The Approximately-Midseason Seattle Sports Hell Power Rankings

Slowly but surely, we’re narrowing in on something approaching a consensus of who’s good, who’s bad, and who’s in the middle (spoiler alert:  a lot of teams are in the middle).  Let’s get going:

  • Philadelphia (7-1)
  • Kansas City (6-2)
  • Seattle (5-2)
  • New England (6-2)
  • Pittsburgh (6-2)
  • Minnesota (6-2)
  • L.A. Rams (5-2)
  • New Orleans (5-2)

The only change to my Elite Eight was swapping out Houston for New Orleans.  I hate to admit it, but the Saints look pretty okay!  All they’ve ever needed is quasi-competence on defense, and it appears they have it.  In an underwhelming NFC South, that should be all that’s required to run away with it.  Also, an impressive Monday Night win to get the Chiefs back on track.  Of course, I’m higher on the Seahawks than most, and they just got a living, breathing left tackle, so WATCH OUT AMERICA!  Like the rest of you, I can’t wait for the Philly/Seattle game on Sunday Night in December.  NBC is SO lucky they got that one.

  • Dallas (4-3)
  • Houston (3-4)
  • Buffalo (5-2)
  • Atlanta (4-3)
  • Detroit (3-4)
  • Washington (3-4)
  • Carolina (5-3)
  • L.A. Chargers (3-5)

I’ll be curious to see how the Cowboys handle not having Ezekiel Elliott (assuming his suspension sticks).  I still like the Texans an awful lot and think they’re poised to rip off a bunch of wins in a row.  Can’t deny Buffalo’s grit and determination; too bad it’ll all be for naught.  A rebuilding program CLEARLY in the market for a new quarterback (even though they already have a good one in Tyrod Taylor) doesn’t need a meaningless playoff appearance.  I’ve hated the hiring of Sark in Atlanta from day 1, and from the looks of things the rest of the fanbase is right there with me.  I also sort of think the Panthers are frauds and will finish right around .500.  Finally, I think the Chargers have been ridiculously unlucky with a pretty difficult schedule, and are better than their record indicates.

  • Oakland (3-5)
  • Denver (3-4)
  • Tennessee (4-3)
  • Jacksonville (4-3)
  • Baltimore (4-4)
  • N.Y. Jets (3-5)
  • Tampa Bay (2-5)
  • Green Bay (4-3)

The eight most disappointing teams in the NFL?  I know I was pretty high on Oakland and Tennessee.  A lot of other people were pretty high on Denver and Baltimore.  We all got suckered in by Hard Knocks with the Bucs.  You’re a fool if you didn’t like Green Bay heading into the season; who could’ve seen A-Rod suffering another collarbone injury?  And the Jets are disappointing for the wrong reasons:  winning ANY games when they should be tanking for the draft.  The Jags are in a similar boat, but their defense looks like it’ll be legit for years to come.

  • Cincinnati (3-4)
  • N.Y. Giants (1-6)
  • Miami (4-3)
  • Arizona (3-4)
  • Chicago (3-5)
  • Indianapolis (2-6)
  • San Francisco (0-8)
  • Cleveland (0-8)

I’ve never been a huge Dalton fan, but how did the rest of the Bengals get so mediocre?  I could see, with the pressure totally off, the Giants at least playing better football, even if their schedule dictates they’ll likely be drafting in the Top 5 next year.  The Dolphins are a bunch of total frauds.  The Cards are fucked without Palmer and better hope their defense carries them in a big way.  The Bears have a dominant defense, but are getting nothing from their rookie QB.  The Colts are a huge mess.  As are the 49ers and Browns, but why do I get the feeling the 49ers are more capable of bouncing back next year (particularly with newcomer Jimmy Garoppolo)?

Taking A Pre-Training Camp Look At The 2017 Seahawks Roster

Going into the 2013 season, I was as high on the Seahawks as I’ve ever been.  Indeed, there have been a number of years where I’ve predicted a Seahawks championship, but I’ve never been as certain as I was before that fateful season.

This year, on the other hand, I dunno.  You’ve got a lot of the same players, which should inspire confidence that – at the very least – this Seahawks team will give us another playoff appearance and probably another division title.  But, there are also question marks up and down the roster, where there weren’t any going into 2013.  Even the positions of strength are causes for concern, as we’ve discovered in the last few years that injuries can hit anywhere, at anytime, for any reason.

Let’s just start at the Safety position, for instance.  The Seahawks feature two of the very best in the game of football today in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.  No sweat, right?  On a scale from 1-10, you write in a 10 for Most Confident and you call it a day!  Except, Earl is coming off of a horrendous injury and might not have his usual impact (particularly early in the season).  Is it appropriate to expect Earl to be as dominant as he’s always been?  Or will the injury – and subsequent rehab eating into his regular workout routine – mean we get just 75% of Earl or less?  And, quite frankly, there’s an honest concern that both of these guys will get re-injured at some point.  Both are another year older, and Kam has proven to be pretty injury prone over the last few seasons.  When they’re healthy, they’re the best in the game; but all I’m going to be doing whenever they’re on the field is worrying about their next injury.

And, honestly, this is the same issue we can run out there for a lot of position groups.  Cornerback?  Check.  Wide receiver?  Check.  Running backs?  Bigtime check.  So, as it was last year, the issue is going to come down to depth.  Because while the Seahawks have one of the most talented rosters in the league, they’ve also been the most snakebitten of late.

