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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 54: Washington

Have your cake, Huskies, and eat it too. It's made of apples, in honor of the Apple Cup.

It turns out Washington can have its cake — and eat it too. Ty Willingham, as it was famously put, was the best coach in America from Sunday through Friday. Who says a coach can’t put in seven-day weeks? Steve Sarkisian has shown he can get it done on the most important day of the week — Saturday — and has fans excited about the program’s potential under his watch; he has the rest of the Pac-10 nervous, it’s safe to say. Have your cake, Washington. And eat it, while you’re at it. And don’t forget to come backs for seconds: 2010 will see the Huskies back in bowl play. Finally.

Conference
Pac-10

Location
Seattle

Nickname
Huskies

Returning starters
15 (9 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 99

2009 record
(5-7, 4-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 71

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    at B.Y.U.
  • Sept. 11
    Syracuse
  • Sept. 18
    Nebraska
  • Oct. 2
    at U.S.C.
  • Oct. 9
    Arizona St.
  • Oct. 16
    Oregon St.
  • Oct. 23
    at Arizona
  • Oct. 30
    Stanford
  • Nov. 6
    at Oregon
  • Nov. 18
    U.C.L.A.
  • Nov. 27
    at California
  • Dec. 4
    at Washington St.

Last year’s prediction

I believe you’ll see enough on-field progress for Husky fans to be excited about the future of this program, but the 2009 team has too many question marks to be considered anything more than a four-win club. I’m also willing to believe that the Huskies could perhaps take two Pac-10 games they’re not supposed to win. If Washington is serious about reclaiming its spot among the West Coast’s elite, then this is a multiple-year rebuilding project. My prediction is 4-8, 3-6 in conference play.

2009 recap

In a nutshell When did I know this team was improved? Better yet, when was it evident this was a new team, a new program, one that would challenge for a bowl berth one year after losing 12 games? One game into the year, in fact, when the Huskies battled a very good L.S.U. squad to an eight-point loss, staying tight with a confident bunch — even having a shot at the upset in the fourth quarter. We all remember the win over U.S.C., of course, but even greater strides were made as the season wore on: in total, four wins over eventual bowl participants; four single-digit losses to eventual bowl participants; and only two games where the Huskies were outclassed. Let’s call Steve Sarkisian’s debut season a success, though not a resounding success. As the former U.S.C. assistant has made perfectly clear, anything short of, well, perfection, is unsatisfactory. I can’t tell you how nice it was to see some fire on the U.W. sidelines. This program has long deserved what it landed from the first-year head coach.

High point A 16-13 win over U.S.C. on the third weekend of the season. At the time – U.S.C. was coming off its win at Ohio State – it was hard to picture a bigger upset all season. Washington would also slip past Arizona and crush California (by 32 in the season finale) to give it victories over three of the best teams in the conference. Oh, and the Huskies also took back the Apple Cup thanks to a 30-0 blanking of rival Washington State.

Low point Only two ugly losses on the schedule: by 24 to Oregon and by 27 at Oregon State. Washington held second half leads against Notre Dame and U.C.L.A. before losing, in overtime to the Irish.

Tidbit How to get from 0-12 to 5-7, by the numbers. Score nearly 13 more points per game: from 13.2 points scored per game in 2008 to 26.1 points per game a year ago. Allow only 26.7 points per game, down from 38.6 points in 2008. Rush for 40 more yards per game — from 99.3 yards in 2008 to 139.0 last fall — and throw for 236.5 yards per game, up from 163.8 yards per game. Allow less than 390 yards per game, one year after allowing 451.7 yards per game. See, it isn’t that hard: just improve in every meaningful statistical category. Yes, Sarkisian knows what he’s doing.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) Today’s guest writer is loyal reader Dr. Klahn, whose correct answer to a quiz in the East Carolina preview earned him the opportunity to write a 100-word preview of his favorite team. His team? Washington. Take it away, Dr. Klahn:

Washington’s success this year hinges on the ability of the offensive and defensive lines. Though the offensive line returns four starters and many of the back-ups have game experience this is far from a reliable group (see short yardage situations at Notre Dame). The defensive line also has considerable experience but does not boast a lot of confidence considering the starting ends are overcoming serious injuries. However, I own a pair of purple colored glasses and believe these units will improve upon the performance they gave in the 2009 finale against Cal (a 42-10 thumping). The offensive line will prove to be the stoutest they’ve had in years allowing Chris Polk to rush for another 1,000 yards and Jake Locker the time to produce a Heisman campaign suitable for folklore. The defense will finally produce a pass rush that allows them to compete in the upper portion of the PAC 10. May the Seattle Times continue in its existence, if for no other reason than Bob Condotta’s Husky blog.

