End of a dead-end Husky season

Well, there's this. Of 120 NCAA football programs, the Huskies were 117th. And this: there's a new coach.
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Well, there's this. Of 120 NCAA football programs, the Huskies were 117th. And this: there's a new coach.
Many lament the notion that the 2008 University of Washington football team was among the worst in the nation, as indicated by the 48-7 trouncing by Cal-Berkeley Saturday (Dec. 6), the final destination of the dead-end, regrettable 0-12 season.

The gamblers, who have known to be somewhat influential among certain sports fans, don'ꀙt entirely agree about the Dawgs. They would argue that, while it may well be true about the UW gridiron guys comprising the worst sports team since the 1882 Worcester Ruby Legs, the Huskies actually finished 1-11. This is because they managed to beat the betting spread, albeit just once.

The occasion for that sole "victory" was a sunny, butterfly-fluttering afternoon a distant three months ago, when the Dawgs lost by just a point at home against Brigham Young University. That beat the prevailing point spread by enough to impress the book-makers. But three weeks later, when star Husky quarterback Jake Locker went to the sidelines for the season with a broken thumb, all bets, as they say (and they really do say it) were off.

Suddenly the Huskies seemed a reasonable risk each week to fail to cover point spreads, no matter how widely bookies stretched the differentials (it was 35 against the bowl-bound Cal Bears). After all, as it was summarized by a sports-betting website in the run-up (well, crawl-up, from the Huskies'ꀙ point of view) to the Cal game, the Dawgs as of Dec. 5 ranked 100th or lower in rushing, total offense, scoring, rushing defense, pass-efficiency defense, total defense, scoring defense, sacks, sacks allowed, net punting, punt returns, and kickoff returns. They were, in short, nearly best in just one category. Among the 120 NCAA football programs, they were ranked 117th coming into the Cal game, meaning they were just about the best team in the country at being the worst.

This isn'ꀙt taken as an occasion to cast blame or even aspersions. It didn'ꀙt exactly require the soothsaying acumen of Kreskin to guess early on this season that the Dawgs would go winless. Clearly the Tyrone Willingham four-year experiment seems to have lasted about five years too long, but Pie-in-the-sky Ty, always the gentlemen even when it must have been excruciating to maintain decorum, is gone now. The Huskies literally have nowhere to go but up, even if it'ꀙs in inch-size increments.

How this could happen is something like the situation facing another soon-to-be-ascending mentor replacing a, shall we say, less-than-successful leader. It'ꀙs hard to tell who has the more daunting challenge: Barack Obama or the apparent Willingham successor. That, according to most reports (which haven'ꀙt quite been confirmed as we post this), would be one Steve Sarkisian. Who he? The former B.Y.U. quarterback is an offensive specialist for the University of Southern California, the pro-caliber perennial power of the Pac-10. Much has been made (and made negatively) of Sarkisian'ꀙs lack of experience running a college program, that and his tender age, 34. It'ꀙs the same rap detractors handed to Obama, a four-year U.S. senator of 47.

Sarkisian has the advantage of nothing but upside potential. But he has one other plus. Ironically, it'ꀙs experience — not his, but that of the corps of players he'ꀙll inherit. Many of the 'ꀙ08 Dawgs were pressed into early service. When they re-emerge (regroup?) next season, they'ꀙll have more than merely the endless memories of the futility of losing every game. They'ꀙll also have better ideas about how to win.

Sarkisian, assuming he'ꀙs the guy, will be glad to be able to tap that savvy and use it as a motivational tool. If he'ꀙs also a good coach (those who have worked with him cite his enthusiasm and his savvy as an offense-coordinator), and if Locker is back and better than ever, then it seems likely, possibly as early as Sept. 12 at home against Idaho, that the Dawgs will start beating football teams, not just beating spreads.


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