I grappled all year long with what exactly the husky football team would have to do for this season to be considered progress, or at the very least, more than a failure. Early in the year it looked like 8 or 9 wins and some wins over top-10 programs, something Washington had struggled so much with. It looked like improvement on defense and the successful transition from young contributors to stars for Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
After the Stanford win, it looked like that would happen. Finally a big win over an undefeated top-10 team. After the Arizona loss, it looked like the sky was falling down. It was uncertain whether 8 or 9 wins would possibly happen. But then the Huskies took care of Oregon State at home very similarly to how they had dispatched the Cardinal, and they followed that up with a couple solid wins over mediocre teams. Heading into the Apple Cup, all they had to do was beat a horrible Washington State team in the Apple Cup, and that would be 8 wins. Then, take care of business in a mid-level bowl and it would be 9.
There is no denying that nine wins would have been a success. The schedule faced by Washington was unusually tough, with games against four different teams that were ranked in the top-10 at the time, and several more that were ranked that highly at some point in the year. And, considering the two straight seven-win finishes, why wouldn’t nine be something to be excited about? With only a handful of seniors graduating, it would have sent the Huskies into 2013 with tons of hype. It would have set up “the year” for everything to come together.
But then WSU won the Apple Cup in overtime after a fairly epic Washington collapse, capped off by the horrific interception from Price, and then Bishop Sankey’s 200+ rushing yards weren’t enough to hold off Boise State in Las Vegas. So, three straight at seven wins.
That is failure. That is disappointment. Not to say that good things didn’t happen this year. Looking at the big picture, it is great that Washington emerged as the kind of team that was capable of beating just about anyone if they played just right. That couldn’t be said in the first several years under Sarkisian. It’s awesome that Justin Wilcox took mostly the same personnel and turned Holt’s abomination of a unit and turned it into the strength that carried the team for long stretches. It was a blessing that the loss of Polk turned out to be little more than a two-game setback, with Bishop Sankey emerging as a genuine star at the position.
However, the losses ended up canceling out those gains so perfectly that progress, as a whole, was not possible, and only seven wins were managed for the third straight year. At the most important position of all, Washington went from having the second best quarterback in the conference going into the season to having a version of Keith Price that was nothing more than average in general, and specifically disastrous when it came to throwing late game picks. Like, you know, in both the Apple Cup and Las Vegas Bowl defeats. The offensive line, which started the year in shambles before slowly progressing throughout the year in fits and bursts, looked downright ugly in pass protection in the final game. And, while ASJ and Kasen Williams did emerge as great, reliable pass catchers, they were seriously the only two.
Worst of all, this team was wildly inconsistent. They may have been capable of beating anyway, but only in Seattle. Never on the road. And more frustrating than anything, the same team that was able to defeat Stanford and Oregon State earlier in the year apparently didn’t build on that, didn’t ride the momentum, didn’t learn anything, as they were defeated by two teams nowhere near the top-10, WSU and Boise State, to close out the year. If it had come the other way around, it might be considered progress, but that is simply not the case.
Don’t get me wrong, all is not lost. I still have some level of confidence that with another year and another great recruiting class this team will be ready to do some serious damage in 2013. Even if we assume the now-mediocre Price is the quarterback this year (though there should, and apparently will be, a competition in the offseason) there are just too many returning players on both sides of the ball to assume that another year without progress should be expected. This year, it was all about replacing players lost to graduation, remaking the defense. In 2013, it will be about seeing just how much all of the talented young players will have grown.
The young offensive linemen that struggled when thrown straight into the fire to compensate for injuries to experienced starters will have benefited from the early playing time, and now the newly-healthy veterans will battle with those young guns to hopefully form a solid unit that will block for Bishop Sankey, who will be expected to break records as a true junior. The defensive line and the linebackers will be full of talent and athleticism, and the only question mark on that side of the ball will be corner, where the coaches will hope transfer Travell Dixon can replace the shutdown senior Desmond Trufant.
So, there is hope for the future. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that 2012 was anything less than a disappointment.