The Huskies Won The Apple Cup (Yet Again), Play For The Pac-12 Championship

Sorry Seahawks, but when my team beats the Cougs for the Pac-12 North championship, they get the coveted Monday post!

So yeah, no, I didn’t have a ton of confidence in the Huskies last Friday.  We’ve looked pretty stagnant most of the year – particularly on offense – and we’ve lost a couple games we had no business losing.  Auburn stinks, and that ends up going down as just a painfully bad loss.  Oregon is mediocre at best and that game was absolutely within our grasp.  And I’ll never understand what happened at Cal, but holy hell was that a miserable day.  It all sort of boils down to a senior quarterback never progressing beyond his sophomore year, and a championship-contending team breaking in new play-callers on offense and defense.  Just a fundamental breakdown on all levels.

Meanwhile, there were the Cougars, one loss on the year at USC that probably shouldn’t have been a loss.  Sure, they played nothing but cupcakes in the non-conference slate, but at every turn where the Cougs normally Coug it up, instead they found ways to win.  They endured Utah (which is all you can ever really do with Utah, be it the college football team or the state and its peoples), they dominated Oregon with the light of the nation shining down upon them, then they followed that up with a powerful road win against Stanford.  They took care of business against Cal, that game at Colorado could’ve been a prime Couging opportunity (but instead they won so bad the Buffs fired their head coach), and they destroyed the Wildcats to put themselves in a VERY outside chance of cracking the Top 4.  I still believe that even if the Cougars had won the Apple Cup – even if they’d crushed us – Ohio State would still leap over them in the next rankings, but we’ll never know.  The point is, the fact that the Cougars were so close to the ultimate glory really says a lot about this year’s team.

I know that the Huskies are the HUSKIES and the Cougars are our little buddy or whatever, but if there was ever a year where the David might slay the Goliath, I thought this might be the year.  I’ll admit it, I bought into the hype.  If I was a Coug fan, I ABSOLUTELY would be one of those yahoos wearing the fake Gardner Minshew moustache.  That guy just seems like everything Luke Falk wasn’t:  a guy who could put it all together in a big game.

And we made him look like the Checkdowningest Charlie I’ve ever seen!  26/35 for a measly 152, with 0 TDs and 2 INTs.  What a breathtaking defensive performance, by an elite unit and from again, a first-year defensive play-caller in Jimmy Lake!

The Cougar running backs were their best players – James Williams scored both of their TDs and averaged 5.9 yards per rush – but since it’s a Mike Leach offense, of course their backs only rushed a combined 16 times!  Between JW and Max Borghi, they combined (rushing and receiving) for 164 out of 237 yards of total offense.  They led the team in receptions with 7 apiece, and yet I would argue they were still underutilized!  Mostly because there was probably another 100 yards of rushing they left on the field, but still.  I agree with the primary sentiment coming out of this game:  I hope Mike Leach never leaves!

For the Huskies, it was absolutely the Myles Gaskin show.  27 carries for 170 yards and 3 TDs.  I am SO going to miss this kid, it’s not even funny.  He is everything you could ever want out of a running back.  4 straight 1,000-yard seasons.  I mean, just the fact that he stayed for his senior year says a lot.  What a true, hall of fame Washington Husky!  I mean, I’m ready to retire his number and hang his jersey right now!  Do we even do that?  I dunno, but we should!  And we should start with #9.

Hunter Bryant came alive for 108 yards and a TD on 3 receptions.  After a miserable, injury-riddled season, it’s nice to see him finish with a flourish.  We’ll need him next week and beyond as well, so it’s good to get him into the flow of the offense while we still have him.

Andre Baccellia was, I thought, an under-the-radar MVP of this game.  He doesn’t get the pub of a lot of guys in this offense, but he had 5 catches for 89 yards, and they were all seemingly in huge situations!  I like where this receiver group is at for next year, I’ll tell you that much.

