In this week's roundtable, Sundodger and I are joined by thecassino and Ryan Priest - thanks to both for taking part!
Here's my question to the group:
I'm going to ignore the raw wound that is this year's Apple Cup result and instead look ahead - speculation seems to place the Huskies in the Vegas Bowl, though there appears to be small chances they could end up in the Sun Bowl or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Do you have any preferences as to which bowl they play in?
kirkd: Beyond playing in the Rose, Alamo & Holiday Bowls, my preferences shift to prioritizing location and date. I really have no interest in visiting El Paso, so the Sun Bowl has never appealed to me. I've been to Las Vegas multiple times, and while it's been fun, I'm kind of over the "Vegas" thing; I guess I'm getting old. From strictly a selfish standpoint, I'd personally prefer the game in San Francisco since I have a number of relatives in the area and I always like visiting the Bay Area. And the timing of it (December 29th) would make it more likely I could attend.
From a standpoint of what's best for the program though, it sounds like the Vegas Bowl is preferred because of timing - since it's December 22nd, it would allow the coaches to get the practices in and the bowl game out of the way the soonest to allow them to then shift all their focus on finishing up recruiting. Ultimately though I don't think it matters a whole lot, other than winning it and showing improvement in the win column from the last 2 seasons.
Sundodger: Unless The Dawgs were playing in BCS bowl, or even in the Alamo or maybe Holiday Bowls, it really doesn't matter to me. Getting the win is important for the perception of the season, but even more so is the fifteen additional practices the team gets. Due to the proximity of potential recruits, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco has some appeal. But it's a non-descript game against a team (Navy) that can run the ball well and could potentially give the Dawgs fits. Las Vegas has marginally more prestige, and a trip to Sin City might attract some Husky fans, but the idea of playing a Boise State in a bowl game and then to inaugurate the new stadium 9 months later isn't my first wish, but beating Boise State probably provides the most attractive conclusion to the season for Husky fans.
Ryan Priest: At this point, I don't think that most Husky fans have a huge preference. Obviously, the fanbase wants to see the program attain as much success as possible, but I've yet to meet the Washington fan who defines a successful season as making it to the Vegas Bowl as opposed to the Sun Bowl. No, I think we all know that UW fans are hungry for nothing less than roses, and if Sark proves unable to guide the Huskies to that destination in the next two or three years, I think there's a very good chance that he pays for that deficiency with his job. Then again, I think you can say that of just about any Pac-12 program, so Washington is hardly unique in that regard.
thecassino: Not really. The bowl itself is largely irrelevant; the thing that I'm more concerned with is the matchup, and the likely scenarios are all pretty bad. They're probably either playing a Mountain West team or Navy, and BCS teams never come out on top of those, even when they win. They're supposed to win, so if they do they get no credit, and if they lose they get skewered by fans and media. Best case for the team would be playing (and beating) Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, but I'm sure nobody wants to play those guys twice in a row. For selfish reasons, I'd like to see them in San Francisco, because that'd be the easiest game for me to get to.
Here is thecassino's question:
How much stock do you put into the additional 15 practices the team gets as a result of making a bowl game?
thecassino: I think the practices are nice, but ultimately overblown. Far more important to a player's development are the program's strength and conditioning program, his natural genetics, his work ethic and desire to improve, and the coaching he receives.
kirkd: Quite a bit. One of the things that casual fans of football tend to overlook between college football and the NFL is the limited amount of official practices teams get at the college level. Getting 15 extra practices is significant - that's the same as what teams get for Spring practices, and half of what's allowed for Fall practices. Given that close to half the teams out there get those practices, it's not as much of an edge as it used to be when there were a lot fewer bowl games; but by the same token, you don't want your program to be one of those falling behind in practice reps either.
When you see how most coaches use these practices, you can see why they like them so much - most coaches spend several of these practices to give the majority of reps to the young kids on the roster. This is an opportunity for the coaches to get a better sense of how the kids that are redshirting and/or buried on the depth charts have progressed over the course of the season, and to have an idea of what the depth charts may look like for the following season's Spring practices. It's also a great time to experiment with position switches - Khalif Barnes moved from DL to OL during bowl practices, and it was common for Don James to also use these practices to experiment with position changes.
