Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Best case-worst case: Washington
By Ted Miller
This is the eighth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.
We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).
Up next: Washington
Steve Sarkisian erupts from his slumber, waking his wife.
"The voice again?" she asks.
"Yes," Sarkisian says. "It says, 'If you build it, he will come.' I feel like I've heard that somewhere before. It's probably from some obscure movie."
"But you've already built it," she says. "Renovated Husky Stadium is going to be the best venue in the Pac-12."
Sarkisian leaps from his bed. "That's it!" he says. "I'm going over the Husky Stadium."
When Sarkisian is gone, his wife shakes here head with a perturbed look, "Freaking Pac-12 blog," she rasps.
Sarkisian walks into the shiny new stadium. He looks around with pride. It's 11:59 p.m. A small kitten crosses his path. He looks up. About 50 yards away, at midfield a backlit man stands, shirtless.
"If you build it... he will come...," Sarkisian says as he recognizes the man approaching. "He has come back!"
Bruce Lee steps into the light.
"Man, please tell me you're going to make another movie," Sarkisian says. "That fight with Chuck Norris! And Kareem! Will you say, 'Boards don't hit back!' for me?"
Lee says nothing. He just stares at Sarkisian.
"Don't think, Sark. Feel," Lee says. "I am but a finger pointing to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory. Or should I say, Husky glory. Come, we have much to discuss."
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, whose pinkie miraculously healed before the end of preseason camp, doesn't play in Washington's 31-17 win over Boise State to open the season. Keith Price completes 21 of 30 for 235 yards and two touchdowns, and the Huskies defense holds the Broncos to 295 total yards.
"Austin is going to sit for three games," Sarkisian says to reporters after the game. "We really labored over this because I absolutely believe his DUI was an anomaly. It doesn't speak to his character or how he conducts himself. But we have high standards at the University of Washington and with our football team. The message is don't drink and drive, period. If news about our suspending him prevents one person from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, we've served our community."
During the Huskies off week, Sarkisian appears on College GameDay. Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit gush about Sarkisian's discipline, Husky Stadium and how he's rebuilt the program. He's also asked about the Huskies new up-tempo offense, which nonetheless incorporates many of the pro-style concepts that are his longtime schematic staples.
"Our offense favors formlessness so that it can assume all forms and since our offense has no style, it can fit in with all styles," Sarkisian says.
ESPN, impressed with Sarkisian's profundity, uses the clip in a new commercial for the network. It goes viral.
Washington blisters Illinois 41-10, buries Idaho State then outlasts Arizona 38-35. But No. 4 Stanford gets a critical fourth-quarter pick-6 from safety Ed Reynolds -- Price's first interception of the season -- that keys a 24-20 win over the Huskies.
Sarkisian finds Lee in his office early Sunday morning.
"Empty your mind," says Lee. "Become formless and shapeless like water. When water is poured into a cup, it becomes the cup. When water is poured into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.
"Now what is missing from your team?"
Says Sarkisian, "We don't play as well on the road. We sometimes lack a killer instinct. We are close but not there yet."
Says Lee, "And Big Boss Man Oregon is next, coming to your house, intent on humiliating the Huskies again. What is it -- nine consecutive wins by at least 17 points?
"Again, what is missing from your team?"
Sarkisian gets a far-away look. "The... the... spirit of Don James?"
Lee and Sarkisian reappear in downtown Fremont.
"Norm's?" says Sarkisian. "I love this place. But why are we here?"
Lee leads Sarkisian into the pub. He trades a fist bump and meaningful look with owner Steve Habecker. Lee then walks into the back of the building. He takes out a large, old-fashioned key and opens a door. He turns on the light. There is a chest, not unlike a pirate's treasure chest. Lee opens it. He reaches inside. He takes out a scroll.
"Read this," Lee says.
Sarkisian unspools the parchment. He reads, “I think we could play against anybody who has ever played in college football.”
"Don James," Lee says.
No. 2 Oregon leads Washington 28-24 with 1:47 remaining. The Huskies take over at their 20 and drive to the Ducks 5-yard line with 10 seconds left. Sarkisian calls a timeout.
"Keith, this is your moment -- enjoy it," Sarkisian tells his quarterback. "You're about to become a Husky legend."
Price walks back onto the field. Instead of joining the huddle, he approaches the Ducks defenders.
"You have offended my Husky family and you have offended Husky Stadium," Price says before returning to the Washington huddle.
Says Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu,"Oh no. He's made us into Mr. Han! We need Michael Clay. He'd know how to defeat this bad juju with his spirit animal."
Price brings the Huskies to the line of scrimmage. He takes the shotgun snap and runs right up the middle for the winning touchdown. He goes in untouched due to a brutal surge from his offensive line.
For the first time since 2002, the Huskies are ranked in the top-10. But then they go down 28-24 at Arizona State.
Sarkisian finds Lee in his office early Sunday morning.
