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Thursday, December 26, 2013
Take 2: Expectations for Washington

By Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell

Three of the Pac-12's nine bowl games are in the books and the league is 2-1 against a trio of Mountain West teams. Up next is Washington against BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Friday night (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). What can we expect from yet another game that has a team going through a coaching transition? Good question.

Keith Price
Keith Price will lead an experienced group of Washington seniors into the Fight Hunger Bowl on Friday night.
Ted Miller: We saw USC play well with an interim coach. We saw Boise State fall flat with an interim coach. Now it's Washington's turn.

Do the Huskies, after coach Steve Sarkisian bolted for USC, taking much of his staff with him, show up for the Fight Hunger Bowl focused and motivated? Do they play inspired football for former Husky great Marques Tuiasosopo, who was named interim coach?

Or do they flop against a good BYU team that is perfectly capable of embarrassing an AQ conference team. Just ask Texas.

The Huskies are dealing with further intrigue. What about defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox? Is he shortly off for USC? Or will he surprise many and remain in Seattle? Then there's defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, who is being investigated by the NCAA following allegations that he paid for private tutoring for Husky football recruit Andrew Basham.

Lupoi was almost certainly headed to USC after the bowl game, but now his future is in jeopardy.

It's fair to ask how much Wilcox and Lupoi themselves are focused and motivated for this game.

The Huskies have a good group of seniors, led by quarterback Keith Price, who are probably going to need to play an even bigger leadership role than usual in this one for Washington to win. Further, the guys who will be back next year are playing to impress new coach Chris Petersen, who likely will take a dim view of an indifferent effort.

There's been a lot of chaos surrounding the Huskies since the end of the regular season. Sometimes teams can transform chaos into an efficient, focused performance.

And sometimes they can't.

Kevin Gemmell: I think Ted hit on the key word late in his take -- leadership. When you compare the situations with USC and Boise State, you saw a Trojan team that was focused, united and rallying around common causes. For some, it was a not-so-subtle tribute to former interim coach Ed Orgeron. For others, it was a showcase before jumping to the NFL. And for still others, it was finding some closure to what has been an otherwise roller-coaster year. Whatever the reason, it all worked. It was chemistry by way of chaos.

Washington is in a similar situation to Boise in the sense that its coach left freely and wasn’t forced out the door, as was the case with Lane Kiffin and Orgeron at USC. There’s a psychological sting that goes with a coach essentially saying, “I prefer to be there, not here.” The Broncos couldn’t bounce back from that -- or the stream of controversy that followed them in Hawaii.

As far as we know, there has been no such piddling player controversies for the Huskies. And the fact that Petersen “preferred” Washington to Boise State takes a lot of the sting out of Sarkisian “preferring” USC to Seattle. There weren't many coaches in America who could inject that much immediate confidence into a program. Petersen was one of them.

Plus the Huskies are heavy when it comes to leadership. Price, Bishop Sankey, Sean Parker and solid lines on both sides of the ball give this team a solid core. This is a group that should be poised and motivated against a BYU team that, as Ted notes, has the potential to hang with an AQ team.

Bowl season is all about motivation. BYU, which plays with a perennial chip on its shoulder, has won six of its last seven bowl appearances -- including four straight. This is a team that knows how to win in the postseason and always plays with plenty of motivation.

But I think Washington has equal motivation. When Washington is at its best, it is a top 25, top 20 or even top 15 team. And for a group of seniors who have seen this program reinvent itself over the last four to five years, going out with a win cements their legacy. That should be motivation enough.