On the defensive side of the ball, I’m starting with Greg Gaines, who was a manimal in the middle.  He ended up with a sack and a few tackles, but he was impactful all night.

Joe Tryon was a name I didn’t recognize, but he had a sack and looked to create a lot of pressure off the end.  If he’s someone we can count on next year, that would really be something.

Finally, BBK, Taylor Rapp, and the rest of that Death Row squad, I can’t wait for you guys to tear shit up at the next level (but, if a few of you underclassmen wanted to stay one more year, I’d love you all the more).

All told, it added up to a snowy 28 to 15 victory in Pullman.  That’s a game I won’t soon forget!

Now it’s on to Santa Clara, where we have a date with the Utah Utes.  Recall we beat them 21-7 in Utah in week 3.  It’s been a long time since that one, and I don’t think things have gotten any easier.  They ended up 9-3, losing to both Washington schools as well as at ASU.  They’re on a 7-1 streak though, and came out of a poor Pac-12 South pretty easily.

Washington lucked out, in that we had an extra day to prepare for them, as they had already locked up the South and had a game against BYU on Saturday.  Considering the Pac-12 Championship Game is on Friday at 5pm for some reason (I guess the Pac-12 doesn’t like eyeballs on their marquee football teams), I’d say we have a marginal edge.

I think the Huskies SHOULD win, but obviously nothing is a given with this team.  Utah and Washington have the two best defenses by a mile in this conference, so I wouldn’t expect a ton of points.  Being clean on special teams is going to be paramount.  Ultimately, it’ll come down to a few big plays, and it’ll come down to which teams make those big plays.  Expect a frustrating, early bone-headed interception by senior quarterback Jake Browning (or, maybe just to fuck with our minds, a LATE bone-headed interception).  But, hopefully we can get Gaskin going and overcome.

I’ll predict a 22-21 Husky victory, as we go for 2 to play for the Rose Bowl at the end of the game.

The Huskies Won & Now We Have The Apple Cup To End All Apple Cups

The Huskies beat the Beavers 42-23.  I went to that game, thanks to a free ticket from a friend; I’m pretty sure we got there midway through the first quarter and by the end it was 28-3 and I was thoroughly checked out.  We spent, I want to say, most of the second quarter in a beer garden next to The Zone, and I think I was on my way out of the stadium before halftime.

Listen, this game was always going to be a walk-over, and really this was a day to spend with friends at our final tailgate of the season, as well as saying goodbye to the current incarnation of Dubs, WHO IS A VERY GOOD BOY YES HE IS YES HE IS!

This was all a nice little ramp-back-up for the ultimate showdown.  This year’s Apple Cup will decide who plays for the Pac-12 North, which for all intents and purposes means it will decide who plays for the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl (because, as usual, the Pac-12 South is a garbage fire).

The Huskies are 8-3 (6-2 in conference).  The Cougars are 10-1 (7-1 in conference).  With no third team involved, this is it.  All the marbles.

The Cougars are favored, as they should be.  They’re at home, but more importantly, they’ve been FANTASTIC this season.  Every time I think they’re gonna coug it, they turn that notion on its head.  In fact, if it weren’t for the Pac-12 Refs couging it in that USC game, they might be undefeated and in contention for a playoff spot.  Seriously, at the very least – if they were undefeated right now – they’d be ranked 5th, and when Michigan loses to Ohio State this week, that’s their opening!  With 1 loss, even if the Cougs win out, there’s just no way.  Notre Dame isn’t losing, Clemson isn’t losing, and even if Bama loses they’d still get in there.  Either Michigan wins out to take the final spot, or Ohio State leapfrogs everyone to get in there.

But, that’s neither here nor there.  This week, it’s all about the apples.

