SEATTLE – Five weeks ago, the California Golden Bears were soaring in rarified air. They were No. 2 in the nation, their highest ranking in 56 years. They had realistic thoughts of playing in the BCS title game come January.
Now, four losses later, their air is as foul as their mood. They are so sick over their prospects for a middling, minor bowl that they won’t talk about them. The Bears (6-4, 3-4 Pac-10) are defending quarterback Nate Longshore from a heap of criticism.
“I just think it’s unfair to pile it all on Nate,” coach Jeff Tedford said this week. “It’s not right.”
At least they aren’t at Washington.
The Huskies (3-7, 1-6) have lost their program’s supposed savior, dynamic quarterback Jake Locker, to a scary neck injury. They are also finishing their fifth consecutive season without a winning record.
They’d take what the Bears are pooh-poohing entering today’s game at Husky Stadium: The Huskies are reeling after being eliminated from consideration for any bowl last weekend by a 29-23 loss at Oregon State.
“That was huge, to have that opportunity to go to a bowl go away, especially for the seniors. It was devastating, honestly,” defensive tackle Jordan Reffett said.
Reffett is part of a UW senior class that will come and go without playing in a bowl game. The Huskies haven’t played in the postseason since the 2002 Sun Bowl, the first bowl hiatus of five seasons for Washington since 1972-76.
That was when there were only about a dozen bowls, instead of the current 32.
Washington leadership remains steadfast behind coach Tyrone Willingham, who is 10-23 at UW.
Willingham will become the first Huskies coach with three consecutive losing seasons when Washington finishes at Hawaii Dec. 1.
Both teams enter today’s game rallying around targeted quarterbacks.
Locker sprained his neck in a helmet-to-helmet hit while trying to run for a first down during the first half against the Beavers. He didn’t put a helmet on again until Thursday and then only threw passes on the side.
Willingham all but conceded that fifth-year senior Carl Bonnell will start against Cal, and it’s conceivable that Locker may not return this season.
“I don’t have the same skill set as Jake,” said Bonnell, who started the final five games of last season – including the Apple Cup upset win at Washington State – after Isaiah Stanback got hurt. “I don’t run a 4.4 40 (yard dash), weigh 220 and can run people over.”
Bonnell threw five interceptions last season at Berkeley.