They say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
And, over the last several football seasons, that appears to be concisely the goal of the University of Washington.
Since the “glorious” (see: NCAA rules violations riddled) Don James era, the long time formidable team from the largest Northwest metropolis has gone from powerhouse to punching bag.
However, in 2013, will the Dawgs finally have some bite?
Their ever-proud fan base has been forced to sit idle while USC, Stanford, and Oregon have dominated the conference and been paraded off to BCS bowls and National relevance. This upcoming season, a warmly-seated Coach Sark and the spiteful Huskies are pulling out all the stops and going all in.
They have decided to do everything in their power to “Oregon-ize” the program. Yes, like the reigning back-to-back BCS bowl champion Ducks, they hope that the myriad of tactics they plan to employ pays off in big wins.
Think I’m kidding? Here are five examples from the past 18 months:
1. Washington is putting the finishing touches on a brand new stadium which apparently addresses many of previous issues at the old version of the “Mistake by the Lake”. They removed the track that buffered the crowd from the field in an effort to compete with the acoustics of Autzen Stadium/every other real football stadium. Will it fix the defense?
2. This season, the Huskies will unveil “new” chrome and mat-black versions of their hideous helmets, in addition to their other new color schemes and uniform combinations.
3. Peter Sirmon, former Oregon and NFL linebacker now assistant coach.
4. Justin Wilcox, former Oregon defensive back and member of the legendary Oregon Wilcox family now their defensive coordinator.
5. Adam Jude
Beyond the obvious ones listed above, the mutts have also experimented with the zone read beginning with Jake Locker, but so far have only dabbled with it in games. After years of professing the merits of a “pro-style” offense, the look of the big purple playbook seems to be changing as well. During this years’ Spring Game, the new-look Huskies went almost completely no-huddle during the live action portion of the event.
But, despite all of the blatant and rampant attempts of stealing Duck-ness by the Huskies, the big question in Seattle is: “Will all the copying and coat-tail clinging be enough, or will this season be another dumpster fire ending in a coaching search?”
Don James Era Pac-10/NCAA Sanctions
For many years, the Huskies did things their way. There was no need to pilfer ideas from other programs because they often set the bar.
From the start of Pac-10 play in 1979 until Don James resigned in 1992 (amid the major NCAA impermissible benefits and recruiting violations that included quarterback Billy Jo Hobert receiving a $50,000 “loan”), the Huskies went a combined 125-40-2, averaging 8.9 wins per season over the 14-year span.
The means to the success on the field though would render the program ineligible for post-season play, as the seemingly rogue program was slapped with the charge of “Lack of Institutional Control” by the NCAA, with sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban, a two-year television ban, and three years of probation. During this time the Huskies’ allowable recruiting visits were cut in half from 70 to 35 and a reduction of 10 scholarships per season were handed down.
The next 20-season chapter of the Huskies history is not nearly as pretty from a win/loss standpoint. Beginning under longtime assistant-turned-head coach, Jim Lambright and through the modern era, the Dawgs have a 121-112-1 record, averaging only 6.05 wins per season over the past 20.
They won the Rose Bowl in 2000, but have posted six or more losses in 11 of the 12 seasons since, including seasons of 1-10 (’03) 2-9 (’04) and of course, 0-12 (’08).
The most complimentary adjective even purple-blooded Huskies can use to describe this span is: mediocre.
But what is next for Husky football? Are they destined to return to dominance as their fans have been touting for two decades? Or are they simply just a middle-tier Pac-12 football school?
We are about to find out.
Washington kicks off the 2013 season against regional non-AQ power Boise State in fresh, new Husky stadium. The game is a rematch of sorts, as the Mont Lake mutts ended the 2012 season with a 28-26 Las Vegas Bowl loss to the Broncos.
The Dawgs schedule looks like this: (Home games in BOLD. Note games with *)
8/31- vs Boise State * (Beat Wash in 2012 Las Vegas Bowl)
9/14- at Illinois
9/21- vs Idaho State
9/28- vs Arizona * (Beat Wash 52-17 in 2012)
10/05- at Stanford * (The only big win in the Sarkisian era? Wash 17 Stan 13 in 2012)
10/12- vs Oregon * (Oregon going for 10 straight victories in the 113–year series)
10/19- at ASU * (Schools DNP in 2012. ASU picked to contend for South Division Championship in 2013 and playing this one at home)
10/26- vs California
11/09- vs Colorado
11/15- at UCLA * (See: ASU)
11/23- at Oregon State * (Huskies beat the Beavers 20-17 in 2012)
11/29- vs Washington State * (Cougs defeated the Huskies, 31-28 in 2012)
The eight games notated with a “*” are all games that if the Huskies lose, in reality it probably wouldn’t surprise too many people.
After three straight 7-6 seasons, many are projecting the team will finally take that next step forward, but is a backwards step just as likely? While it doesn’t seem likely that the Huskies lose them all and go 4-8 this season, it appears just as likely to happen as a season with eight or more wins.
Like most seasons in the Pac-8/10/12, team success is often directly related to quarterback play, and coaching. 2013 looks no different. If that is the case, how far can the tender knees of Keith Price and the play calling of “7-win Steve” take them? Will players like Austin Sefarian-Jenkins make bigger headlines on or off the field?
Teams can try to “cut and paste” a number of aspects of the Oregon model or brand, but will it bring immediate success or translate into winning championships? The Huskies have certainly improved from the 0-12 2008 season, but what do you see as their proverbial ceiling in 2013?
Don’t rule out 4-8.