Former players in the N.F.L.

16 OT Khalif Barnes (Oakland), QB Mark Brunell (New Orleans), LB Donald Butler (San Diego), OG Stanley Daniels (Denver), S Dashon Golden (San Francisco), DE Greyson Gunheim (Oakland), DT Tank Johnson (Cincinnati), C Olin Kreutz (Chicago), CB Roy Lewis (Seattle), S Lawyer Milloy (Seattle), RB Louis Rankin (Seattle), RB Marcel Reece (Oakland), WR Isaiah Stanback (Seattle), TE Jerramy Stevens (Tampa Bay), DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (Philadelphia), OT Joe Toledo (Seattle).

Arbitrary top five list

Best players in Mariners history
1. OF Ken Griffey, Jr.
2. DH Edgar Martinez.
3. OF Ichiro Suzuki.
4. P Randy Johnson.
5. 1B Alvin Davis.

Coaching

Steve Sarkisian (Brigham Young ’97), 5-7 after one season with the Huskies. As mentioned, while short of bowl play, last season’s win output marked a five-game improvement over Ty Willingham’s final season. Sarkisian came to Seattle after spending seven seasons as a key member of Pete Carroll’s staff at U.S.C., in He first arrived at Southern California as an offensive assistant (2001) before rapidly climbing the team’s coaching ladder. From 2007-8, Sarkisian served as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator; over this time, U.S.C. went 23-3, averaging at least 32 points and 430 yards of total offense in each season. Before taking on play-calling duties – a job he took over from Lane Kiffin, now the coach at U.S.C. – Sarkisian was the team’s quarterbacks coach (2002-3, 2005-6). Over that four-year period, Sarkisian was responsible for tutoring two Heisman Trophy winners, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, and an all-conference honoree, John David Booty. Sarkisian was also U.S.C.’s assistant head coach from 2005 to 2008. A one-year hiatus from U.S.C. (2004) was spent as the quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders; probably because of this stint, and his success at U.S.C., Sarkisian was Al Davis’s first choice to replace Norv Turner as Oakland’s head coach in 2007, a position that eventually went to Kiffin. Sarkisian is a young, energetic, emotional coach – like his former boss, Carroll – who has had an immediate impact in rallying the support of both his players and the Husky fan base. Willingham, his predecessor, didn’t do Sarkisian any favors: his first team was far less talented than recent Washington teams. If Sarkisian won five games with a second-tier roster, the sky is the limit when Sarkisian lands a roster of his own recruits.

Players to watch

We all know about Jake Locker, the all-American quarterback candidate who took great strides forward in the first year of this new coaching regime. His improvement came as a passer: Locker, due to an early-season injury suffered as a sophomore, entered last fall needing to undertake meaningful work on his technique and awareness in the pocket. Improvement was made, to the point where Locker was projected as one of the most N.F.L.-friendly quarterback in the country at the end of last season; luckily for U.W., Locker opted to return for his senior season. Perhaps I’m slightly less high on Locker than most; while largely in awe of his physical gifts, I think Locker must still hone his pocket presence, developing his ability to work through his progressions rather than eyeball one, maybe two targets, before becoming a complete passer.

While his rushing numbers took a dip in 2009, Locker remains a dangerous weapon with his legs: in a perfect world, the all-conference signal caller would finish his senior campaign with anywhere between 500 and 700 yards rushing to go with 3,000 yards passing. He came on strong as a runner over the final month of the season, however, so perhaps we’ll see more designed running plays for Locker in his final season. He’s a Heisman contender for a reason: there are few better athletes at any position in the F.B.S., let alone at quarterback. Washington prays he remains healthy: while the future at the position, Nick Montana — whose father played some football — arrived in time for spring practice, Locker’s two reserves are woefully unproven.

