It took UCLA head coach Jim Mora one season to guide his team to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham needed just two. With his track record and the right pieces in place, new Washington head coach Chris Petersen could be the conference's next immediate success story.
Washington officially introduced Petersen as its head coach at a press conference Monday, and he avoided the usual rhetoric new Pac-12 hires spew about winning championships and chasing Rose Bowls. However, he pointed out via GoHuskies.com the "great job of building" the program back to respectability that predecessor Steve Sarkisian did in the previous five years.
The circumstances for Petersen's departure were right, as he noted in roundabout fashion Monday. He was asked if he would have considered the job in 2008, when Washington was coming off an 0-12 finish. His response was predictably noncommittal, but he was much more direct when assessing what he inherits now.
“Well-coached, tough, hard-nosed kids with a lot of talent,” is how Petersen described the Huskies.
That bevy of talent makes for a situation reminiscent of what Mora and Graham came into upon their arrivals in the Pac-12.
With USC going through a rough spell, UCLA and Arizona State capitalized on an opportunity in the South. The North has clear front-runners in Oregon and Stanford. But that doesn't mean it won't be in play immediately for Washington.
The Cardinal and Ducks are the class of the division and the conference, but each lost two conference games this season. Each is built for another run at the top in 2014, but Petersen is facing a gap that's been narrowed from just a few years ago.
Washington played Stanford to the last possession this past season and knocked the Cardinal off in 2012. Petersen's team gets two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford at Husky Stadium, a renovated palace for the Huskies and a house of horrors for visitors.
"[Husky Stadium] is one of the reasons I’m here, and I mean that," Petersen said. "There’s not a better [environment] in college football."
Petersen saw firsthand its impact, coaching on the opposite sideline at the venue's grand re-opening this August, a 38-6 Washington victory over Boise State.
With a capacity of just more than 70,000 and a boisterous fanbase, Husky Stadium's earned a reputation as one of the most difficult places for visiting teams to play in the nation, let alone the Pac-12. And if there's a coach who knows about home-field advantages, it's Petersen.
Boise State was perfect at Bronco Stadium for the entirety of Petersen's first five years as head coach, and most of his sixth campaign.
Catching Oregon is a more pressing concern—not just from the standpoint of conference contention, but because of the lopsidedness in what is one of the Pac-12's more bitter rivalries.
Oregon's won every meeting since 2004, all by at least 17 points. Few measures are as indicative of Washington's fall from the conference's upper echelon. Conversely, Petersen is 2-0 against the Ducks.
"Do we have to start that already," Petersen jokingly asked when the subject of the rivalry was broached.
It is one of the victories Petersen can score in his first year that would make the most resounding statement, though. It's also a roadblock Washington must overcome to shift the balance of power in the Pac-12.