On paper, it’s really a tremendous group.  If you could sit here and promise me 100% health out of all of our starters, I’d tell you that I have the utmost confidence in this team making a deep run in the playoffs, up to and including a Super Bowl victory.  Very briefly, let’s scan the starters:

Russell Wilson, in spite of last season’s quasi-regression, is still a Top 10 quarterback in this league, and probably closer to Top 5 than a lot of people are willing to admit.  When he’s healthy, he’s as dangerous as they come.  At running back, we may not have Beastmode, but a healthy Thomas Rawls has proven to be wildly effective.  Eddie Lacy is a nice, big back who will get the tough yards and wear down defenses late.  And C.J. Prosise is as unique a talent at the running back position as there is in the league.  At wide receiver, Doug Baldwin is as good as they get.  Lockett is a speedster with great hands.  P-Rich really came on strong in the playoffs last season and has a lot of talent at making the difficult catches.  And Kearse is a fine #3 or #4 possession receiver with good blocking abilities.  Tight end might be our strongest position on offense, with the combo of Graham and Willson making life difficult for opposing defenses.  I won’t go crazy about the O-Line, but there are a lot of returning pieces who should improve by virtue of ending the 2016 season healthy, bulking up, and having that experience in their back pockets.  You have to like a lot about the D-Line, that killed it in run blocking, and has a lot of great pass rushers.  Avril & Bennett obviously anchor that line and are great in all facets of the game.  Rubin and Reed are solid run stuffers.  Frank Clark is coming on like gangbusters.  Malik McDowell has all the talent in the world at pass rushing from the tackle spot.  You can mix and match those guys in all sorts of different formations and should come off in a good spot.  At linebacker, we return Bobby Wagner – the team’s MVP of a season ago – and K.J. Wright, two of the league’s best.  When we’re not in nickel, you’re looking at any number of talented free agent signees to play that SAM spot and play it well.  At corner, we return Sherm and Lane; Sherm is still his wonderful self, and Lane is still good enough.  Shead will hopefully be back at some point to add to this team’s depth, and in the meantime a number of rookies will vie for that nickel corner spot (or the opposite outside spot, thus pushing Lane inside), including 3rd rounder Shaquill Griffin.  Tack on the aforementioned safeties, and I’m telling you, that’s a starting roster that can hang with the best of ’em, including the vaunted New England Patriots.

I don’t think anyone is questioning that, necessarily, but from a national perspective it’s a lot like that famous Eminem chorus:  motherfuckers act like they forgot about Dre.

The NFL is very much a What Have You Done For Me Lately league, particularly with the fickle media.  If you scan around at some of the Power Rankings, NFL.com has the Seahawks ranked 10th (behind the likes of the Bucs, Chiefs, and Giants).  I mean, what do those teams have that the Seahawks don’t?  Last I checked, Tampa has a very young QB who has yet to prove he’s a winner at this level, the Chiefs are staring down the barrel of a quarterback controversy after trading up to pick one in the first round, and the Giants still employ Eli Manning.  ESPN.com has the Seahawks up at 6th, which feels a little more reasonable, but still behind the likes of the Steelers and Falcons.  The Steelers have a lot of fantasy football talent on the offensive side of the ball, but they’ve yet to really prove they’re ready to make the leap and challenge for the AFC Championship; and I think the Falcons are in for a rude awakening when they kick off this season with the COLLOSAL downgrade at offensive coordinator (Sark, stepping in for Kyle Shanahan).  Peter King, in all his infinite wisdom, has the Seahawks at 9th, behind the Chiefs again, as well as the Titans (in his Top 5!).

If you want my opinion, I think the Top 5 should look something like this:

  1. New England
  2. Green Bay
  3. Oakland
  4. Seattle
  5. Dallas

New England was the best team last season, and it looks like they’ve only gotten better with their offseason moves.  Green Bay is as good as they get as long as they have Aaron Rodgers (similarly to the Seahawks, they just need to stay healthy to reach their potential).  I’m in love with everything that Oakland has done this offseason (aside from abandoning their city and moving to Vegas); they remind me a lot of the 2013 Seahawks with how young and talented they are (though, maybe tilt it in the offense’s favor as opposed to the Seahawks’ defense in 2013).  And, you could go either way with Dallas/Seattle in the 4th/5th spot, with Seattle having the edge by virtue of Dallas crumbling in big game after big game.  Let them prove they belong to a higher ranking rather than just handing it to them with their so-so defense and injury-prone receiving corps.

But, as always, it comes down to depth.  Will the Seahawks need it and do they have enough of it?  And, can their remaining healthy starters do enough to compensate for where they’re lacking?

Let’s take quarterback out of the equation because without Russell Wilson, this team doesn’t work.  Trevone Boykin is cool and everything – and I fully expect him to win the backup job again – but he’s not even close.

Can the three-headed hydra of Lacy, Rawls, and Prosise make it through 16 regular season games plus the playoffs?  As much as I want to gnash my teeth about this position group, I think the Seahawks are okay here.  Yeah, Rawls will probably have some nagging injuries that cause him to miss a few games.  Yeah, Prosise will be banged up.  Heck, Lacy might even roll an ankle or something.  But, what are the odds that all three of them go down at once?  Even still, I thought Alex Collins looked okay in spurts in his regular season duty and should be able to fill in okay as an emergency backup.  Beyond that, I mean, I’m not going to sit here and predict another running back apocalypse like last year, so let’s move on.