Perhaps another Pac-10 team has better depth at receiver, perhaps another team has a better lead pass-catcher. Washington top three at the position, however, matches up with any trio the conference has to offer. The best of the bunch is junior Jermaine Kearse, whose 50 receptions for 866 yards earned him second-team all-conference accolades a year ago. Kearse is the most explosive receiver on the roster, and one of the top targets in the Pac-10. Rounding out this group is fellow junior Devin Aguilar (42 grabs for 593 yards) and sophomore James Johnson (39 for 422), the latter poised for a standout career after posting solid totals in his debut campaign. This receiver corps also receives a tremendous boost from the projected healthy return of senior D’Andre Goodwin, whose junior year was marred by an early-season injury; this setback prevented him from maintaining his 60-catch pace set in his sophomore season, when stood as Washington’s lone meaningful receiving target. Junior tight end Kavario Middleton provides another option in the passing game.

The Huskies look to be in great shape at running back, even if incumbent starter Chris Polk was limited during the spring due to shoulder surgery. Polk, only a sophomore, was a revelation a year ago, rushing for a school freshman record 1,113 yards while carrying the U.W. running game for the majority of the year. Increased depth will cut into some of Polk’s carries this fall, though I doubt we’ll see any decline in production from the all-conference performer. Junior Johri Fogerson used a solid spring to catapult himself into the second spot on the depth chart, while Jesse Collier and Deontae Cooper, both true freshmen, look ready to make an impact. In a perfect world, one of the two will redshirt, if not both. Polk is ready; if Fogerson — or, perhaps, one of the rookies — step up, the backfield is stacked.

Four starter return on the offensive line, but more improvement will be needed out of this group. The only loss is left tackle Ben Ossai, with Senio Kelemete poised to move from right guard to the blind side to supplant the multiple-year starter. That’s not the only position change up front: senior Ryan Tolar will transition from center to left guard, with Drew Schaefer, who ended last season as the starter at left tackle, moving to his departed center spot. Tolar and fellow senior Cody Habben, who missed the spring due to injury, are the stars of the line. The lone new starter is sophomore right guard Mykenne Ikehara, who spent most of last season at center.

On paper, the rebuilding job at linebacker is an imposing one: E.J. Savannah and Donald Butler must be replaced, with the latter one of the Pac-10′s top linebackers a season ago. Looks can be somewhat deceiving, however. This linebacker corps is led by two-year starter Mason Foster, the team’s leading returning tackler, who moves to the weak side in 2010. Foster can do it all: stick his nose into the mix, make plays in space — check out his game-winning interception return against Arizona — and get to the quarterback. In fact, Washington hopes his move to the weak side will play best to his pass rushing skills. Junior Cort Dennison, a five-game starter last fall, steps in for Butler in the middle. This is a solid duo upon which to build a linebacker corps.

There will be competition on the strong side. The favorite entering the summer is junior Alvin Logan, a former safety making the move down to linebacker in 2010. The Huskies could also call upon another former defensive back, Victor Aiyewa, on the strong side. It’s difficult to pinpoint where true freshman Victor Burnett will eventually land — he’s currently behind Dennison in the middle — but if Burnett continues to progress, he’s a third option on the outside.

I really like what Washington has at secondary; this is the first time in years I’ve felt this way. The deepest position on the team is cornerback, where the Huskies have four players capable of starting the year in the starting lineup. Sophomores Desmond Trufant (47 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Adam Long are returning starters, though U.W. could also turn to junior Quinton Richardson and senior Vonzell McDowell at the position. In fact, thanks to a solid spring, Richardson vaulted ahead of Long to join Trufant in the starting lineup. No matter how you cut it, no matter who starts the season, Washington does not lack for depth at cornerback.

Senior Nate Williams is Washington’s most tested defensive back, a two-year starter at strong safety who brings 170 career stops into his final season. There’s little experience at free safety, though Sarkisian lauded the performance of both sophomore Nate Fellner and freshman Will Shamburger during the spring. More so than any other group on the team, Washington will receive a major boost from the arrival of many talented freshmen during the fall. It may be hard for this new group to break into the mix, particularly at cornerback, but Washington looks set in the defensive backfield at 2010 — and beyond.

