Washington Huskies Football and Its "Quest for Mediocrity"

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Washington Huskies Football and Its
A couple days ago I posted my thoughts on BYU’s quest for perfection.  For the record, because I’ve mulled it over and done some heavy research on the subject (contrary to someone who shall remain nameless but DID respond to said post on this blog), BYU will not finish undefeated.
I have a lot of respect for Bronco Mendenhall and his ability to shape defenses.  I know that this defense, although young, isn’t going to be as bad as many think.  I’ve read reports from players who say this is the fastest defense BYU has had yet in the Mendenhall era.
But it is inexperienced.  I think at least once, maybe twice, but probably three times, it will falter, and BYU will lose.
The offense is great, we know that—but it’s not perfect.  Against good defenses last year (Utah and UCLA), it was shut down pretty effectively.  BYU won those games because the defense stepped up.
If those games happen again this year—and I anticipate they will—I just don’t think the defense will be able to step up.
Anyhow, for the purposes of THIS post, I’d like to post about my other favorite team—the University of Washington.
There’s no doubt this team DEFINITELY won’t be going undefeated.  But I was thinking about a possible slogan that would be suitable for them that they could have printed on T-shirts.
How about: “University of Washington Football: Where our quest is to just be mediocre.”
In 2004, the Huskies were 1-10 (0-8 in the Pac-10).  In 2005, they were 2-9 (1-7 in the Pac-10).  In 2006, they teased us with a 4-1 start out of the gate, including wins against UCLA and Arizona, but finished 5-7 (3-6 in the Pac-10).
Last year, they had Huskies fans hoping again after a blowout win at Syracuse and a tough, gritty win at home against Boise State.  But alas, they finished even worse than the year before, this time at 4-9 (2-7 in the Pac-10).
This year, it doesn’t look like things are going to be any easier, at least as far as the schedule goes.  With their first three games being at Oregon, BYU, and Oklahoma, this team could very easily start 0-3.
But what are the odds?  It’s coach Tyrone Willingham’s fourth year.  It’s phenom quarterback Jake Locker’s second.  The Huskies were said to have one of the best recruiting classes in all of college football last year.
Is this the season the Huskies finally reach mediocrity?
In a word...no.
As the eternal optimist, I want to stand up and shout, “Yes, of course they will.”  But I'm also the eternal realist.
The Huskies are going to start 0-3.  There’s little doubt about it.
Oregon lost QB Dennis Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart last year and will be lucky to finish in the top tier of the Pac-10.  But they are still better than Washington.
It’s the first game of the season, it’s at Autzen Stadium (somewhere the Huskies haven’t won since 2002), and it’s going to be in front of a nationally televised audience.  I’d just be happy if the Huskies kept it within 20.
Next up is BYU.  Everybody in Seattle laughs at BYU because of the conference it plays in.  Tack on the fact BYU hasn’t won a road game against a Pac-10 team in seven years, and this is almost a gimme.  But BYU’s offense is better right now than Washington’s.
I know the threat Locker presents.  But I also know that BYU has faced those quarterbacks before (how many times did they face that stupid triple option Air Force played?).  Of course, none of AFA’s quarterbacks were ever as good as Jake Locker.
The Cougars won’t stop Locker, but they’ll subdue him, which is basically all they need to do.  Locker’s pass efficiency was horrendous last year.  You almost don’t need to guard the wide receivers because he’s just going to overthrow them anyway.
UW hired a new defensive coordinator, which will help solve some of its problems this season.  But I really don’t expect those defensive schemes to just come out and work as well as they’ll need to in order to slow down Max Hall, Harvey Unga, Austin Collie, and Dennis Pitta.
Finally, we have Oklahoma to round out this horrible gauntlet the Huskies laid down for themselves.  I don’t even need to say anything.  Oklahoma by at least 25.
The next four games look a little better for UW: Stanford, at Arizona, Oregon State, and Notre Dame.
The Huskies beat the Cardinal 27-9 on the road last season.  I would be shocked if the Huskies didn’t get their first win of the season here.
Last season, the Huskies lost a 48-41 shootout to Arizona.  Once again, I’d like to believe the defense will be ready in this game—but I don’t.  They might keep it close, but in the end, Willie Tuitama will throw a two-yard screen pass that will end up being a 99-yard touchdown, and the Huskies will lose.