Washington hasn’t lost this game since 2012.  I can’t even remember the last time this game had so much riding on the line for both teams.  It might be as far back as the 1981 season.  The Huskies, under Don James, were 5-2 in conference at the time, looking to go back to their second straight Rose Bowl.  The Cougars, under Jim Walden, were 5-1-1 in conference at the time, looking to go to their first Rose Bowl in 51 years.  The game was played in Husky Stadium and the Huskies prevailed 23-10.  We’d go on to beat Iowa in the Rose Bowl, while the Cougars lost to BYU in the Holiday Bowl.

Is there a chance history repeats itself?  Boy, wouldn’t that be nice.

For what it’s worth, I know I should be more confident in the Huskies, but this just doesn’t feel like our year.  We’ve struggled to incorporate a brand new offensive coordinator, our senior quarterback hasn’t progressed the way we’d hoped, we have no pass rush to speak of, our defense might be overrated, and I think the coaching in general has been a little suspect at times.  It all boils down to the fact that the Huskies just might not be that good this year.  It’s okay.  They’re not always going to be like 2016.

Fortunes shine on the lucky sometimes, and the Cougars couldn’t be more fortunate with their scheduling.  They played a less-than-nothing non-conference slate.  They got all the best Pac-12 teams to come to Pullman (Utah, Oregon, Washington, Cal) and of their two tough road games, they lost to USC and the only really impressive win of their season game at Stanford a week after their tremendous home coronation against the Ducks.  So, while it’s been impressive to see them not-coug it week-in and week-out, what’s left to wonder is:  How good are the Cougars, really?

If there’s ever been a team built to beat the Cougars, it’s the Huskies.  Since Coach Pete got here in 2014, we’ve been undefeated against them (a point of pride, in that Luke Falk went winless in his entire tenure with the Cougs).  Now, obviously, Gardner Minshew is a million times better than Falk, but the offense is still that of Mike Leach, and we’ve still got one of the best secondaries in the nation.  I don’t remember sacks being a huge part of our game in these last few Apple Cups; what I do remember is a lot of errant throws and Cougar drives ending in punts.

Ultimately, I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other about the game this Friday.  Gun to my head, I think the Cougs win it in a close one.  But, nothing would surprise me, not even another Husky blowout.  Which, if that’s the case, we’ll get to stop and smell the roses again VERY soon.

The Huskies Climbed Back Into Rose Bowl Contention

I love Seahawks BYE weeks, if for no other reason than my beloved Dawgs get to enjoy the Monday spot on my blog.

It was a nice, if sloppy, bounce-back win for the Huskies, as they took care of business against a clearly-inferior opponent.  There were still enough cracks in our own team – on both sides of the ball – to be concerned going forward.  But, this is obviously a win we needed to have, and it keeps hope alive for at least one more week.

My day started out in Seattle bright and early.  There wasn’t any tailgating this week, so I met up at a buddy’s apartment for some pre-game IPA’s before we hit up the light rail to the stadium.  I’m just gonna say this about that:  whoever designed the University of Washington station did SUCH a pisspoor job of designing it.  They need, easily, like 4 more escalator bays; even if they’re not always open and running every day of the week, at least for gamedays.  They didn’t account for the crowds that would 1) show up for Husky football games and 2) use the light rail to get there.  But, it’s a fucking mess.  They can’t let too many people use the too-few escalators at once, otherwise they’ll break down.  So, there are HUGE lines going both up (pre-game) and down (post-game).  And, for whatever reason, they won’t open up the stairwells for fit people with functioning legs to walk up, because they don’t have enough security?  What the shit is that?  Do they think the stairwells are just going to be a kill-crazy free-for-all?  Are Seattleites running a Purge just in the UW lightrail station stairwells?  And, particularly for post-game, would it kill them to put additional cars on these trains to get us out of there in a timely fashion?  As it is, they’re doing the best they can, but they weren’t exactly supplied with all the resources they needed to make this a seamless transition.  You’re hoping that the people will use these modes of transportation to get to places … well, it needs to be a better experience if you want us to CONTINUE using these trains!

