Can UW Go From Winless to a Bowl Team?

2008 was a forgettable year for the sports teams in the city of Seattle. The Seahawks had one of the worst records in the NFL at 4-12, ending the team’s consecutive NFC West run after 4 seasons. The Mariners finished with the 2nd worst record in Major League Baseball, behind the Washington Nationals. The Sonics fled town to Oklahoma City. The Washington Huskies basketball team underachieved and lost in the First Round of the College Basketball Invitational to Valparaiso at home. And then there was the Washington Husky football team. No one expected the Huskies to compete for the Pac 10 Conference title in 2008, but to think UW would finish the season without a victory would have been almost ridiculous. But the Huskies did finish the 2008 season with the school’s worst record at 0-12. That led to the firing of Head Coach Tyrone Willingham after 4 seasons that included a record of 11-37 with no bowl appearances. The Husky program had fallen on hard times, and it was hard to believe that in just 2000 that the program had finished with a #3 ranking after a Rose Bowl victory over Purdue. But since the firing of Rick Neuheisel in the summer of 2003 for lying about his participation in a NCAA Basketball Tournament office pool, UW has failed to record a winning season or make a bowl game.

The Huskies were determined to find a leader for their football program that could replicate the success of Don James. For anyone to achieve the level of success that James did at UW (153-57-2 record, 15 bowl games in 18 years, 6 Rose Bowls, and a 1991 National Championship) would be difficult. After conducting interviews with Fresno State Head Coach Pat Hill and Texas Tech Head Coach Mike Leach, UW hired USC Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian. The University of Washington Head Coaching job is a tough first assignment for a rookie head coach. But after just 6 games as head coach, it looks like the UW athletic department hired the right man to lead the program.

Going into the 2009 season, most prognosticators pegged UW to win 3 or 4 games. After 6 games, the Huskies have already won 3. A bowl game seemed like too much to expect for a team that went winless a season ago, was breaking in a new head coach, and had to compete in the Pac 10 Conference. But Steve Sarkisian has instilled a new attitude with these Huskies. One year ago, there was no fight left in these dogs. In 2009, one could see this would be a different team in the first game of the season, and this new fight in the Huskies was no more prevalent than in this past weekend’s game versus Arizona. Down 33-21 with less than 3 minutes left, UW came back to score 2 touchdowns in 18 seconds and held on to win 36-33.

With half the season left to go, has a good opportunity to reach the 6 win plateau and reach a bowl game for the first time since the 2002 season. Other than an almost certain win versus Washington State in the Apple Cup, though, the rest of the remaining schedule is not a cakewalk. The next four games will be a test to see where the Huskies can finish in 2009. There is only one home game, a visit from rival Oregon, in the next four games. Winning two of those games would go a long way toward helping the Huskies reach a bowl game. That might seem like a tall task to achieve, considering the Huskies have yet to win a game outside of Husky Stadium in 2009. But with Jake Locker at QB, and the new confidence brought to the Huskies by Steve Sarkisian’s staff, I wouldn’t bet against these Huskies.

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