"Leading a great football program, it’s not how much your players have learned, but how much they have absorbed from what they have learned," Lee says. "It is not how much fixed knowledge they can accumulate, but what they can apply livingly that counts."
The Huskies pound California and Colorado, but they make a bigger statement by beating No. 12 UCLA and No. 15 Oregon State on the road. Meaningful road wins have been few-and-far-between for the Huskies under Sarkisian.
It's also meaningful that Stanford loses to rival California. The Pac-12 North title is still in play. After the Huskies pound Washington State 35-10 in the Apple Cup, they gather around the giant screen TV in the players' lounge to watch Oregon-Oregon State. The Huskies need the Ducks to lose in order to win the division.
The Ducks lead 24-20, and the Beavers are forced to call their final timeout with Oregon facing a second and 5 on the 50-yard line.
Announcer: "It looks like the Ducks will be able to run the clock out if they can get one more first down. Mariota hands off to ... no the ball is loose. It's picked up by Oregon State defensive tackle Brandon Bennett-Jackson who takes off the other way... he's, he's lost a shoe... and the other... but he's still going to score! A shoeless Bennett-Jackson gives Oregon State the lead!"
The Beavers hold on. The Huskies win the North Division, as their divisional record is better than both Stanford and Oregon.
Washington beats Arizona State 28-24 to earn its first birth in the Rose Bowl since the 2000 season. The Huskies then slip No. 6 Ohio State 21-17 to finish 12-2 and ranked fourth.
Meanwhile, Sarkisian's ESPN video gets one billion hits and spawns a cottage industry of imitators. Psy releases a "Sarkisiani Style!" and football teams across the country do the "Sarkisian Shake."
A T-shirt with split image of Sarkisian and Bruce Lee becomes all the rage, most notably among elite high school football recruits. At the Under Armour All-Star game, just about every player wears one.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Huskies sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.
A sinkhole swallows Autzen Stadium.
With tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the starting lineup -- and with a heavily taped pinkie finger -- Washington opens remodeled Husky Stadium with thud, as Boise State scores 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win 28-24.
"This game won't define our season," coach Steve Sarkisian says.
A reporter asks Sarkisian why he didn't suspend Seferian-Jenkins.
"He was punished internally," Sarkisian replies. "And we took a team vote, and Austin's teammates voted not to suspended him. I was therefore powerless to punish him that way."
For the rest of the season, every time the Huskies lose, news stories contain this phrase: "... Sarkisian, who didn't suspend tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins despite his spring DUI conviction..."
Washington comes back to beat Illinois 10-7, despite three turnovers from quarterback Keith Price, and blasts Idaho State 30-10. But the schedule quickly gets tougher, and Washington is nipped in overtime by Arizona and drubbed by Stanford 24-6.
"We've got a young team that is still learning to win," Sarkisian said. "But we can turn things around against Oregon."
The Ducks pound the Huskies 40-10, Oregon's 10th consecutive win over their most bitter rival by at least 17 points.
Price is more his 2012 self than the tantalizing talent he was in 2011. The offensive line, though experienced, continues to get pushed around. And the secondary really misses cornerback Desmond Trufant, though a bigger problem is that the extraordinary number of times certain Huskies fans blathered about the Pac-12 blog losing "all credibility!" because Trufant didn't make last season's top-25 players list has unleashed a karmic whirlwind that makes all bounces go against the defense.
Kevin Gemmell: I feel like we properly warned them about the potential for a karmic whirlwind.
Ted Miller: Hey, it's always been a part of the process. But it's out of our hands. I told Justin Wilcox that even we don't fully understand the supernatural powers of the Pac-12 blog and how it handles trolls who are unredeemed because they lack perspective and a sense of humor.
Washington loses at Arizona State but beats California and Colorado, meaning it needs to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible.
"Our first goal every year is to become bowl eligible," Sarkisian says.
The Huskies lose 27-17 at UCLA.
"We're beat up and we're young," Sarkisian says. "But we can still become bowl eligible."
The Huskies lose 24-10 at Oregon State.
"We have to put this behind us," Sarkisian says. "We have plenty to play for in the Apple Cup. I know these guys remember what happened last year, how we folded in the fourth quarter and surrendered an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter."
The Huskies and Cougars are tied 20-20 at halftime, but Washington State rolls to a 47-20 victory, as fans slip out of shiny new remodeled Husky Stadium midway through the fourth quarter. The last play of the game features Cougars safety Deone Bucannon returning Price's third interception 70 yards for a TD.
Oregon beats Alabama for the national title. Washington State beats Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
Sarkisian is hired by the Dallas Cowboys.
"Huskies fans deserve a second chance at greatness," athletic director Scott Woodward says. "And this man deserves a second chance to get us there... Ladies and gentlemen, Tyrone Willingham has agreed to return to coach the Huskies.
"Isn't that just so great!"
Previous "Best case-worst case" posts