No one wants another seven win season. It would be the fourth such win total in a row, and to the vast majority of Husky fans that I have spoken to, it would represent an utter failure to take the necessary next step by Coach Sarkisian and his staff. The good news is, Washington started out 4-0, taking care of over 50% of last year’s win total in under a fourth of the contests. Bad news, as you know, is that the Huskies fell on the road to Stanford 31-28.
So, with a 4-1 record, a #16 ranking in the AP poll, and #2 Oregon coming to town this Saturday, where do the Huskies stand?
Well, depending on how conservative your preseason goals were, they stand on pretty solid ground. Just about no one had UW starting out 5-0. At the beginning of the year, most people wouldn’t have had them playing Stanford that close, either. Now, with four wins and a single loss to a top-five team, the Huskies are still in good shape to cross the dreaded seven win mark with games to spare.
For most fans, that won’t be enough. It seems that something close to a consensus has been formed that anything less than nine to ten wins is to be met with great disapproval. So, just under half of the way there with seven or eight games left in the season, what does Washington’s road to ten look like?
If the Huskies manage to beat Oregon on Sunday, it looks absolutely peachy. Four wins would be required over the final six games to reach 9-3 in the regular season, but even if the Huskies semi-tanked to 8-4, they would be a bowl game away from the magic number. Thing is, if the Huskies beat Oregon, this whole discussion will actually be moot, since the fanbase would no longer be satisfied with a team that defeated the Ducks barely scraping out a 9-4 record. Win that game and expectations are Rose Bowl, not a modest improvement in win percentage. So for the purpose of this highly speculative post, let’s think about what would hypothetically follow a loss to Oregon.
The Huskies were expected to make it through this brutal first half 4-2 best case scenario, and yet expectations of improvement have continued. That’s because the schedule gets a little less brutal to finish the year. A roadtrip to Arizona State on the 19th will be rough, but hey, it’s no trip to Palo Alto, and as of today Washington looks like the better team, if by a slim margin. A win would mean 5-2, and it will be key.
Next, relief comes in the form of Cal and Colorado back to back and at home. Unless the Huskies are experiencing a major meltdown 7-2 should be easily secured. That leaves at #11 UCLA, at Oregon State, and the Apple Cup at home. In all likelihood, the success of the season will hinge on this final trio of contests. If Washington goes 3-0, that’s double-digit wins and a very complicated Pac-12 North situation. 2-1 and the Huskies will be 9-3 with a chance at double-digit wins. In either case expectations would be sky-high for 2014 and the off-season narrative will be overwhelmingly positive. Go 1-2 or 0-3 and the season is a failure and Coach Sark is likely on the hot seat headed in to 2014.
A 4-1 start has made double-digit wins a reasonable possibility for Washington, but the brutally intense Pac-12 North competition means that a failed season is still 100% possible. This time, Husky fans will have no patience for anything less than clear, hard-earned progress.