Anyway, after that first world problem was somehow conquered, my friends and I were in need of alcohol to soothe our jangled nerves.  Luckily, Husky Stadium now sells alcohol, albeit in certain specific locations.  The Zone is dead to me now, as you apparently need to buy a pass just to get into the area where you buy more food and alcohol.  Any way they can nickel and dime the fans, I suppose.  So, we went to this little beer garden inside the stadium; I guess it’s called Off Leash?  Some kind of play on the whole dawg theme?  Like, dogs take off their leashes and get plastered?

Long story short, we missed most of the first quarter (I wouldn’t say we were missing it, Bob).  The Huskies got the ball first, punted, and Colorado promptly went down and scored, making it 7-0 and making it look easy.  The Huskies finally got their shit together, and had a 14-13 lead heading into halftime.

The defense totally took over the game in the second half, as Colorado didn’t score the rest of the game.  But, the offense struggled to really put them away until late in the contest, finally prevailing 27-13.  Nevertheless, we failed to cover the 17-point spread, and the offense didn’t look particularly great.

Jake Browning didn’t have a whole lot going in this one.  Part of the problem was drops, but also he was wildly off-target on a few as well.  In spite of Gaskin being given the day off (I assume to rest his injured shoulder), the running game did their job.  We ran for 201 yards on a whopping 40 carries, with three different backs sharing the load.

Defensively, we tackled much better today than we have in weeks.  We still didn’t get much in the way of pressure, and are in desperate need for edge rushers to step up in 2018 (it needs to be a point of emphasis for next year as well).  The usual suspects stood out:  BBK led the team in tackles with 15, Greg Gaines was a force in the middle, our secondary made a number of sick plays as we held them to 144 yards passing on 17/28 with a TD and a pick.  But, I wanted to point out number 95, who I noticed flashed on a number of plays in the middle, Levi Onwuzurike, a Sophomore out of Texas.  He had 4 tackles (2 for loss) and our lone sack of the game, in what looked like pretty limited duty.  Gaines is a Senior this year and will be going to the League, so it’s nice to see our interior is in good hands.  I look forward to Levi having a bigger workload next year and REALLY making his presence felt.  When he becomes The Man, don’t forget who pointed it out first!  (it probably was someone who’s much smarter than me and knows a lot more about the Huskies, but I’m also a person!).

Our Saturday got better and better.  Post-game, we went back to my buddy’s apartment to eat some pizza and drink some beer and watch the Cougs take on the Ducks.  And yes, drunken Coug fan with the awesome sign, the Ducks DO Quack Under Pressure!

Thanks to the Huskies blowing it last week, Washington State got to host ESPN Gameday for the first time ever.  And, it looked like the party to end all parties.

The Cougs jumped out to a 27-0 lead at halftime, which only set up the Ultimate Couging Scenario.  Oregon proceeded to mount a comeback in the second half we all knew was coming.  They managed to get it to 27-20 with just under 7 minutes to go in the game; plenty of time to finish the Cougening.  Wazzu started at their own 25 and got down to Oregon’s 34 when it was 4th & 6.  On the previous drive, the Cougs got down to Oregon’s 42 with a 4th & 3 and opted to punt, so I was sure they were going to do something similarly stupid.  At this point (of the 4th & 6), there was just under 5 minutes to go in the game, and thankfully they went for it.  Why punt on 4th & 3 but go for it later on 4th & 6?  Well, according to the announcers, it’s easier for an Air Raid offense to get 8 yards than it is to get 3, so maybe we WEREN’T listening to the dumbest men on the planet call this game?  I would’ve said it was shoddy game management on the part of Mike Leach, but what do I know?

Anyway, thankfully, the Cougs converted that drive into a touchdown and won 34-20.  So, now the Huskies are back atop the Pac-12 North with a 4-1 record.  WSU and Stanford are right behind us at 3-1 (with Oregon at 2-2 – SUCK IT DUCKS!).  We host Stanford in a couple weeks and we go to Pullman for the Apple Cup at the end of the season.  In short, we control our own destiny.