Position battles to watch

Defensive line The Huskies lost a leader in Daniel Te’o-Neisheim, one whose production will be hard to duplicate. The two second-team all-conference selection — and four-year starter — was single-handedly responsible for much of Washington’s damage up front, leading the team in tackles for sacks in each of the last three seasons. Tough to replace such production, of course. It’s possible that the Huskies could do so with a by-committee approach, particularly with the arrival of several talented linemen come the fall. The key to this year’s line may be senior Cameron Elisara, who brings the table the ability to either line up inside or at end; if Elisara can take to end — he’s been an interior guy thus far — it will allow U.W. to get a more talented front four on the field. Even if Elisara remains inside, I like what the Huskies have at tackle. He’ll team with junior Alameda Ta’amu to five Washington a stout interior presence, with depth potentially coming from two of Washington’s incoming recruits. I’m worried about what the Huskies have at end: Can the returning linemen match last season’s production? It’s hard to think so. Sophomore Talia Crichton and junior Everrette Thompson currently stand atop the depth chart, though senior De’Shon Matthews — if he’s healthy — will figure heavily into the mix.

Game(s) to watch

What a schedule. Marquee games in non-conference play: at B.Y.U., home for Nebraska. In this year’s Pac-10, every game is of consequence: even Washington State, of course, is integral to Washington’s success. I don’t think the Huskies have what it takes to win the conference, but the second tier of the Pac-10 will be decided in games against U.C.L.A., Arizona, Stanford and California.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Predicting the Pac-10 will be a crap shoot: I know Washington State will finish last, and I feel very confident in projecting Arizona State to come in slightly ahead of the Cougars. From there, it’s truly an open affair. To be fair, there is a second division, a grouping that lags slightly behind the top duo of Oregon and U.S.C.: this group includes the Huskies, California, Stanford, U.C.L.A., Arizona and Oregon State. However, each of these teams are capable of landing a premier bowl berth; in fact, I think some have the potential to take the conference outright. Unfortunately, I don’t feel Washington is ready to achieve that latter feat. Lest we forget, this team remains questionable in a few areas, largely due to the poor job Willingham did in consistently replenishing the roster through recruiting. That’s a typical excuse for any new staff, coaches who love to blame unsteady improvement on the missteps of the previous regime. In Washington’s case, however, this is absolutely the case. Even a year after his ascension to the job, Sarkisian is not playing with a full deck. He will be, and soon. In 2010, look for continued improvement defined by the occasional stumble, as developing teams are wont to do. There’s plenty to like: Locker is one of the top quarterbacks in the country; the Huskies have surrounded him with a handful of solid offensive skill players; and the secondary is primed to make a significant impact. Yet I can’t ignore some of the concerns: unless we see sizable improvement during the fall, both sides of the line will be this team’s Achilles heel. Other Pac-10 teams have fewer issues, thus my belief that of the conference’s second grouping, Washington is the least likely to challenge for a Rose Bowl berth. I’m predicting seven wins: lest we forget, U.W. went 0-12 in 2008. The program is headed in a wonderful direction: up.

Dream season The Huskies explode in Sarkisian’s second season: 9-3, 7-2 in the Pac-10. The year concludes with a trip to the Holiday Bowl, and with a Heisman for Locker.

Nightmare season Back to the bottom of the conference: 2-10, 1-8 in conference play. Behind even Washington State; now that’s a nightmare.

In case you were wondering

Where do Washington fans congregate? Like most big programs, there are a number of options out there to talk Washington football. If interested, take a trip to Dawgman.com, UDubSports.com and UWDawgPound.com. In addition, do yourself a favor and check out Bob Condotta’s Husky blog for The Seattle Times, whose always on-point U.W. football perspective makes his reports a must-read. As always, list below any blog, message board and local beat reporter deserving of being mentioned in this section.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) It’s that time again. Here’s how it works: I give you a quiz question; you become the first person to answer the question; you win the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of your favorite team when it appears on the Countdown. Get it? Good. Here’s the question:

An easy one today. Washington enters last season having not participated in bowl play since 2002, the third-longest bowl-less streak among all B.C.S. conference programs. Can you name the two programs suffering a longer streak, and name the bowl each program last played with the game’s result?

Teams already spoken for: Arizona (Zaboo), California (katster), Georgia Tech (DivePlay), Navy (Shawn), Texas (Noefli), Texas A&M (Dr. Norris Camacho), Texas Tech (Freakville), Virginia Tech (James), Wake Forest (jjtiller) and Washington (Dr. Klahn).