I can’t believe the Huskies haven’t beaten Oregon State since 2003.  When I was growing up, the Huskies may not have been the best, but AT LEAST you could count on them to take out the Beavers.  I think they’ll finally do it again this year.
Last year they almost beat them in Corvallis (and would have if Locker hadn’t have been so horrible before getting knocked out with a concussion in the first half).  Carl Bonnell came in and made it a game, almost pulling off the victory.  If Locker can do this year just HALF as good as Bonnell did through the air last year, the Huskies will win this game.
I also can’t believe there were actually coaches who voted for Notre Dame to be in the Top 25 this season.  How ridiculous is it that a team that goes 3-9 can garner so much respect?
I know, I know.  Jimmy Clausen is the next Matt Leinart.  But until he proves it, which I clearly don’t think he’ll do this year, the Fighting Irish are going to remain a joke.  I think UW actually wins this one in a rout.
Oh my goodness...that puts the Huskies at 3-4.  Just three more wins to mediocrity.
Well, getting closer won’t happen the following week.  The Huskies go to USC.  Perhaps Mark Sanchez will break his arm and the Trojans will only win by 35.
And it won’t be the next week after that (against Arizona State) or the week after THAT (against UCLA).  With Rudy Carpenter coming back for his senior year, I don’t think the Huskies are going to present much of a threat against the Sun Devils.  It’s sad because beating Arizona State would be one of those signature wins for Willingham that he could use to prove he’s turning the program around.  I think he’ll have to look elsewhere.
New UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who was fired by the University of Washington after the 2002 season, is going to want this game more than perhaps any other game on the schedule (except maybe USC).
Remember in ‘02 when Neuheisel had the Huskies players chanting, shouting, and dancing at the center of the field of Autzen Stadium in Eugene after the Huskies decimated the Ducks?  Then just one week later he had them doing the same thing at Martin Stadium in Pullman after the Huskies defeated then-No. 3 ranked Washington State.
I think that being fired from the University of Washington helped Neuheisel realize how much he needs to mature.  But after this game, I still don’t think he’s going to stop his players from having a big ol’ dance party on that big W in the center of Husky Stadium.
That leaves our beloved Huskies at 3-7 and no chance at mediocrity.  If it means anything, I think they’ll defeat Washington State and California on the road to finish the season.
Washington State is equally as horrendous as Washington, and they don’t even have Locker.  And California, especially its defense, just wasn’t very impressive last season.
So there you have it.  5-7.  If there’s any consolation, my predictions give the Huskies a mark of 4-5 in the conference, which is better than they’ve been under Willingham yet.
It’s sad that this team feels the need to keep scheduling such brutal non-conference schedules.  Doing so is throwing away almost any opportunity to go to a bowl game.
Last year, the Huskies were ranked as having the toughest schedule in all of Division I-A football, with non-conference games against Boise State and Ohio State.  This year, with BYU and Oklahoma, it’s not looking much better.
I know the Huskies think this will toughen their players, but it’s at the expense of Willingham's job.  He could be a very good coach, but giving him schedules like this makes it hard to tell.
It is amazing the amount of talent this team has though.  Freshman Chris Polk might be so fast even Locker won’t be able to overthrow him, sophomore running back Brandon Johnson might be the best running back the Huskies have had since Corey Dillon, and freshman tight end Kavario Middleton might be a future Top 10 draft pick.
But that’s a lot of “might be’s” that I don’t think the Huskies can rely on—not this year, at least.
I also just read a report today that E.J. Savannah, the team’s leading tackler last season, is ineligible this season for academic reasons.  I like to think even with the newness of much of the Huskies offense that they’ll be able to score a lot of points. But it’s really becoming scary how many they’ll give up.  Unless this new defensive coordinator has some amazing schemes, it could be VERY ugly.
Maybe things will get better in 2009 and 2010.  But then again, maybe they won’t.
Looking ahead to the Huskies' non-conference schedules for those two years, I see the Huskies are scheduled to play LSU, Notre Dame, and Idaho in ’09, and then BYU, Nebraska, and Syracuse in 2010.  Somebody, please, shoot this university’s athletic director.
In the end, it looks to be another sad season on Montlake for the Huskies.  Maybe some day they can be mediocre again.
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