A road game against Cal is on the horizon this Saturday.  The Golden Bears are not there yet, so this is a game we should handily win.  Cal’s only claim to fame is an early victory over BYU, back when we thought BYU was actually worth a damn.  Cal is coming off a drubbing of OSU, so they should be well-rested and confident.

The Cougs overtook the Huskies in the AP rankings, which was a possibility that had occurred to me on Saturday, but wasn’t one I took very seriously.  We’re still ahead of them in the Coaches Poll, but it obviously doesn’t matter, since no team from the Pac-12 will be representing the conference in the playoffs.  Anytime college football wants to expand the playoffs to 8 teams (with each major conference getting a guaranteed slot) will be okay with me.

Until then, eyes on the prize:  Rose Bowl or Bust.

I’m Not So Sure About This Year’s Apple Cup

I normally throw up a Seahawks preview on Fridays, but they’re playing the 49ers, we’re apparently NOT going to see the start of the Jimmy Garoppolo Era, and so I couldn’t care any less.  Therefore, I’m gonna take a look at tomorrow’s Apple Cup.

So, this game is a pretty big deal!  In the Pac-12 South, USC has predictably run away with it and has secured its spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.  In the Pac-12 North, there are currently three teams with 2 conference losses:  Stanford, Washington, and Washington State.  Stanford, at 7-2, is finished with conference play, and by virtue of having beaten Washington, has effectively eliminated the Huskies from an opportunity at winning the conference.

The Cougs, however, by virtue of having beaten Stanford, only needs to win the Apple Cup this weekend to secure its spot in the conference title game.

In short:  Huskies win tomorrow, Stanford moves on; Cougars win tomorrow, Cougars move on.

So, yeah, in one sense, the Huskies have nothing to play for.  But, it’s still a football game, it’s the final game a lot of these players (particularly the seniors) will play at home, and while there isn’t much satisfaction to be gleaned from playing spoiler, it would still be pretty funny to dash the hopes of Cougars everywhere.

Ultimately, though, I just don’t know how much I can get up for this one.  First and foremost, we’re just two weeks removed from the Cardinal ruining our season.  In a hypothetical universe where the Huskies are still a 1-loss team, I have to imagine we’d be on the outside looking in on a College Football Playoffs Top 4, but we’d still be right there in the conversation.  Top 7, top 8 at the worst, with various rivalry games and conference championship games left to play.  In this scenario, if the Huskies win the Apple Cup, then beat a very good USC team … you never know.  Anything could happen!

So, like I said, we’re just two weeks removed from Stanford taking all of that excitement away from us … and now if we beat the Cougs we’d be HELPING them to a conference title game appearance.  I mean, FUCK those guys!  If I’m being perfectly honest, I would RATHER have the Cougs in the Pac-12 title game than Stanford.  Shit man, the more I think about how many road games I’ve attended in their crappy fucking stadium – all of them DEVASTATING losses – and the more I think about all the quality offensive linemen they’ve stolen from our backyard because they’re the “Harvard of the West Coast” or whatever bullshit moniker they’re rolling with to try to make their overrated school look better; the more I think about their obnoxious head coach (a deciple of the even MORE obnoxious Jim Harbaugh, I might add), the more I want the Huskies to tank this game tomorrow and let the Cougs stroll to a Pac-12 North championship.

It’s tough.  A real catch-22.  Because it’s not like I can just put my allegiances aside for three hours!  The upside of a Husky defeat is we get to screw Stanford, who screwed us first, so it’s the perfect revenge.  The upside of a Husky victory is, what?  Continued dominance over our in-state little brother school?  I get to lord our superiority over my Cougar friends?  Where’s the fun in that?  That’s more of a Stanford thing to do, anyway!  I’d be becoming everything I hate!