Up Next

Who is No. 53? Our next program spent 25 years holding Independent status before joining its current conference.

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Comments

  1. Burnt Orange says:

    Baylor lost Alamo Bowl to Washinton State in 1994 10-3. Duke lost 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl to Wisconsin 34-20.

  2. havik912 says:

    next sounds like Air Force

  3. Wyatt says:

    as a UW fan, im done reading this blog, going bruins over UW means you have gone against every other sports writer that has ever written on the subject – too pretentious – see you next year

  4. Noefli says:

    Where’s Dr. Klahn’s preview?

    Paul: I really didn’t give him enough time. I had forgotten. Emailed him only a little before when the preview was posted, and gave him the option of doing a preview for another team or just sending me his U.W. preview when he got the chance. We’ll see what he says.

  5. george howley says:

    The problem with choosing hte Air Force Academy is that it has been in two conferences. I assume they were in the WAC. Arizonia is only other program I can think of that might fit this mold.

  6. george howley says:

    I just recalled that Arizonia was in another conference-it might have been the Big Sky. Thus this is a schoolwhose football history predates my memory. Maybe Northwestern?

  7. wildcat6 says:

    Nah…. Northwestern has been in the Big Ten since the beginning….1896.

  8. Burnt Orange says:

    # 53 – West Va. fits the description but it seems too early to see them. By the way, since the Longhorns are taken, I’ll preview TCU – still ticked at Texas for ducking the SEC anyway.

    Paul: Got it. Feel free to spend all 100 words speaking your mind about the Longhorns. And it’s going to quite a while until I get to the Horned Frogs.

  9. James says:

    As for No. 53, Georgia Tech and South Carolina both spent about that much time as (football) independents in the 60s, 70s and 80s; USCe is a better fit for this slot.

  10. Airmerz says:

    You have several errors in your article, Paul: First, Tyrone Duncan has transfered and is no longer at the UW. Second, ALVIN Logan is a former safety making the move down to linebacker in 2010, not ALFRED Logan. Finally, at the end of the “In a Nutshell” section you write that the “U.W. went 0-12 in 2007.” Actually, they went 0-12 in 2008. Other than the errors, pretty decent article.

  11. tulaneoutlaw says:

    Can’t be GA Tech. they left the SEC in 1964 and joined the ACC in 1978. South Carolina is probably not it either. They left the ACC in 1971 and joined the SEC in 1991. Next has got to be Air Force.

  12. Colin says:

    Weren’t Arizona and Arizona State in the WAC before joining the PAC 10? The WAC has launched several teams to better conferences, including the Air Force.

  13. havik912 says:

    i just looked it up, if its not Air Force its someone who has the exact same profile as that hint. Air Force was Independent from 1955-1980 thats 25 years… and thats when they joined the WAC.

    Paul: Close, but don’t forget that Air Force left the WAC to join the Mountain West in 1999.

  14. Dr. Klahn says:

    I was certain UW was going to be in the top 10 this year and that I had a couple more weeks to write a preview. I’m shocked.

    Paul: Hey Doc, would you rather write a preview for another team or do one for U.W.? Let me know.

  15. Payne says:

    Temple?

  16. havik912 says:

    yeah Temple is my second guess, they’re both should be ranked around here, that would also make sense

  17. havik912 says:

    oh wow, i just now got it, yep it is Temple, i didn’t read the hint all the way… i forgot it said its CURRENT conference. sorry for double post by the way.

    Paul: But remember, Temple spent only two years as an Independent before joining the MAC in 2007.

  18. Burnt Orange says:

    Gotta be West Virginia – every other possibility has been ruled out.

    Paul: Here’s a hint. The program in question was an Independent from 1976-90, and joined its current conference in 1991. If you choose West Virginia, you’re on the right track.

  19. Zaboo says:

    Too low for UW, probably. Not “so low i’ll stop reading this good blog,” but low nonetheless. I guess its better than putting them in the top 25, though, a la the sporting news… still can’t believe that.

  20. Rookierookie says:

    Rutgers joined the Big East in 1991, although I’m not sure about the length of time that they were independent.

  21. are the northern illinois/washington previews the first time in countdown/psr history that two teams with the same mascot have been back-to-back? please look into this. thank you. -keeno

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