next year than we were this year!  Sure, you figure the guys we’ll still have around – particularly Browning, Pettis, and Gaskin, among many of our young studs on defense – will be improved with another year’s experience.  But, do you realize the impact we’re going to face with all of the guys leaving for the NFL draft?  On top of John Ross, and the obvious outgoing seniors, we’re also talking about almost the entire starting secondary!  That’s the strongest part of the team we’re going to have to fully refurbish!  In a conference that prides itself on its high-flying passing attacks!

The 2016 Husky defense is the best defense we’ve had since those early-90s Don James teams.  It’s certainly the best one we’ve had since I’ve been a fan, and it might be the best defense Chris Petersen EVER has!  Which is why it’s so frustrating to have to look forward to next year, when our chance was NOW!  It’s fine to be pleased with the direction of the program and look forward to the coming seasons.  Husky football should be in the national conversation for at least the next two years, if not much longer (however long Coach Pete wants to stick around, anyway).  But, these playoff appearances don’t grow on trees.  You have to grab your opportunity by the horns when it comes, regardless of whether or not you’re “ahead of schedule”.  Even if the Huskies win the Pac-12 next year and even if they somehow manage the same record in the process, there’s no guarantee we’ll be invited back, considering it’s still a committee of human beings who decide the top four teams.  This might be the ONLY team Coach Pete ever takes to the college football playoffs; we won’t know for many years probably!

That’s why I’m taking the loss as hard as I am.  Even though this Alabama team was a lot like the 1996 Bulls and our Huskies were a lot like the 1996 Supersonics, this still may have been our only opportunity for a National Championship in my lifetime, and to get so close, only to have three plays dictate your defeat … it’s just a lot to take in as a sports fan.

***

In the closing minutes of the game, a couple of Huskies were taken out by some cheapshots from a couple Alabama players during an interception return.  I didn’t see what happened, but it looked pretty shitty to see a couple of our players on the ground in a game that was clearly over.  It was doubly shitty when the majority of Bama fans in the stadium were chanting something afterward (S-E-C, I would come to learn later).  I was too demoralized to really get in much of a huff about it, though.  It was pretty funny to see a very large individual, with a very large red beard, in a Husky jersey with the number 69 on it, and his very large father, with very large white hair, both standing in the first row of our section, saying nothing, but holding two furious middle fingers in the air towards the Alabama bench.  I don’t know what they were hoping to accomplish – getting on the jumbotron maybe? – but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen two people quivering with so much rage.

It should probably come as no surprise after the clock reached double-zeroes, and the confetti started blowing around the stadium, when a drunken Alabama couple ran down the steps of our section, waving their red & white pom poms around, dancing next to the large front row seat dwellers, when the younger one – like a rampaging rhino – bulled into the couple, knocking the female over in the process, as he ran up the stairs and out of the stadium.  It happened in an instant, and I was too flabbergasted to turn around and see if anyone stopped him, but if I’m being honest, I don’t know if anyone – or even a group of anyones – could’ve slowed the beast.  It was quite the spectacle, to be sure.

I didn’t stick around much longer after that, so I don’t know what came of him or his father.  It was a long, cold, hilly walk back to my hotel.  By the time I got there, the Fiesta Bowl was on and Ohio State was in the process of getting blown out twice as worse as we did.  So, you know, at least they knocked the Huskies off the front page.  And, in the end, more people came away impressed with our defensive performance than they did rubbing it in about how we “didn’t belong”.  Considering Michigan and Penn State both lost their bowl games as well, it’s hard to make much of an argument for the Big 10 this year.  Were they the nation’s best conference?  Hardly.  They just had the most highly-ranked batch of over-rated losers come bowl season.

I spent New Years Eve in the room, with two bottles of wine and more leftover pizza.  I couldn’t move.  Not after all the walking the last two days.  Not alone in a strange city, where quite frankly there were more nearby police sirens going off on the reg than I like to hear.  But, it’s okay.  I wasn’t really in a partying mood, and New Years Eve is the Big 10 of holidays.  Plus, I had a flight to get up for the next day.