The wide receiver group looks a lot different if Lockett has trouble and isn’t able to make it back.  I think that pushes Kearse back into the #2 role, which is less than ideal.  Also, while P-Rich was great in the playoffs, he’s yet to do that over the long haul.  Granted, he hasn’t really been given the opportunity, so here’s to hoping he makes the most of it this year.  Beyond those guys, Darboh is a rookie and I fully expect him to be a last resort type.  That leaves Tanner McEvoy and/or Kenny Lawler; both have their strengths, but gametime experience really isn’t one of them.  Continuing with tight end, the starters may be the most talented of any group on offense, but the reserves are the biggest question marks.  Nick Vannett was a draft pick in 2016, but never really played.  Beyond that, we have guys I’ve never heard of before, one of whom will surely win a job in the pre-season.

The one place the Seahawks tried their damnedest to improve depth – in their own Seahawky way, i.e. on the cheap – was along the O-Line.  Fant, Glowinski, Britt, and Ifedi all return, though with some projected shuffling of spots.  Britt is the leader and best of the bunch; Ifedi returns to his more natural right tackle spot (until he proves he can’t handle it and is moved back to guard); Fant is the key to the whole thing, as he needs to prove he’s capable of holding his own at left tackle, so we can slot our main competition into the guard positions (Joeckel vs. Odhiambo on the left; Aboushi vs. Glowinski vs. Pocic on the right).  Let the best men for the job go to town and hope for the best, I suppose.  What I would say is that the Seahawks are probably in a better position for success with this unit than they were at this time a year ago.  We know Britt is a bona fide starter in this league at center.  Fant, Glow, and Ifedi all have a year of starting experience.  Odhiambo has a little bit of experience, but he’s also being put into a better position to succeed by getting his shot on the left side of the line (as opposed to the right, where he struggled in limited action last year).  And Joeckel and Aboushi are a couple of serviceable veterans who by no means allow us to say, “Problem Solved!”, but they provide better depth than we had a year ago.  And, Pocic appears to be a talented, highly rated rookie, who could step in in a pinch, but will probably be better served in sitting and watching for a year to bulk up and learn the system.  If he’s as good as people say he can be, he could be filling in for any number of guys who win a job out of Training Camp.

The Seahawks are strongest along the D-Line, but you still wonder about their ability to get pressure up the middle.  With the emergence of Frank Clark, I think we’ll still see a lot of Michael Bennett sliding inside, but we had that for the most part last season and still didn’t wreak enough havoc to make much of a dent.  As such, it’s really do or die with Malik McDowell, as if he doesn’t make an impression as a rookie, you’re hoping for Quinton Jefferson to do something in his second season in the league, or one of the bigger guys – Reed, or Nazair Jones perhaps – to step up and do something they’ve yet to prove they’re capable of doing.  Also, not for nothing, but with the loss of Tony McDaniel, did the Seahawks sacrifice their run defense for the sake of interior pass rush?  That might not be the worst thing in the world if we only fall from Best In The NFL to something like 7th-best in the NFL.  But, if we take a deep hit, because of injuries or ineffectiveness, other teams’ abilities to run the ball at will could hinder our ability to put in the ol’ NASCAR package and really do damage to opposing quarterbacks.

I absolutely don’t want to think about what life would be like without the likes of Wagner or Wright, but it won’t be pretty.  As things stand, it’s a huge unknown what these new additions will bring to the table.  I hear good things about Wilhoite and Brown, but that’s just chatter; it means nothing until I can see them in games and see how they mesh with the scheme.

I also absolutely don’t want to think about what life would be like without our studs in the L.O.B.  Bradley McDougald, Neiko Thorpe, and a whole bunch of rookies and young guys.  Without Shead in the mix, it’s hard to say we’re all that improved depthwise, so here’s to hoping they can just hold their own until he’s good and ready (and here’s to hoping the pass rush is as advertised, as they could REALLY help ease this transition period in the L.O.B.).

I really want to like these guys.  I really want to be confident about this season.  I want to believe that we’re better than we were in 2015 and 2016, that we won’t have those fatal flaws that prevented us from getting past the Divisional Round in the playoffs.  Ultimately, it’s going to come down to getting the job done in the regular season, getting that playoff BYE week, and playing clutch football when it matters most.  To get to that spot, it’s going to come down to a lot of injury luck and certain guys stepping up in a big way over the production (or lack thereof) that we got last year.

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.

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.

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!

Huskies Dominate In Apple Cup, Win Pac-12 North

I’m going to save my insanity about the College Football Playoffs until after they announce the updated rankings.  In the meantime, let’s just enjoy this, huh?  The Huskies are BACK, baby!

What an incredible feeling.  I know it’s not over yet, and we’ve got one more major hurdle before we win the conference title, but for all intents and purposes we’re at least co-champions in the regular season, which is a far cry from where we were just 8 years ago.

That 2008 season, where the Huskies went 0-9 in conference (including losing the worst Apple Cup I’ve ever seen in my life) and 0-12 overall, was a big part of the reason for this blog even existing.  Then, we brought Sark in, he got us going on the right track, and we built upon that tenfold with Coach Pete.  It’s been quite the journey, but now here we are, hopefully around for an extended run of greatness.

Of course, if we lose to Colorado on Friday, we’ll probably get saddled with an inferior opponent in the Alamo Bowl, leaving nothing but regret in our wake, so let’s try real hard to win this conference championship!

