Originally Written by John McGrath of the TNT
During the middle of January, approaching the heart of the college basketball season, it’s not unusual for the Washington Huskies to be on a hot streak.
What’s unusual is that it’s the UW football team that’s doing the streaking.
On the morning of Nov. 28, the Huskies, whose early-season optimism under new head coach Steve Sarkisian had dissipated over the course of a four-game losing streak, woke up to face Washington State in the least-anticipated Apple Cup in memory. Even the 2008 game between the 0-10 Huskies and the 1-10 Cougars had a sort of macabre, “How dreadful can things get?” edge to it. At least there was a story line in the shared futility. The 2009 Apple Cup didn’t even promise that.
The story line, it turned out, was how the UW defense enabled the Huskies to produce their first Apple Cup shutout in 40 years. The following week, in what was supposed to be an anticlimactic season finale against California – and, perhaps, the last Husky Stadium appearance of quarterback Jake Locker – Washington won, 42-10, displaying an all-phases dominance highlighted by Locker’s most effective performance since high school.
A contest that was played only because the schedule insisted it be played suddenly allowed the Huskies to ponder 2010 with some momentum behind them. But who had any idea the modest winning streak that closed out the season would portend five weeks of ridiculously good fortune?
Consider all that has happened since we last saw these guys on a football field:
Locker, expected to embark on a prolonged, intensely personal soul search regarding his early-entry eligibility for the NFL draft, scrapped the formalities and obeyed the hunch in his gut. In exchange for renouncing a signing bonus worth millions of dollars – OK, tens of millions of dollars – Locker became a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate whose place in UW football lore is permanently assured.
The Pacific-10 Conference’s train-wreck of a bowl season gave the Huskies reason to believe they can compete for upper-tier status in the conference standings. Upper tier? Check that. They can win the darn thing in 2010.
Oregon State, Cal and Arizona barely showed up for bowl games that devolved into blowouts by halftime. Stanford, thanks to running back Toby Gerhart, put forth some actual effort in losing to Oklahoma, but Gerhart is moving on to the pros.
And Oregon, which looked like the best team in college football when it carved up the Huskies on Oct. 24, swaggered into the Rose Bowl as favorites over Ohio State and proved itself to be – what’s the word? Ah, here’s the word – beatable. True, virtually everybody returns from an offense that averaged 36.1 points last season, but if you suspect the Ducks will run away with the conference title in 2010, you must’ve been sleeping through the first day of 2010.
As for the Pac-10’s bowl winners, there were two of them. UCLA managed to get by Temple, which brings us to. ...
Southern California. The Trojans lost head coach Pete Carroll to the Seahawks over the weekend and replaced him with 34-year-old Lane “Violation” Kiffin, who in his only season as a college head coach accumulated almost as many secondary NCAA penalties at Tennessee (six) as victories (seven). The most impressive credential on Kiffin’s résumé is that he’s the son of Monte Kiffin – inventor of the “Tampa-Two” defense – and Monte will accompany Lane to USC.
But in one swell move, Seahawks owner Paul Allen, a WSU grad, has derailed the dynasty Carroll built. Or as Seattle defensive end Lawrence Jackson put it the other day of his old school: “They’ve lost the head on their horse.”
In identifying Kiffin as Carroll’s successor, without even placing a gauge-the-sound-of-his-voice phone call to Sarkisian, the Huskies were spared the distraction of potentially parting ways with their coach after one season. And Sarkisian’s only comments about the candidacy that never was – “people don’t understand it, but this is my dream job” – merely underscored the belief that Sark won’t turn restless before he realizes unfinished business at Montlake.
Acclaimed Oaks Christian (Calif.) High School quarterback Nick Montana announced his plans to enroll at Washington for the spring quarter, which begins March 28. Montana, whose father is quite a bit more famous than Lane Kiffin’s father, gave an oral commitment to the Huskies last June, but an oral commitment during recruiting season has all the durability of a balsa-wood toy airplane.
On the other hand, when a high school kid chooses to accept an accelerated academic load over the most fun two months he’ll ever have as a high school kid, it’s evidence his word is as sincere as his signature.
While Sarkisian’s first comprehensively assembled recruiting class is ranked among the top 10 in the nation, it’s nice to learn that at least one departing senior – defensive end Daniel T’eo-Nesheim – has scored an invitation to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. The Huskies last were represented on draft day by Joe Toledo, a tight end selected by the Miami Dolphins as an offensive tackle.
The NFL draft was created in 1936. Between 1937 and 2006, at least one UW player was drafted annually. The wealth of talent occasionally appeared gaudy (11 Huskies were taken in 1983, another 11 taken in 1992), but you get the idea: Washington was a pipeline to the pros, and then the pipeline was severed to the extent it’s been three years and counting since the program sent a player into the draft.
That dispiriting trend figures to stop in 2010, a year that’s already looming, on many different levels, as transcendent.
The fall could come in the fall, beginning with another challenging season opener, on Sept. 4, at BYU. In the meantime, Huskies fans, enjoy a winter so fabulous it defies logic.
The sun isn’t necessary to savor a sunrise
January 16, 2010
Originally Written by John McGrath of the TNT