Which Pac-12 Football Program Is Headed in the Wrong Direction?

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterApril 10, 2013

Washington Husky mascot "Dubs"
Washington Husky mascot "Dubs"Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Twelve years.

That's how long it's been since the Washington Huskies have appeared in a Rose Bowl game. That number also represents a span of time in which Seattle has seen four different college football head coaches, two Holiday Bowls, one Sun Bowl, one Alamo Bowl and one Maaco Bowl Las Vegas.

For some teams, seven bowls in 12 years is a pretty successful run. Four head coaches in 13 years? Well...not so much. Washington is yet again at another turning point in the football program's direction, only this time it's under head coach Steve Sarkisian.

And the program's current location status? At the intersection of Mediocrity Street and Winners Boulevard. Which way will Washington turn? 

Sarkisian is now in his fifth year at Washington and five years is about the time when an athletic director decides whether or not his head coach is making a positive impact on the football program.

Sarkisian's overall record at Washington is 26-25, including a 1-2 bowl record. Last season's 7-6 record included a 41-3 blowout loss to LSU and three consecutive losses to Oregon, USC and Arizona.

The Huskies finished the 2012 season with a whimper, losing to Washington State in the Apple Cup and Boise State in the Maaco Bowl.  

Sarkisian has reeled in some elite talent, but that's probably not enough unless a seven-win season cap sates Husky fans. He has notched three consecutive 7-6 seasons after starting out his first year with a 5-7 record. But again, he has recruited well and even lured Cal's Tosh Lupoi to his staff—Lupoi graduated from Cal and spent his entire six years of coaching at Berkeley.

Lupoi is approaching legend status in the college football world of recruiting and he proved his mettle last year when he recruited 5-star safety—and rated No. 1 by position (per Rivals.com)—Shaq Thompson out of Sacramento, CA. Thompson had been a verbal commit to Cal's class of 2012, but Lupoi flipped the highly coveted safety to Washington after joining the Huskies' staff last year.

So, yes, the Huskies' recruiting has certainly improved from five years ago. 

Sarkisian's first class was ranked No. 75, but since the newly hired head coach had only two months to recruit, he generally wasn't considered responsible for that dismal ranking. The class of 2010 was ranked No. 14 while the next two classes were ranked No. 24 and No. 23

To be fair, the Huskies aren't going in the wrong direction per se, because Sarkisian is consistently hauling in Top 25 recruiting classes. But he's also consistently turning in 7-6 seasons.

Remember, Charlie Weis was a hell of a recruiter at Notre Dame, but despite recognizing great talent, he didn't develop it.

The Huskies are not going in any direction other than sideways—and in a sense, that's the wrong direction.

Sarkisian is a nice guy with a deep voice that reverberates in rooms—his passion and excitement for college football coupled with his recruiting successes are well-documented. So much so that Washington gave Sarkisian a contract extension through 2015 after the Huskies went 7-6 in 2010. It was the program's first winning season in eight years.

This season, the Huskies return nine offensive starters and seven defensive starters—the pieces are in place for a run at the roses. "Pasadena, Calif." should be entered on every player's iPhone reminders for January 1, 2013.

I've got Washington circled as my Pac-12 surprise team of 2013, but I'll be the first to admit I'm not confident about that because, so far, I haven't seen a season performance trending upward. 2012 ended poorly.

And 2013 starts with Boise State, the same team that beat Washington 28-26 in the 2012 Maaco Bowl Las Vegas. It's the first game of the year and could very well tell us everything we need to know about the Washington Huskies' 2013 season despite the Broncos being a non-conference opponent.

Win and the season could end rosy. Lose and it may be time to make plans for another December bowl. 

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward is banking on Sarkisian taking the Huskies to a Rose Bowl game in the near future. That goal must become a reality in the next three years. 

Anything less than a Rose Bowl berth will mean that the Huskies will have continued to traverse their path—instead of carving out a new one to Pasadena—in the quest to return to prominence in the Pac-12.

Recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.


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