The Cuogs, last Friday, posed no challenge.  We jumped out to a 28-3 lead after one quarter, and from that point, it was just one long game of keep-away en route to a 45-17 victory.  Browning got back on track, completing 21/29 for 292 yards and 3 TDs (vs. 0 picks).  Lavon Coleman was the rushing star, even though he only ran for 82 yards on 10 carries, he was able to plunge a couple across the goalline.  Gaskin had 50 yards and a TD of his own.  Dante Pettis caught 3 balls for 86 yards and 2 TDs, and John Ross chipped in 8 catches for 80 yards, a TD, and 37 yards rushing on 2 carries.  Don’t forget Chico McClatcher’s 6 catches for 80 yards.  And, big ups to Pettis for completing another pass for 50 yards on a trick play (the fact that we went to that well a second time, and it didn’t work, sure drew the ire of the announcers for some reason; as if there can be TOO MANY trick plays in a football game!).

On the flipside, we held Luke Falk to 269 yards and 1 TD against 3 INTs.  As a team, they ran for 65 yards.  Budda Baker had another outstanding game (including 2 tackles for loss and a pick); D.J. Beavers had a monster game in his own right with a pick of his own, as well as a fumble recovery.  We weren’t able to get a ton of pressure – only 2 sacks on the day – but we were sound in every other aspect of the game.  When you’re up 25 after one quarter, it’s not like you need to send blitzes every other down.

As noted above, we play Colorado this Friday in Santa Clara for the Pac-12 Championship.  The Buffaloes also went 8-1 in conference, with their only loss coming to USC during their resurgence, so consider both of us pretty lucky we don’t have to face the Trojans again this year.  Colorado’s other loss came in their non-conference schedule, when they went to Michigan and got pounded.  The Buffaloes run and pass the ball pretty well, but they might actually be better on defense than they are on offense.

This will be a game of the two best secondaries in the conference, and among the two best secondaries in all of college football.  Overall, though, I don’t think we’re talking about a defense that’s anywhere near as good as what USC is packing, so it would be a bit of a surprise if we weren’t able to move the ball on them.  The question here is:  will the big play be available to us?  I’d like to go back and see how many of our scoring drives featured a play of at least 35 yards, because I have a feeling the percentage is pretty high compared to the national average.  Fortunately, Browning is one of the more accurate passers, so if we have to play the dink & dunk game, we can do that.  He did just pull himself out of a 2-week funk though, so let’s hope he comes out on fire like he did against Wazzu.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you what’s on the line if we win this game.  Rose Bowl at the VERY worst.  You might not be able to tell just from reading this post, but I’m trying to pump myself up and not be disappointed if the Huskies are iced out of the College Football Playoffs.  The Rose Bowl is a helluva consolation prize!  And, if I can swing it, I plan on going there to see it all in person.

But, that doesn’t mean we can’t hope for more.  Let’s go Dawgs.  One more win and then let the chips fall where they may.

Huskies Defeat Cal On The Back Of A Mid-Game 38-Point Run

This was a disjointed affair through the first 21 minutes of the game.  Our offense looked both inept and world-beating; our defense looked both dominant and susceptible to the big play; and our special teams:  the less said about them, the better.  The Huskies had a 21-13 lead after the first quarter, and with 9 minutes left in the first half, were clinging to a 21-20 advantage.  My worst nightmares were being realized.  Going into this game, my only fear was Cal pushing this game into shootout territory and keeping it close throughout thanks to our offense not being on top of its game.

I don’t know how you score 21 points in the first quarter and still feel like your offense is spotty, but it was.  A couple of 3 & Outs deep in our own territory, followed by a couple of the most miserable punts you’re ever going to see, gave Cal good field position on our side of the 50.  We essentially spotted them 6 points on a couple of field goals, and it certainly could’ve been a lot worse.  Beyond that, our three scores were on two bombs to John Ross and a trick play where Dante Pettis threw a TD to Darrell Daniels.  None of these were sustained drives, and we had no semblance of a running game early (against the worst rushing defense in college football).  Cal was only a couple of tweaks in their secondary away from making a game of this!

But, when Cal pulled to within 1 point, the Huskies finally turned on the jets.  38-unanswered extended our lead to 59-20 before the Bears finally got a late garbage time touchdown.  We followed that up with a lengthy run for a score with our backups in the game, and there was your final, 66-27.

In the end, we finished with 287 rushing yards on a whopping 44 carries, with both Gaskin and Coleman going for scores.  Browning had a great game, going 19/28 for 378 yards and 6 TDs against 0 INTs.  On the Heisman front, it looks like too-little, too-late, but in the Husky record books, we’re talking about a guy who – in 9 games – has already broken the single-season record for TD passes (34, over Keith Price’s 33).  He needs just 10 more to break the all-time Pac-12 record, held by Jared Goff (43).  He’s still pretty far off of the pace for the single-season Husky record for yards held by Cody Pickett (4,458 in 2002), but that’s what happens when you don’t play in the 4th quarter of most of your games because you’re blowing teams out too much.  But, assuming all goes according to plan, Browning should be alone in 4th place on the all-time Husky passing yards list, on pace to absolutely shatter the record if he stays in school all four years.

The aforementioned John Ross had himself quite the night, with 208 yards receiving on only 6 receptions, 3 of them for touchdowns.  Pettis, in addition to throwing for a touchdown, caught 3 others en route to an 8-catch, 104 yard evening.

