SEATTLE – This is not a prediction.
It’s a work of fiction.
It’s an admission that in 2020, anything – both good and bad – can happen.
In that spirit, let’s look ahead to Washington’s seven-game football season, which is set to kick off on the road against California on Nov. 7. Let’s drift away from reality and embrace the extremes. Let’s consider opposite ends of the Husky season spectrum.
Here are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for UW’s condensed campaign.
The best-case scenario
It’s a sunny Saturday in Berkeley, California. Jimmy Lake paces the visitor’s sideline – his face obscured by a visor, a purple gaiter and a pair of reflective silver sunglasses. He is a 43-year-old, first-time head coach, who has dreamed of this day for nearly two decades.
(And, no, those dreams did not include an empty stadium or a season opener on Nov. 7. But alas, we digress.)
He has spent six years in Seattle not-so-silently observing his predecessor, Chris Petersen, and perfecting his own blueprint for Pac-12 supremacy. He is ready. His team is ready. He waves across the field to Cal head coach Justin Wilcox – another former UW defensive coordinator – and he pulls down those silver sunglasses. And he smiles. And he winks.
There will be no lightning delay.
Though, it would be accurate to classify first-year coordinator John Donovan’s UW offense as electric. Starting Quarterback (Editor’s note: Rather than predicting how the current QB competition will play out, we’ll keep that can of worms closed and refer to the future starter only as “Starting Quarterback”) is effective in his UW debut, spreading the ball to multiple pass-catchers against a staunch Cal secondary. Despite replacing three starters this fall, Scott Huff’s offensive line repeatedly opens holes for Husky running backs Richard Newton, Sean McGrew and Cameron Davis.
On the other side, standout nickelback Elijah Molden – who guaranteed a victory before the game, not unlike Cal linebacker Evan Weaver in 2019 – snatches the first two of six (!) interceptions in his senior season. Even without Levi Onwuzurike, UW defensive linemen Tuli Letuligasenoa, Sam Taimani, Jacob Bandes and Faatui Tuitele – as well as inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio – combine to stonewall 230-pound Cal running back Christopher Brown Jr.
The Cal Bears – and this is absolutely true – have not won a game on Nov. 7 since 1953. That streak won’t be snapped this Saturday.
Final score: UW 27, Cal 13.
Donovan’s offense continues to gel in UW’s next two games, convincing home wins against Oregon State (31-10) and Arizona (34-17).
The Huskies are 3-0, Starting Quarterback is getting comfortable, and Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense is providing a pass rush – starring Laiatu Latu, Ryan Bowman, Sav’ell Smalls and a blitzing Ulofoshio – even without departed UW outside linebacker Joe Tryon.
Now, believe it or not, it’s already Apple Cup week. The rivalry countdown clock WSU head coach Nick Rolovich installed in the Cougs’ locker room officially hits zero.
But, even with a new head coach, it’s the same old story. Same as in 2018, it snows inside Martin Stadium. And same as in 2018, the Cougs are buried under an avalanche of penalties and errant interceptions and Husky rushing yards. Granted, both teams make the wise choice not to warm up shirtless – prioritizing the pandemic over irresponsible rivalry traditions, after all.
Final score: UW 28, WSU 15.
After it’s over, Lake says he hopes Rolovich stays in Pullman “for a long time. That would be awesome.”
Then, after an equally awesome 26-17 home win over Stanford, UW (5-0) travels to Oregon (5-0) with a spot in the Pac-12 championship game going to the winner. Inside an empty Autzen Stadium, the teams are evenly matched. Tied at 24 with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter, Starting Quarterback mounts a drive from his 8-yard line. He hits Puka Nacua for 14 yards, then Ty Jones for 10. He finds Cade Otton on a well-designed – tip of the cap to Donovan – tight-end screen, and the junior takes two Ducks for a ride that crosses midfield. Newton gashes up the gut for 15 more. The clock keeps churning and the Huskies keep moving.
Finally, with 3 seconds left, kicker Peyton Henry lines up for a winning 37-yard field goal that’s identical to the one he missed two years earlier in every identifiable way. This time, he calmly cranks it through the middle of the uprights. His fist pumps harder than any Husky’s has. As his teammates lift him on their shoulders and carry him off the field, Henry feels weightless – like he could spread his arms and fly.
For Henry, and for Washington, redemption was worth the wait.
Final score: UW 27, Oregon 24.
On the precipice of an abbreviated undefeated season, UW hosts 5-1 USC inside Husky Stadium in the Pac-12 championship game. And, unlike the three-hour heart attack against Oregon that preceded it, this one’s over almost instantly. Kwiatkowski’s defense terrorizes standout USC quarterback Kedon Slovis, who admits after the game that “all I saw was purple.” Nacua – a former USC commit – pulls down three touchdown catches in a convincing 31-0 win.
The win was so convincing, in fact, that UW sneaks into the College Football Playoff despite having played just seven games.
But, even in the best-case scenario, UW still ain’t beating Clemson or Alabama or Ohio State.
Just like in 2016, UW’s season ends in the CFP semis. But, it turns out, there’s a consolation prize. Awash in the purple-and-gold pandemonium, five-star defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau and wide receiver Emeka Egbuka both choose to sign with the home-state Huskies. And, because a COVID-19 vaccine was developed and distributed more quickly than anyone anticipated, Seattle can celebrate UW’s season with a city-wide parade.
There, on a bedazzled purple husky float, Lake sees his predecessor – Petersen – standing in the crowd.
And he pulls down those silver sunglasses. And he smiles. And he winks.
The worst-case scenario
Of course, we could say the worst-case scenario is that Starting Quarterback struggles, or Donovan’s offense is a disaster, or injuries mount, or the inside linebackers don’t develop, or the pass-rush deteriorates without Tryon, or the Huskies surrender the Apple Cup for the first time since 2012. We could detail every individual disappointment in an 0-7 season.
But that wouldn’t be the right answer.
Simply put, the worst-case scenario is that cases of COVID-19 spike and the fall football season is canceled – again.
In the worst-case scenario, nobody wins.
Even if it’s not your favorite team, let’s hope we have a winner.
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