SEATTLE – After starting off the Steve Sarkisian era with a bang three months ago, then falling back into a familiar pattern of mediocrity, the University of Washington football team has one final chance to go out in style this afternoon.
While it may come as little consolation to fans who allowed themselves to entertain thoughts of bowl eligibility, a win over 19th-ranked California today could do wonders for the morale of the UW program.
The Huskies have a starting lineup primarily made up of underclassmen, the program has gone out on a winning note only once since 2004, and the UW coaches plan on hitting the recruiting trail within 24 hours of today’s conclusion.
But Sarkisian said today’s game is not about taking a step in the right direction but an opportunity to put a bow on the 2009 season.
“Our first 6 a.m. run in January, when we are all together and it’s cold and snowing and guys are exhausted, no one is going to remember on this team if we won or lost this game,” he said this week. “That motivational factor of it, I don’t think plays as big of a part as maybe some people think.
“This is about us finishing the way we want to finish and playing the way we are capable of playing and to measure up to see where we are at with one of the better teams in our conference.”
The Huskies (4-7) have plenty of incentive in today’s game, even if bowl eligibility is not among the things pushing them.
Five wins would match the program’s highest season total since 2003. It would mark only the third time since September 2006 that the Huskies win back-to-back games. UW hasn’t beaten two top-20 teams in the same season since 2001.
Then there are the intangibles of a long-suffering program that would like to go out on a good note.
“Sending the seniors out the right way, and to build some momentum going in to the off-season, going into recruiting, going into us getting ready for next season,” junior quarterback Jake Locker said when asked about the incentive in today’s game. “So it’s a big game for us for a lot of reasons. And I think that if you’re not going to go out there and compete, then you shouldn’t be here playing anyways.”
Locker could be one of 15 Huskies playing his final game today, although the junior NFL prospect has said repeatedly that he will not think about his future until the 2009 season ends. Some scouts have projected him as a possible top-15 pick in the upcoming draft, should Locker decide to come out early.
Fourteen other UW players – not including senior linebacker E.J. Savannah, who will sit out today’s game because of a broken thumb – will suit up for the Huskies for the final time as seniors. Rather than look at today’s game as a step toward the future, Sarkisian is trying to win one last time for the graduating class.
“This is about this year; it’s not about next year,” he said somewhat emphatically on Thursday night. “It’s about this year. It’s about appreciating our fans, who are going to come and cheer us on and provide support for the 2009 Washington Huskies. This isn’t about the 2010 team.”