The stars were out in full force on both sides of the ball.  The Huskies nabbed 3 picks, 2 of them going to Sidney Jones.  The line only managed 1 sack, but even though they were depleted, they were able to harass Cal’s quarterback with regularity most of the night.

I’d say, if the playoff selection committee went to bed after the first quarter, they wouldn’t have been all that impressed with the Huskies.  Considering the game didn’t start until after 10:30pm eastern, I’d say those odds are pretty good.  But, on the whole, a 66-27 drubbing has to look pretty good.

If I had to bet the family farm, I’d wager the Committee will have Ohio State in the top 4, with the Huskies on the outside looking in once again.  If, however, they wise up and put Washington in at #4, as long as we win out, I don’t think there’s any chance of us ever falling out of the top 4 between now and the end of the year.  Tomorrow could be big.  I’ll have more on the issue on Wednesday, once everything has sunk in.

Next up, the Huskies host USC at 4:30pm on Saturday.  Thanks to a bunch of early-season losses, the Trojans haven’t been on my radar, so my last impression of this team is throttling them down in L.A. last year, followed by the dramatic fall from grace for Sark.  Those Trojans would somehow rebound to climb into the Pac-12 Championship Game (because the Pac-12 South is the God damned worst), only to lose to Stanford before rounding out their season with a bowl loss to Wisconsin.

This year, USC came into the season ranked 20th, and was immediately humbled by Alabama.  The Trojans would lose 3 of their first 4, including games to Stanford and Utah, before turning things around and winning 5 in a row, including handing Colorado their only conference loss.  A big part of that turnaround is attributed to the Trojans dumping former Husky recruit Max Browne in favor of Freshman Sam Darnold.  Darnold looks like the real deal, and a perfect fit with all-world receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (who is somehow still a Junior, but will hopefully be declaring for the draft after this year).

I would also argue that part of their turnaround has to do with the schedule easing up.  It’s probably no coincidence that their conference losses were on the road (the Alabama game was played in Texas, but still probably more of a road atmosphere).  In their 5-game winning streak, 4 of these games have been at home (including the victory over Colorado).  The other wins, against the Arizona schools, Cal, and Oregon, are about as soft of a landing as you can get.  I don’t know if any of those teams have a defense that’s worth a damn.

ESPN College Gameday is coming back to Montlake for the first time since 2013, when we were ranked #16 and hosted the #2 Oregon Ducks.  That game turned out to be a disaster for all involved (unless you’re a Ducks fan, in which case, yes, I will have fries with that).  This time, the tables have turned though.  USC isn’t ranked, though they’re 26th in both the AP & Coaches polls.  People are touting the Trojans as the biggest test we’ll have faced all year.  I’d say that honor still belongs with the underrated Utah Utes, but this is what happens when one of the L.A. schools goes on a 5-game winning streak.  Everyone loses their minds and starts writing checks their asses can’t cash.

The fact of the matter is, yes, we’re talking about a hot USC team.  If the national rankings happen to be in love with that school, it’s all the better for the Washington Huskies.  Anything that boosts our national profile is good for our chances.  By the same token, it will have been 3 full weeks since our last home game.  It will have been a whopping 6 full weeks since the Husky fans have had an opportunity to get jacked up about a significant opponent (the Stanford game, on September 30th).  This is our last opportunity to get all lathered up on a national stage.  The next game is at home, but against a pretty hapless ASU team; then, we have the Apple Cup on the road.  My point is:  I expect Husky Stadium to be as loud and raucous as I’ve ever seen it.

GOD I CAN’T WAIT FOR SATURDAY!!!

Huskies Are Back On The Map With A Drubbing Of Stanford

The largest crowd in Husky stadium history since the renovation got to witness something special last night.  Millions of people across the country watching on ESPN got to witness something they haven’t seen in 25 years.

We’ve had some mildly impressive wins in recent years.  A 5-win Husky team in 2009 upsetting #3 USC with their backup QB, a Thursday-night blackout win at home against UCLA in 2010 (with Jake Locker playing with broken ribs) to help kickstart our run back to bowl game relevancy, a couple of defensive home victories against top 10 teams in 2012, even last year’s road victory against USC as a nice bookend to Sark’s head coaching career.

But, those were all deeply flawed Husky teams.  Those were all Husky teams who’d lose to the REALLY great teams.  Those were Husky teams who, in the biggest games, would find one way or another to shit the bed.  Fumbles, penalties, missed tackles, inability to get off the field on third down.  Most times, against the very best, it wouldn’t even be close.

There I’d be, getting my panties in a wad, getting all excited about that week’s showdown against Oregon or Stanford or whoever the fuck was going to be the stepping stone to bigger and better things – IF ONLY WE COULD GET OVER THE HUMP – and then there I’d be, not even an hour into the game, standing there in the stands, voice already hoarse from screaming, brown-out drunk from the 10 hours of tailgating, rain dumping on my pocho-less body, asking myself why.  Why do I keep showing up for these games, getting way too excited, when I should know better?  These are the Huskies.  They don’t beat a Top 10 Stanford team!

They sure as shit don’t dominate them like they did last night!