I was up by 8am, no worse for the wear from the wine, and I left shortly after to get to the airport for breakfast and sitting.  A short flight to Baltimore and an insanely long flight to Seattle later, and my dad was picking me up.  They DVR’d the Seahawks game for me, so I got to see us settle for the 3-seed while enjoying a few holiday Bud Lights.  Not much of a consolation, but it’s better than nothing, I guess.

The 2016 Washington Huskies Are Pac-12 Champions!!!

Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d ever see this day come.  Part of that is from being a heavy drinker and liking to run around in traffic, but most of that is just looking at how far the program had fallen, and the landscape in college football.

Washington’s not a power school.  We like to think it is, as we look back at the good ol’ days of Don James and whatnot, but we’re not Alabama.  We’re not Ohio State or USC or Texas.  Ours is not a destination school; we’re not going to draw coaches like Urban Meyer or Nick Saban.  We can pull from smaller schools, or we can elevate up-and-coming coordinators to their first head coaching gigs, but ours is just a stepping stone school.  Come here, turn the program around, get a better job somewhere else, as Sark did.  Or, come here, make the program worse, and never coach in college football ever again, as Tyrone Willingham did.  Oh sure, you might get lucky and have everything click for a season, but that’s when you strike!  When the iron’s hot!  You parlay that to your dream job where you can compete for national championships every year, as opposed to once in a blue moon!

I would try to console myself from this line of thinking, by pointing to Oregon.  They rose from the ashes of nothingness to be a perennial college football powerhouse!  That’s true, but they also had a head coach with a gimmick system that it took the rest of college football too long to adjust to.  And a benefactor in Phil Knight who doesn’t mind pouring all of his riches into the school.  What are we talking about here, a one in a million confluence of wealth and genius?  Unlikely to be in the cards for a school like Washington.

And yet, here we are.  In Chris Petersen’s third year since coming over from Boise State.  He doesn’t strike me as a guy who would cut and run for a bigger job at a bigger school (but, then again, I suppose Boise State fans thought the same way).  In Washington, he’ll be able to earn the same as anywhere else; he’ll be the highest-paid coach in the conference at a minimum.  And, it’s so early in his run, he can really build a dominant program over the next decade and really bolster his resume!  He’s done it without a billionaire putting his name on the stadium and paying for recruits (allegedly).  He’s done it without a gimmicky offense that – oh by the way – won’t help you one bit in raising your NFL draft stock, because they’d rather go with guys who’ve run a pro-style offense.  I mean, this is as old school as it gets!  Solid recruiting on a foundation of recent success, building your team up in all areas, and then going out there and beating the snot out of everyone you play.  This is how Alabama stays so good every year!

WE’RE PAC-12 CHAMPS!!!

I just can’t say enough how cool that is.  Started from the bottom in 2008; now we’re here in 2016.  I couldn’t be more proud and more happy that I was so wrong about all of that I wrote above.

Last night, we beat Colorado 41-10, in spite of the fact that Jake Browning had a God-awful game.  Nevertheless, we were able to run the ball at will, gobbling up 265 yards on the ground, including 100-yard games for both Gaskin and Coleman.  Sheer domination up front, with some smart, powerful running by those two backs.

John Ross had one of the most impressive TD catches I’ve ever seen.  Browning was about to be sacked, trying to throw the ball away, and Ross ended up jumping as high as he could, snagging it with one hand, breaking a tackle, and scampering for 19 yards to paydirt.  Darrell Daniels had the other receiving TD on a nifty little catch inside the 10 yard line, breaking a bunch of tackles on the way to the endzone.

Game MVP Taylor Rapp had two interceptions right after halftime, one returned to the house.  The rest of our secondary played to their usual brilliance as we held Colorado’s QBs to a combined 81 yards passing.  Our guys up front were just as good, as we held their ground game to 82 yards and a 2.9 yards per carry average.  Just a totally dominating performance from a world-class defense.

The Huskies are 12-1, 12-game winners for the first time since our national championship in 1991.  I just want to sit here and bask in this for a while, as we only have until tomorrow morning at 9am before we know our fate.  Playoffs or Rose Bowl.  The Huskies are back!