Sundodger: A ton. It's the biggest reason to play in a lower-tier bowl game. A player that redshirts and plays in four bowls his first four years has 60 extra practices that teams that don't make bowls don't get. That's almost an extra full season's worth. The way that the Huskies (and most teams) structure those practices is to focus primarily on the development of the younger players early (almost like an end-of-season training camp), and focus on gameplan-specific things later on. When you look at the fact that over 20 of the players in Washington's two-deeps are freshmen and sophomores, that extra work they get with the coaching staff (as opposed to the offseason work with strength coaches) is the thing that you have to count on if the development of the team is to continue.
Ryan Priest: Smarter people than me seem to think that they're pretty important, so I'll defer to them and say that I put plenty of stock into that position. Especially when you consider how many second- and third-year players have started for the Dawgs this year, it's no surprise that the coaches are eager to gather them for an extra set of workouts. I also don't think that you can overstate how important it is for the mental health of the Huskies that they have a set of workouts and a game in about a month that will allow them to exorcise their Apple Cup demons over a longer period of time than Sark's usual 24-hour rule, since no less an authority than the head coach himself said that the team would probably take more time than that to shake off that particular loss. It would have been horrible to end the season on that game, and I'll be floored if the Dawgs don't take the field in December with the pain of that game foremost on their minds.
Here is Ryan's question:
Any knowledgeable observer has known for some time now that this Husky football team sets up for 2013 much better than it did for 2012, due primarily to player maturation (the Huskies currently project to have 18 returning starters) and the relative difficulty of the schedule (a game at Soldier Field against Illinois is eminently more winnable than a trip to Death Valley to take on LSU). It seems to me that, while Sark has largely taken care of business in Seattle -- he is 18-7 on Montlake -- his success or failure will largely fall on his ability to shake his road woes, where he is 8-17 in his four years as a head coach. As Bob detailed a few days ago, the Huskies have home contests against Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State and road games against Illinois, Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA. UW can likely afford to drop no more than two or three of those games if they are to remain in the conversation for the Rose Bowl into November, which many Husky fans seem to believe is a necessary benchmark for Sark to clear if he is to continue captaining the Dawgs for the foreseeable future. What does this football team have to do to book tickets for Los Angeles on New Years Day 2014, and as of today, is such a goal feasible?
Ryan Priest: The only way that UW even has a chance to make the Rose Bowl next season is if they find themselves at the center of a perfect storm of luck a year from now. Price will have to resemble, if not his Alamo Bowl 2011 self, then at least his 2012 Utah self (or conversely, Cyler Miles or Jeff Lindquist will have to pull some convincing Marcus Mariota/Brett Hundley impersonations). The offensive line will have to see Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa return with nary a lingering effect of their knee injuries, and they'll have to stay healthy for the whole season; meanwhile, Micah Hatchie will either have to find a way to protect the quarterback, or give up his job to someone who can. At the skill positions, Callier and Johnson, and hopefully Cooper, will have to make full recoveries from their injuries and provide threats that simply didn't exist this year for the Washington offense. On the defensive side of the ball, someone (likely Alabama transfer Travell Dixon) will have to make a seamless transition into Desmond Trufant's cornerback position, and Josh Shirley will have to rediscover the quarterback rushing abilities that made him such a highly-touted recruit.
thecassino: With the climate of the Pac-12 as it is right now it'd be unwise to book a ticket for Pasadena next season, but that's not necessarily an indictment of next year's UW team. The move to two divisions and a conference championship made it harder for teams to get the Rose Bowl bid, and with the emergence of Oregon and Stanford as annual BCS Bowl participants, the path there for any team in the North is absolutely brutal. Oregon this season is a perfect example: they may be the best team in college football, yet they won't even get a chance to play for Roses. Conversely, if the teams all beat up on each other and the Huskies backdoor their way into the championship game (UCLA last year), they may have a great end of season result in spite of being marred by many of the issues that plagued them this season.
kirkd: At this point in time - not knowing what impact freshmen might sign in February and not knowing how well the currently injured players will recover - I'm less confident in making a prediction about our chances at winning the conference next year. I'll say this though: I expect them to be improved over this year's team, and to be a real factor in the Rose Bowl race. It will also be important to know whether or not Oregon will be eligible or barred from a bowl due to sanctions. Currently, I'd expect Oregon & Stanford to be the favorites in the North, with the UW 3rd, but if Oregon ends up ineligible for post-season play that obviously improves our chances significantly.