Last night was … a treasure.  If this were a Sark-run Husky team, for starters they would’ve made it one of those inane blackout games that almost never achieve their intended effect.  Secondly, we’d be all in a lather at the opening kickoff, and by the end of the first quarter, we’d be a group of quiet, sullen chumps snookered into yet another lie.  But, this ISN’T a Sark-run Husky team doing just enough to win 7 games and make an inferior bowl game; this is Chris Petersen’s team, and he’s got higher ambitions.

He’s also got a team, in 2016, that’s really fucking good!

Last night, we were in a lather.  Oh boy, were we in a lather!  And with every big Husky play, with every big Husky sack, with every big Husky stop on 3rd/4th down, the crowd grew louder and more confident.  6-0, 13-0, 16-0, 23-0, 30-0 just after halftime.  The more time that passed, the more our lead grew, the stronger we got.  We all got to share in the experience of kicking the asses of one of the teams that’s tormented us the most.

God, it was glorious!  Christian McCaffrey was held in check, unable to run free like he does in most of his other games; we probably held him to what will be his worst game of the season!  Think about that!  We’ll get to say we saw the Heisman Trophy winner at his most bottled up!  Hell, we might have done just enough to prevent him from GETTING that trophy!  Some voters might think, “Well, so-and-so didn’t have a crappy game like McCaffrey had up in Washington,” and we’ll never know.

Jake Browning was his usual effective, efficient self (210 yards & 3 touchdowns).  John Ross got another touchdown, as did Dante Pettis.  Myles Gaskin had 100 yards rushing and 2 TDs, Lavon Coleman broke a 25 yard TD run late in the game to rub salt in the wounds.  All told, as a team, we had over 200 yards rushing while holding Stanford as a team to 29.

We bullied the bullies.  We clogged up their all-world offensive line (always the best of the best prospects they ever draw down in Stanford) with our massive and overpowering defensive linemen.  We punished their backfield with 8 sacks and 10 tackles for loss, while our own offensive line (long the source of frustration for Husky fans, as our best Washington state high school linemen keep getting poached by the likes of the Cardinal) had a relatively clean game of 0 sacks and only 1 tackle for loss.  We did to them what they always do to us, and for that reason a 44-6 football game has never been more satisfying.

I don’t need to tell you what this means.  For starters, we’re entrenched as a Top 10 team going forward.  We got to open the eyes of a national audience plagued by East Coast Bias.  Last night, we were the only game in town!  The only game in the whole damn country!  They turned their televisions on last night to see an entertaining game against two Top 10 teams they don’t normally get to see.  What they ended up seeing was the dawning of a new age!  A Washington team – celebrating our 1991 championship team during commercial breaks – looking to return to prominence.  They saw we belong.  While our record to this point could’ve been in question based on the level of competition we played, there’s no doubt about the impressiveness of our dominance over Stanford.  That team is legit, and we CRUSHED them!

Not only are we entrenched as a Top 10 team, but we’re on the map for the College Football Playoff if we win out.  But, at the very least, we’re in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 North, which puts us in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 Championship Game, and ultimately a shot at getting back to the Rose Bowl.

Now, we just have to beat the piss out of Oregon next week.

The Washington Husky Hype Train Is Pulling Into The Hype Station For A Whole Lotta Hype Ass Kicking!

The last time I wrote about the Dawgs, we were just getting into the early part of pre-season prognosticating.  Website rankings and other media types were venturing out onto their ledges with predictions, and there were the Washington Huskies, smack dab in the sweet spot of critical darlinghood.

And let’s face it!  We’re fucking adorable!  We’re the cutest baby at a gathering of hormonal pregnant ladies; just try and not pinch our cheeks while letting out a collective AWWWW!  You can’t resist!

Now, shit is getting real.  The AP has us ranked 14th in the nation; the coaches have us 18th.  Regardless, without having played a down of football, we’re a consensus Top 20 team in America.  It’s not an achievement by any means, but it’s something nice to look at as we reflect upon how far we’ve come.

This time last year, the Huskies were picked to be among the dregs of the Pac-12.  I had them pegged for 4 wins, and I think a lot of media types had the same.  Obviously, the team out-played expectations, netting 6 regular season wins and a 7th in the bowl game.  You have to wonder how things would’ve worked out in another universe where Sark’s alcoholism didn’t implode the Trojans, and where Luke Falk didn’t injure himself before the Apple Cup, but that’s neither here nor there, because aside from the Stanford game, the Huskies were IN all of their games.  They battled!  Sure, they gagged away a few winnable games, against the Bears, Utes, and especially the Sun Devils, but that’s part of the process.  That’s breaking in a bunch of young players at key positions.

You can see by the way the Huskies finished out the 2015 season, though, that they were significantly better than when they started.  Had the Huskies of December played in those games back in September, October, and early November, we’re probably talking about a 9-win or 10-win team.

Well, here we are.  2016.  We’re short a few Sark-era guys, but for the most part we’re intact.  It’s Year Three for Coach Pete, which means it’s the first year of his tenure where he’s playing more of His Kinda Guys than the previous regime’s.  This is where all of those Top 25 recruiting classes come to fruition.

Sophomore quarterback & running back, with a full year’s experience, a full year’s health, and a full offseason’s worth of training in the program.

4 out of 5 returning offensive linemen – and quality linemen to boot.  This is going to be, hands down, the best offensive line we’ve seen since the Rick Neuheisel era (all praise to Jim Lambright).

If there’s a knock, you could say the receiving corps was depleted with the losses of Jaydon Mickens and Joshua Perkins.  But, with John Ross returning, the sky is really the limit for this entire offensive unit.

