Cougar Corner | Will Cougs and Dawgs Remain in Pac-10 Cellar?

Lew WrightSenior Writer IJuly 29, 2009

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  A Washington State Cougars helmet showing the initials of Pat Tillman next to the American flag during the Arizona State Sun Devils against Washington State Cougars Pac-10 game at Sun Devil Stadium/Frank Kush Field on November 13, 2004 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Washington State University and the University of Washington were the worst two football teams in the Pac-10 last season.

No question, confusion, or debate is necessary when evaluating what happened to the Cougs and the Dawgs last year.

When it comes to college football in the state of Washington, three words will fit nicely when mentioning 2008.

"Forget about it!"

With fall camp for both schools a couple of weeks away, fans across the Evergreen State are looking forward to better days.

The fortunes of Cougar and Husky football are like economic trends of late; we need some good news to get fired up again.

Heading into fall practice, there are a number of reasons to be excited about another season of Pac-10 football.

If you're willing to consider a reality check, there are just as many reasons to be prepared for another year of transition, rebuilding, acclamation, adjusting, and a variety of other adjectives.

The Cougs were 2-11 last year while the Dawgs finished 0-12. There's nowhere to go but up for both football programs. That begs the question, "Which school in Washington has made the right moves to step it up in the Pac-10?"

Husky Nation lost patience with Coach Ty Willingham's efforts to turn around a program that was in rough shape. Willingham is gone now.

Washington has a proud and storied history in the Pac-10. Sadly for Husky fans, that vanished with the departure of Coach Don James. Things haven't been the same in Seattle since he left college coaching.

Replacing Coach Willingham presented an opportunity to bring in an experienced college head coach with an established track record to bring back respectability to Husky football. Rather than go for experience, the UW administration settled for youth, potential, and looks.

Coach Steve Sarkisian comes to Washington with eight years of assistant coaching experience and one year as an assistant in the NFL with Oakland. He was part of Coach Pete Carroll's staff at USC helping, them to six Pac-10 titles and a national championship in 2003.

Coach Sarkisian has the look of a winner. As a quarterback at BYU, he led the Cougars to back-to-back WAC conference titles.

After USC logged two great seasons with Sarkisian mentoring Trojan quarterbacks, he jumped at the chance to join Coach Norv Turner in the NFL and coach quarterbacks for the Raiders. It took all of one season for him to sour on that job and return to USC. Oakland was a better passing team while Coach Sarkisian was there, but he decided a return to the college ranks might be a better career move.

When Oakland had a need to burn through another head coach, they interviewed Coach Sark for the job. That move enhanced his resume, but clearly wasn't going to be his next step in coaching.

Will Coach Sark bring his winning history to Washington?

Not this year.

Coach Sarkisian may have a very brief honeymoon period with Husky fans.

Washington has a brutal schedule once again this season. They have two chances of beginning the year any better than 1-3 with LSU, Idaho, USC, and Notre Dame as their first four games. You know what those chances are.

It will take all of the enthusiasm and youthful optimism Coach Sark can muster to convince his squad they can win more than two games for the balance of the season.

Chances are more likely the Huskies will mirror the season Coach Paul Wulff experienced his first year as the the head man at Washington State in 2008.

What is the likelihood WSU will improve on their disastrous season last year?

Coach Wulff and his staff need not impersonate snake oil salesmen when talking about Cougar football.

Last year, the Cougs had some talent on the roster, but overall size and speed wasn't Pac-10 caliber.

An aggressive offseason has changed the physical shape of WSU for the better.

Cougar players have bulked up through weight training and dedication.

Anyone who watched the Cougs workout this spring couldn't help but notice players are bigger and quicker on the field.

Coach Wulff and his staff have the best class of prospects coming into Pullman for fall camp in recent memory. Some of the new recruits will step in to play right away, while the majority will use a red-shirt season to learn Coach Wulff's system and put some muscle on their athletic frames.

Though Washington State doesn't have as daunting a schedule as their neighbors to the west, it's tough. Make no mistake.

The Cougs will open 2009 with a conference game at home, hosting an up-and-coming Stanford team picked by many to be one of the top teams in the Pac-10. 

Things are a bit easier in Games Two and Three when WSU faces Hawaii and SMU.

The balance of the Washington State schedule is going to be tough sledding. They face USC in Game Four.

It doesn't matter where they play the Trojans; Coach Carroll has yet another roster loaded with talent destined for the NFL. The only team to seriously threaten USC this fall might be the NCAA officials. Even they seem to be shy about taking on the men of Troy.

If WSU isn't 2-2 after their first four games, expect patience to run thin with Cougar Nation.

Expectations are high for Cougar football this year and its likely Coach Wulff will have his team delivering the goods.

In a recent interview with Derek Johnson of Dawgman.com, WSU radio color man and former WSU Coach Jim Walden had this to say about the young coaches at UW and WSU:

"If the Huskies win four games, Sarkisian should be the Pac-10 Coach of the Year. If the Cougs win five, Wulff should be Coach of the Year."

Talking about winning four or five games in a year isn't something Husky or Cougar fans are used to in the recent past. That's where things have slid to both programs in just a couple of years.

The question remains, are Washington and Washington State cellar dwellers for another year?

Let's preface the answer with a distilled interpretation of looking into the crystal ball.

Coach Sark not only brings a winning history with him to Washington, the man knows offense. He has one of the most talented quarterbacks in the nation, Jake Locker.

The more points Locker can get up on the scoreboard, the chances of racking up four or five wins come into reach. He's an inspirational player who makes his teammates better.

Coach Wulff will be able to run the no-huddle offense this year. If a team has any weakness on defense, the uneven tempo of a no-huddle enhances the opportunity to exploit weaknesses. He will go into fall camp with three guys who know how to run his no-huddle and a top prospect freshman at the quarterback slot.

His offensive line looked improved this spring. The offensive side of the ball is looking more like a Washington State team.

Look for both the UW and WSU to push other Pac-10 rivals into the cellar in 2009.

And using the formula of Coach Walden, it's very possible that the new guys at Washington and Washington State will be adding Pac-10 Coach of the Year trophies to their collection.

Originally published on Examiner.com


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