Plus, I mean, come on, we’re the Washington Huskies, IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING we’re better than the Cougs!  We don’t need to win one measly little Apple Cup in a meaningless season to prove that!  On the flipside, if they were to beat us, just imagine how much they’ll get to crow about it.  They’ll get all big for their britches, and it’ll be all the sweeter when we smack their asses down next year.

As for my prediction, I will say that while I would prefer to be in their position (having something to play for), I do like that the pressure is all on the Cougs.  They’re on the road, where they’ve been significantly worse this season, and they’ve got to beat a still-very-good Husky team to get to where they want to go.  But, honestly, beyond the psychological and home-field advantages, I think the edge is all in Wazzu’s favor.

Wazzu has the better quarterback; Jake Browning has not only not progressed this year, he’s actually RE-gressed.  While Luke Falk has been benched a couple times, I would argue that adversity has made him a better, sharper player.  Jake Browning, after winning the job as a true Freshman, has never had ANYONE nipping at his heels to steal his job, which makes me really wonder if he’s grown complacent.  I think Falk will be on his game from the get-go.  He’s a Senior, he’s played everywhere, and I don’t think this environment will be too big for him.

Wazzu, I would argue, also has the better defense, which is really saying something.  The Cougs have been pretty remarkable on defense since Mike Leach took over, which is not something I ever would’ve expected.  I remember his Texas Tech days where both teams would score 30+ points pretty regularly.  At Washington State, his defenses have been pretty stout … with the exception of when playing in the Apple Cup.  To wit:

  • 2012 – Huskies scored 28
  • 2013 – Huskies scored 27
  • 2014 – Huskies scored 31
  • 2015 – Huskies scored 45
  • 2016 – Huskies scored 45

But, something tells me this year’s Huskies won’t be putting up points in bunches like in years past.  Browning, as I noted, has regressed.  The offensive line isn’t the strength we all expected it to be.  None of the receivers outside of Dante Pettis have shown up to play this year.  And, if the Huskies can’t get their running game going, it will be a LONG day.  The Cougs also have one of the best D-Linemen in all of college football, probably the only other interior player to rival Vita Vea in sheer strength and explosiveness.  The Huskies, by contrast, are supremely banged up on defense – particularly in the secondary – and have given up 30 points in back-to-back weeks to the likes of Stanford and Utah (not exactly the most overwhelming offenses in the Pac-12).  Things are trending downward for this unit, and I just don’t trust them against a passing attack like Wazzu’s, who feast on quick throws.  I can see the Cougs converting a ton of third/fourth downs (just like Stanford and Utah) and tiring out this Husky unit.

Sure, the Huskies have the edge in Special Teams, and probably the run game, but I think it’s easy enough to neutralize both.  Kick away from Pettis; kick it out of bounds if you have to!  Done.  Line up Hercules Mata’afa on the interior of the D-Line and let him go to town on our over-matched guards; that should settle Myles Gaskin’s hash pretty good.

In short, do I think the Huskies can make it 5 Apple Cups in a row?  No.  I know Vegas loves the Huskies, and I know the analytics love the Huskies, but I just don’t see it.  If you sat me down in a sportsbook right now, pointed a gun to my head, and told me to bet my family’s farm, I’d put the deed on the Cougs and I wouldn’t even ask for points.

So, good news Dawg fans!  As I’m frequently wrong in my gut-assessments, this should be a no-brainer Husky victory!  All I know is, I’ve watched a lot of football in my day, and I know when one team is clearly better than the other.  I think, this time, the Cougs are just plain better, and they have plenty of talent (on top of motivation) to win this game pretty handily.

Come Saturday evening, I’ll either be happy because the Huskies won, or I’ll be happy because Stanford can go fuck itself.  This is shaping up to be a nice little day!

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.