And that’s not even factoring into the equation a defense that could be Top 10 in the nation.  A defensive line super stout against the run, a linebacking unit returning most of its starters, and a secondary that might be the best in the nation.

When you add it all up, tack on how well regarded Chris Petersen is as a coach, and how this might be one of the easiest schedules in major college football, and it’s not hard to count to double-digit wins, with an outside chance of contending for the entire Pac-12 North.

As it stands, Stanford is the consensus top-ranked Pac-12 team.  But, they’re breaking in a new starting quarterback AND they’re facing an absolute murderer’s row in the first half of their schedule.  They kick off at home against K-State, then it’s USC (20th), @ UCLA (16th), @ UW (14th), WSU (unranked, but pretty damn good), and @ Notre Dame (10th).  Suffice it to say, when they finish that stretch 3-3, they won’t be ranked in the Top 10 anymore.

In the same range as Washington, we have UCLA – who many are picking as the best in the Pac-12 South.  Well, fortunately for us, we won’t have to play them until the Pac-12 Championship Game.  So, that’s a huge plus.

We do have to play USC, but we get them at home, in mid-November, after beating them down in L.A. last year.  I’d say that’s another good sign for the good guys.

All told, our schedule features only 3 pre-season ranked teams:  Stanford, USC, and Oregon.  We get two of those games at home, and only have to travel to Eugene for the other.  We all know Oregon is a paper tiger this year anyway.  THE. STREAK. WILL. END. NOW.

The non-conference schedule is full of cupcakes, which is nice.  Get off to an easy 3-0 start while we work the kinks out.  Maybe one of those games is a little too close for comfort, allowing Coach Pete to get everyone focused without it actually costing us a game.  That sets us up for what I’m going to call a scary trap game down in Arizona.  The Wildcats are getting pegged to be near the bottom of the conference, around the .500 range, but I could easily see this game being overlooked, as the very next week we host Stanford, followed by a game down in Oregon.

If we somehow get past Arizona, I think we’ll be able to take out Stanford in a fired-up Friday night atmosphere.  That will carry us through to Oregon – which, again, paper tigers – before a mid-October BYE week to reflect on our 6-0 start and our Top 10 placement in the rankings.  At that point, people will be talking about the Huskies in the same breath as people talk about the College Football Playoff, and quite frankly, by that point, we might be the Pac-12’s last hope!

We come out of the BYE week with a home game against the Beavers, which again is a nice, soft landing, before probably the Game of the Year.  On the road.  At Utah.

Now, make no mistake, if I decide to pull it back here and be rational for a second, the Huskies could EASILY lose to any and all of our first three Pac-12 opponents.  But, where’s the fun in that?

For the purposes of this prediction post, I’m saying the Huskies start out the season 7-0 and in the Top 10 in all of college football.  And, I think it’s in Utah where our run of good fortune ends.

But, we’re set up nicely for a bounce-back game down in Cal, whose previous quarterback – you may recall – was recently drafted #1 overall by the Rams.  That sets us up for back-to-back home games against the Trojans and Sun Devils.  I’m not really impressed by either of those teams, and see no reason why the Huskies shouldn’t take care of business.  That gets us to 10-1 and a showdown in Pullman in the Apple Cup.

If 10-1 doesn’t already win us the Pac-12 North, that will only be because the Washington State Cougars – with an equally as creampuffy non-conference schedule, as well as a Pac-12 schedule that sees them avoid Utah & USC – are 9-2 at the time.

THAT’S RIGHT!  I’m predicting that the Apple Cup will decide the winner of the Pac-12 North!

And, I’m also predicting that the Huskies will win that game, beat the Bruins in the Pac-12 Championship Game, for the right to play in their first Rose Bowl since 2000.

The Huskies are back, baby!  This season is going to be magical!  Mark it!

What A Shitty Weekend Of Football

The Seahawks losing at home to the Panthers was a surprising kick to the crotch I don’t think anyone around here was expecting.  It proved to be a fitting capper to an overall demoralizing couple of days, starting with the Huskies losing yet again to the Oregon Ducks.

I can’t even begin to tell you how awful that game was on Saturday night.  It was a bad sign that the Ducks were able to move the ball at will on their opening drive to take a quick 6-0 lead; if we were ever going to win that game, we needed our defense to be on point.  They would stiffen up – only giving up 20 more points the rest of the way – but the game never really felt like it was in doubt.  Oregon was always able to do JUST enough.  When it wasn’t Vernon Adams doing his best Russell Wilson impression, it was Royce Freeman averaging 5.1 yards per carry for 138 yards total.  And, when that wasn’t happening, it felt like (from the stands, anyway, in the east endzone) they got the majority of the breaks with respect to penalties and whatnot (whether that’s true or not remains to be seen; still, that targeting rule is bullshit and needs to go).

The thing that fucking sucks the most is that while the Ducks are still a pretty good football team, they’re FAR from what they’ve been in recent years.  They certainly aren’t in the conversation for best team in the Pac-12.  If you had to compare the two, I don’t think there’s any question – from top to bottom – the Ducks have the better program than the Dawgs this year, but that’s beside the point.  The Huskies COULD have won this game.  With the way the offense is playing, I wouldn’t say the 2015 Huskies win this matchup very often (maybe 33 times out of 100), so a Husky victory really required a clean game from all aspects.  But, this year had REAL potential to be the year that ended the streak.  Certainly a better Husky team (like any of the first four Sarkisian teams) would’ve had a field day with these Ducks.

