SEATTLE – Now comes the hard part.
At No. 21 Oregon? Yeah, that was pretty difficult. And hosting No. 15 BYU? A challenge to be sure. But in Washington’s gantlet of a 2008 schedule, the hits keep on coming, and when third-ranked Oklahoma takes the field at Husky Stadium today, the Sooners will represent the biggest hurdle Washington has faced so far.
Yet instead of complain about what’s being called the nation’s toughest schedule, the Huskies are – publicly anyway – embracing the challenge.
“That’s why guys come to the University of Washington,” said junior linebacker Donald Butler. “We know every year that our schedule is going to be one of the toughest in the nation, and why not? Why wouldn’t you want to play against the best talent in the nation?”
Not only are the Huskies embracing the seemingly endless run of ranked teams, they remain confident despite bringing a 0-2 record into a showdown with a legitimate national title contender.
“We’re 0-2, and we can’t wait to get a win,” sophomore safety Nate Williams said. “If we just go out there and play our game, we feel like we can play with any team in the nation.”
Williams went on to point out that last year’s New York Giants started the season 0-2 on the way to a Super Bowl title.
The Huskies are confident, but they’re not delusional. They know most of the country expects them to lose. Even most Husky fans have a hard time talking themselves into believing the Huskies have a shot.
“No one’s going to give our guys a chance,” said Washington coach Tyrone Willingham “Right now, our backs are up against the wall. It’s an us-against-them mentality that we’ve got to adhere to right off the bat. There will be very few segments, places, corners, closets in this country that we’re going to be given a chance. We’ve got to understand that. Then understand that when we do what we do well, we’re a pretty good football team.”
Washington’s players and coaches hear the doubters, they just choose to ignore them.
“We’ve just got to not listen to it,” said senior cornerback Mesphin Forrester. “I’m sure we’re the underdogs in this game and we know it. We’ve just got to continue to fight. We started the season 0-2. We didn’t plan on starting 0-2, but by the end of Saturday we want to be 1-2, so we’ve just got to keep fighting and working hard.”
It’s impossible for the Huskies not to notice the attention surrounding today’s game. An ESPN crew has been on campus for the last few days. Oklahoma comes in as a heavy favorite, and as a program loaded with talent as well as tradition.
Just as the Huskies are trying to ignore the doubters, they also have to avoid getting caught up in the Oklahoma mystique.
“It’s just another game for us,” Williams said. “We just have to go out there and play our game how we know how to. A lot of the younger guys are like, ‘Oh my God, Oklahoma is coming, they’re ranked third in the nation.’ But you can’t really think like that when you’re playing them and preparing for the game, because if you do, you’ll go into the game a little timid or a little scared.”
Oklahoma is the first non-conference top-five team to play at Washington since No. 4 Miami came to Seattle in September 2000. The Huskies knocked off a juggernaut that day, though that was, it seems so far anyway, a much better Washington team than the 2008 version.
Still, even though the match-ups, the experts, and even the Husky fans say Washington can’t win, the Huskies refuse to listen.
“The positive is, you can’t play the game on paper,” said Willingham. “That’s the positive. They got to line up and play. We got to line up and play. And when you do that, no one knows what’s going to happen… You got to play the game. That’s what you do. That’s what so much fun about athletics, about football. You got to play the game.”
The odds are long, but the Huskies believe.
It’s the only choice they have.