It’s the Alamo Bowl … and a familiar foe.
No. 12 Washington – which improved from 4-8 to 10-2 in Kalen DeBoer’s first season in Seattle – will meet No. 20 Texas (8-4) and former Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29, the team announced Sunday.
It’s the Huskies’ first Alamo Bowl appearance since Sarkisian-led Washington fell 67-56 to Robert Griffin III and the Baylor Bears in San Antonio in 2011.
Sarkisian – who went 34-29 at UW from 2009 to 2013, returning a program that was winless in 2008 to respectability – is 13-11 in two seasons in Austin, Texas.
“I know he had some success here at UW and is part of the history that we really emphasize to our guys, and also to the recruits that come here,” DeBoer said Sunday, adding that he hasn’t crossed paths with Sarkisian or other members of Texas’ coaching staff. “There’s bowl games and there’s pieces to the history that he had a part in here at UW.”
The Huskies looked primed for a Rose Bowl berth, but Utah instead secured that spot with a 47-24 upset of USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday. The Utes won a three-team tiebreaker – with a higher opponent conference winning percentage (0.469) than UW (0.395) and Oregon (0.457) – to earn their place in the Pac-12 title game.
UW, of course, avoided both Utah and USC in the regular season.
Or did they avoid UW?
“I think we’re at the point now with this year’s team where we feel that we can play with anyone. We really do,” DeBoer said. “We feel like we’re that championship -caliber football team, without a doubt. As much as everyone always (says), ‘You’ve got to play this team,’ they’ve got to play us. I think that’s the mindset we’ve had the last half of the season.
“We respect all and fear none. That’s really been something that’s resonated with our guys, and the belief we have that we are that team and we are capable of that. Some (different) things with the tiebreaker situation might have put us in that game and we (would have) had that opportunity. But it is what it is, and we weren’t able to control that part. We just continue to move forward and enjoy what we have.”
USC’s loss cost the Huskies in more ways than one. While DeBoer would have earned a $300,000 bonus with a New Year’s 6 bid – say, the Rose or Cotton Bowl – the incentive for any less prestigious bowl (Alamo included) is $75,000.
In San Antonio, the Huskies will effectively play a true road game – with Austin located just 80 miles north. But it’s an advantageous setting from a recruiting standpoint, as UW has two commits from Texas (four-star defensive lineman Anthony James and three-star corner Diesel Gordon) in the 2023 class and a proven pipeline to the Lone Star State.
And Sarkisian won’t be the only familiar foe at the Alamo Bowl. The Longhorns are also led by second-year defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who left UW in 2021 after seven seasons as the Huskies’ defensive coordinator or co-DC. His Longhorns rank 29th in the nation in scoring defense (21.2 points allowed per game), 49th in total defense (362 yards allowed per game), 52nd in sacks (2.25 per game) and 105th in turnovers gained (13).
Time will tell whether Kwiatkowski is tasked with stopping Washington’s entire offense. When asked Sunday if any players have indicated they’ll sit out the Alamo Bowl to preserve their health ahead of the 2023 NFL draft, DeBoer said: “I know everybody was at practice today. I think they assumed based on what had taken place over the weekend that it was probably going to be the Alamo Bowl.
“They just love playing the game, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for these guys to showcase their individual talents and put it out there for the country to see. And that, of course, helps them in the end with their opportunities beyond their UW playing days.”
Players who could conceivably skip the bowl to prioritize their professional future include quarterback Michael Penix Jr., wide receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan and edges Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui.
Penix, obviously, is the critical piece. The redshirt junior – who leads the nation in passing yards (4,354) and yards per game (362.8) – said in a conference call Monday that “I’m definitely looking forward to playing with my team” in the bowl game.
That comment came, of course, when Washington was widely expected to play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.
Might a less prestigious destination affect Penix’s final decision?
“(Conversations) are always ongoing with Mike,” DeBoer said of his quarterback, who has also yet to decide whether to return to UW in 2023. “I feel like he’s in a good place right now. I feel like we’re continuing to get the most up-to-date information, because the information does change. And we’re trying to help him make the best decision.
“I know he’s been aggressive in just really trying to help figure out what lies ahead for him. He really has. Because he also knows it affects and our program and what we’re going to do down the road. He’s such a key piece to this.”
Regarding the Rose Bowl, the pieces didn’t fall into place.
Nevertheless, the Huskies have been afforded an intriguing opportunity.
“Whether it’s going to the Pac-12 championship or whatever bowl we’re going to get to play in, we focus on what we can control,” DeBoer said. “The excitement we have to go play in the Alamo Bowl … we feel it’s a great bowl.
“Everyone can kind of discuss what (bowl) they felt we should be playing in. But we know we’ve got a great football team and we want to go continue to prove it and prove everyone right who is supporting us.”
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