Apple Cup 2012: Black Friday Blues

I hate that this game is today.  I hate that this game is being played at 12:30.  I hate that I have to work today, DVR the game, and wait until tonight to watch.

There’s no reason to be thankful for this abomination, but such is the world we live in, where television rights dictate when games are played.  If you praise the Pac-12 for all the millions it raked in with its latest TV deal, then you have to accept a few Post-Thanksgiving 12:30 games.  You sign a deal with the devil to try to get ahead in life, but there are always drawbacks.  This situation is no different.

Of course, I’m sure the players don’t care.  They just want to get out there and bust some heads.

The Huskies are essentially playing for nothing today.  They’re bowl eligible, they got their 7th win just to ensure they actually guarantee themselves a bowl, and really, they have no reason to play this game.  A win won’t move the Huskies into a better bowl; they’re either going to play in the Sun, the Vegas, or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.  At the worst, a loss might knock them down to the New Mexico Bowl, but really what have you lost at that point?  If you’re not in one of the top 3 bowls (Rose, Alamo, Holiday), you’re really not in any kind of national spotlight.

The Cougars, on the other hand, have just about everything to play for.  They currently sit dead-last in the Pac-12, with an 0-8 conference record.  Yes, even worse than Colorado (who beat them back in September).  New head coach Mike Leach, supposedly a savior who would bring back some flash and sizzle to the Cougar program in desperate need of shaking up, has seriously underwhelmed and is already embroiled in a scandal involving a disgruntled former player.  A win in the Apple Cup could single-handedly make this year a rip-roaring success and secure Leach’s job security for at least the duration of his contract.

Obviously, the standards for Wazzu are much lower than they are at Washington, but you take what you can get if you’re a long-suffering Cougar fan.

Granted, a Cougar win wouldn’t be as satisfying as it would be if it prevented Washington from a chance at playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game, or if it prevented Washington from going to a bowl game at all, but it would still vindicate Leach’s hiring and the job he’s done this season.  A Cougar win means that Leach can say, “We struggled, but we improved as the season went on, culminating in a victory over a top-25 BCS-ranked opponent.”  Once he’s able to rid his team of the garbage left over from the Paul Wulff regime, and once he gets his type of guys in there, watch out.

The best way to prevent that from happening, the best way to keep Mike Leach from turning that program around and giving the Pac-12 fits for years to come, is for the Huskies to win this game today.  So, in that sense, there IS something to play for.  We’re playing for the future of the conference, and for the future of Washington football specifically.

Because on the flipside, what happens if Washington goes Martin Stadium today and rolls over the Cougars by 30 points?  That means the Cougs would have been blown out in 3 of their final 4 games.  That means the Cougs will end the season on a 9-game losing streak, all of them in conference to finish 0-9 in the Pac-12.  Does that mean Leach gets fired after the season?  Well, if this whole Marquess Wilson fiasco comes unhinged and they find there really was abuse by Leach and his staff (especially considering that’s how things ended for him at Texas Tech), I think that’s definitely a possibility.  How does a program recover from THAT?  Burning through two head coaches the past two years?  That might be worse than NCAA sanctions!

But, forget all that.  What are we looking at today?  Well, we’re looking at a Washington State team that averages 30 yards rushing per game.  30!  They’re 10th in the NCAA in passing yards, but they still average less than 20 points per game.  And their defense?  Forget it!  Sankey should be able to run all over this defense.  Price should be able to have an outstanding game.  They have no one to cover ASJ, so expect him to have a monster game.

Our defense, on the other hand, is quite stout.  Our passing defense, especially, is one of the best in college football.  The Cougs do have a veteran of sorts starting today in Jeff Tuel, which really is the only thing that concerns me.  He’s a senior looking for his first Apple Cup victory.  And I don’t think anyone forgets how the Cougs almost came all the way back in 2010 to narrowly lose in one of the more exciting Apple Cups in recent memory.  Tuel was a major part of that game being so close (when the Huskies were big favorites, much like today).  25 for 35, 298 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. 