But, we’re in rebuilding mode.  And, as such, we blew the best opportunity we’ve had in over a decade to get this fucking thing done.

It sucks because as a Husky fan, you just want the fucking streak to be over.  Now, it’s hanging over our heads for another year.  While it’s reasonable to have hope that the Huskies will be better in 2016, there’s no certainty that it’ll come true.  With that argument, you could say it’s reasonable that the Ducks will be better in 2016 as well; and next year’s game will be in fucking Eugene again!  Even if we can assume these will be two evenly-matched teams a year from today (which I’m no where near ready to assume, FWIW), we’ve still got to go on the road and beat them in a venue where they rarely ever lose.  Meaning:  it’s very likely this fucking streak is going to hang over our heads for TWO more years at a minimum.  Great.

It doubly sucks because you have to wonder if this game was coached better – particularly on the offensive side of the ball – maybe we pull it out.  Myles Gaskin ripped off 155 yards on 18 carries.  Even if you take out the 72-yard touchdown scamper to pull the score to within 10 points at the end of the third quarter, we’re still talking about a 4.88 yard per carry average for our budding superstar.  At which point you have to wonder:  why only the 18 carries?

We’re dealing with a double-edged sword here.  On the one hand, we’ve got a true freshman quarterback we’re trying to mold into a bigtime college quarterback.  So, if you’re committed to trying to make it work for Jake Browning long term, then you have to let him go out there and make plays.  Otherwise, if he’s just handing the ball off 40 times a game, you’re not really giving him the experience he needs to improve down the road.  But, at the same time, no one wants to just throw away an entire season in the name of not stunting a freshman quarterback’s growth.

Well, in THIS game, for instance, the Huskies would’ve been better served pounding the rock with Gaskin a little more and having Browning throw the ball a little less.  It makes no sense having us throw three straight times and then punting when you JUST saw us run the ball previously to move down field effectively.  Case in point, the second Husky drive of the game:  ball at the 5 yard line, Gaskin runs for 34 yards to immediately get us out of trouble.  Then, pass for 7 yards, pass for no gain, and a sack.  What a fucking WASTE!  People tell me momentum isn’t really a thing, but on a day where we’d run so well, why would we EVER want to throw the ball three straight times?

I mean, this offense can be moronic at times.  On the first drive of the second half, we threw the ball four straight times to get down to the Oregon 11 yard line.  Then, we ran it on first down, lost a yard, and boom, two straight passes (and two straight sacks) followed.  Why not at least TRY a run on second down?  You lose one yard and you go back to abandoning the run again?  This is football!  COLLEGE football, no less!  You’re supposed to be able to run the ball when you’re inside the opponent’s 15 yard line!

Then, the Huskies get that breathtaking 72-yard touchdown run out of Gaskin to pull to within 10 points.  We follow that up with forcing a 3 & Out, and now “momentum” is REALLY on our side.  We’ve got them on the ropes, so to speak.  With 14 minutes and change left in the game, we’ve been able to gash them a lot on the ground.  So, what do we do on our very next offensive possession?  Pass for 7 yards, incomplete, incomplete, punt.  WHAT. THE. FUCK???  Three straight passes after we just ran the ball 72 yards on them in a single play?  Who in God’s name is in charge here, because I want to file a complaint!  Run the fucking ball, Huskies!  SEND.

After that, it was only all too easy for the Ducks to run off 4 minutes of clock before they put up a field goal to make it a 13-point game.  We were able to finally produce a balanced touchdown drive to make it a 6-point game (30 yards rushing, 19 yards passing, 22 defensive penalty yards), but I gotta think the Ducks were in a clock-killing defense, and that drive certainly killed a lot of clock (little over five minutes, leaving us 3:35 and 1 time out, to get the ball back).  By the time we got the ball back, there was 1:11 left in the game (thanks to the Ducks foolishly throwing the ball incomplete on third down), but we needed to go 80 yards, with our backup quarterback in there (because Browning had injured his shoulder on the previous drive), and it just wasn’t going to happen.

A little more running the ball, and a better form of passing game, might have done the trick in this one.  I won’t belabor the fact that I hate the bubble screen with every fiber of my being, but it’s just got to go (or, at least, be devalued in favor of more down-field throwing – at least until defenses stop expecting it on every fucking play).  And what the fuck was with that time out called early in the second half, when we were just going to punt the ball anyway?  Take the God damned delay of game penalty!  ALWAYS take the God damned delay of game penalty when you’re expecting a close finish against a tough team and you’re just going to punt regardless!  Had the Ducks not been morons, they could have run the ball down to about 45 seconds or so before punting.  An extra time out could’ve meant the difference between pushing the ball downfield for a realistic shot at the endzone, vs. K.J. Carta-Samuels throwing something of a desperation heave down to the Ducks’ 35 yard line that was easily picked off.

After a weekend like that, getting the Seahawks’ Thursday Night game this week couldn’t have come at a worse time.  I’d almost rather do anything else with my evening tomorrow than watch another team I root for try to play football.  It’s too damn soon.  The taste of warm, gooey dogshit is still coating the inside of my mouth.  Beyond that, in three days I get to fly down to the Bay Area to watch the Huskies get stomped to death by Stanford in person.  If it weren’t for the late start time, and a day full of tailgating/drinking, I don’t know how I’d survive.