Tuel has played somewhat sparingly this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s played poorly.  I would look for him to try to make a statement today.  To go out on a high note.  To show this Cougar coaching staff what they’ve missed all along by not keeping him as the starter.  Often, a college career can be defined by one dynamic game.  What better day than today, in his final college game?

I’m confident in a Husky win, but let’s just say I’m not OVERLY confident.  We’ll save that for later, when I’ve consumed sufficent liquid courage.  God Awgs!

WSU Hires Leach; UW Commences Sarcastic Boots Shaking

I’m still trying to lock down my official opinion of Mike Leach.  Overall, I think it’s generally positive.  Yeah, he allegedly kidnapped and tortured some player who defied him (or something to that effect or another), so I guess that would fall under his coaching umbrella (to say nothing of his personal demeanor & personality, which I understand to be batshit crazy), but as a play-caller and a leader of men who score a shitload of points, I would say he’s pretty impressive.

But, I’ll say this without equivocation:  I would much rather have Sark on my side than Leach.

Sark strikes me as more of a full-fledged head coach.  Leach strikes me as a sometimes-dominant offensive coordinator (sort of a Mike Martz type).  I feel like Sark could take any type of offensive talent and mold him into a winner; whereas I feel like Leach requires a very-specific type of talent to fit into his system, otherwise he’s going to sputter and flail (again, like Mike Martz).  Just looking at Keith Price alone, you’d think Sark is a quality educator of the game of football; but, look at what he accomplished in two seasons with Jake Locker and you can see:  Sark is like some kind of miracle worker!  He helped mold the kid into an 8th overall draft pick!  He’s currently running with Price, taking him from obscurity to Pac-12 dominance!

It’ll be interesting to compare the two in a few years.  Who has more Pros playing in the NFL?  Who has more QUALITY Pros?

Are you a quarterback and want to play in the NFL?  Come play for Coach Sark.  He’s already helped mold two Top 10 draft picks.  How many has Leach had even get DRAFTED, let alone stick?  You could argue that the numbers his receivers will put up will give him an advantage with the wideouts, but again:  would you rather play for a Pro Style offense that will better prepare you for the next level?  Or, would you rather play for a gimicky offense that generates gaudy numbers and no substance?

Honestly, I don’t know if most high schoolers are capable of distinguishing the two.  You gotta think quite a few of them will pick gaudy over substance.  Ultimately, it’s going to come down to Wins & Losses.  I mean, you gotta play for this school for 3-4 years; do you want to be a quality player on a bad team, or do you want to contend for conference championships?

In that regard, you gotta think UW has the advantage, but the proof will be played out on the field.

Leach isn’t exactly inheriting the same team Paul Wulff inherited; he’s not saddled with a roster full of scrubs.  He not only has the advantage of taking over a team on the cusp of winning more games than they lose, but he’s got the cache of being a big-name head coach, which will instantly generate the kind of positive buzz Paul Wulff never could’ve possibly dreamed of.

On the one hand, as a Husky fan, I’ll miss having the “Whipping Boys of the East” to kick around.  On the other hand, as a football fan, it’ll certainly be more interesting to have a direct rival that’s not completely inept.  A direct rival that can grow as we grow, from the depths of 2008 to an infinite world of possibility.  Let’s face it, Oregon can’t dodge sanctions forever.  Eventually, the NCAA will catch them on something big, and then it’ll be one of the Washington teams ready to step up and claim our rightful throne.

I anticipate that it’ll be UW regardless of who’s coaching WSU.  But, either way, it’ll be a series of more-satisfying victories in these upcoming Apple Cups when we’re beating a team that’s expecting greatness as opposed to dreading utter futility.

So, bring on the Mike Leach Era!  You don’t scare me!  Besides, he strikes me as the type of guy who will jump ship at the first sign of greener pastures.