Looking ahead at the roster, it's encouraging to see that so few impact players are graduating. Of the guys we're losing, I'd rate them as follows (in descending order of value): Desmond Trufant, Drew Schaefer, Justin Glenn, Semisi Tokolahi, Talia Crichton, Cody Bruns & Jonathan Amosa (no offense intended to the others graduating). We have potential pieces in place to adequately replace each of these guys, and in some cases possibly improve.
Where we will likely fall short of being true championship caliber is the play of the lines. I expect both to improve, especially if we get some luck in the recovery of Ha'oli Jamora, Colin Tanigawa, Erik Kohler & Lawrence Lagafuaina. But even with those guys, I'm not seeing dominating lines. We'll be relying on skill position talent to really carry us again, and what encourages me there is I'm really excited about how our LB corps should improve, and even with the losses of Trufant & Glenn there's reason to believe the secondary will be nearly as good next year, and possibly better. With James Johnson returning and another year of experience for the other WR's, the receiving group should be improved, as should the RB group with Bishop Sankey & Kendyl Taylor joined by a hopefully 100% Jesse Callier. The big question will be how well Keith Price can return to the promise he showed in the Alamo Bowl; I suspect with a better supporting cast, he'll bounce back nicely. And if he doesn't, we should have some talented, if inexperienced options behind him (with Cyler Miles the favorite to end Fall camp #2).
To end an already long answer, I think it's possible the Huskies could win the conference next year, but I think it's more likely they'll fall a little short - something like 9-3. That would probably not satisfy a number of fans, but Sark would be quite safe in his job.
Sundodger: This is a tough question to answer, because things change so much from one year to the next. Few people predicted Oregon State to be in play for the Pac 12 title heading into the final week of the season, and virtually no one picked USC to fall apart the way they did. I think 2013 will be equally as full of surprise teams, both good and bad. If the dominoes fall a certain way, the Huskies might end up rebuilding their defensive staff for a second straight season. And Sarkisian could end up choosing to shake things up on his own.
The simplest answer I can give is that the Huskies need to make monumental strides in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Improvement there is going to have the most trickle-down effect in the play of the units behind them. Those two units each have their token senior, but are mostly made up of sophomores and freshmen. So there’s some hope simply in the maturation of those guys. But almost all of them seem to have a near-fundamental flaw that makes it tough to project him as a true "impact" player in the near future, so hope seems to be a lot of what we have as fans. This is a critical offseason in terms of guys getting stronger. And healthier. I just can’t get myself to count on semi-proven commodities like Tanigawa and Kohler and the o-line, or Jamora on D. I hope that players like Sione Potoa’e and Josh Banks realize this is their last chance to play big-time football and step up huge, but there’s no guarantee.
I don’t necessarily put much stock into the notion that Sarkisian "can’t" win on the road. I agree he hasn’t done well, and the Huskies look like a different team away from home, but that’s true of most teams. If the Huskies were dominating teams at home and still playing poorly on the road, then maybe there’s an endemic issue. But that really isn’t the case. The Huskies are a struggling team trying to get over their current plateau, period. 2013 is a critical year in that regard, and if Sarkisian doesn’t do it, then the pendulum swings significantly toward him never being able to do it consistently. But I don’t necessarily think that putting a black and white mandate for next season is the right thing to do.
Ted Miller had an interesting column about the 7-5 doldrums several teams in the Big 12 and Pac 12 find themselves in, due in large part to playing 9 conference games. To think that Mississippi State may very well find themselves ranked….Sheesh. Selfishly, as a fan extra conference game ensures one better game that I get to watch each year. And I have little doubt that if a conference game is dropped, Woodward will schedule the Electoral College if he can to replace it. If it was up to you, is it worth it for the conference to adopt an 8-game schedule even if it meant more games against FCS opponents?
Sundodger: To me personally, no it’s not. For one thing, there’s no guarantee that the extra "miss" in the conference is one of the top teams or one of the bottom teams. And being ranked in the low 20’s like Mississippi State may find themselves, is pretty hollow when it’s essentially a "scheduled" ranking and nothing more. If the Huskies are legitimately good, then it really shouldn’t matter if a game on their schedule is versus Eastern Washington or Arizona. They should just win regardless. With as much as I pay for tickets, and as few opportunities as there are to watch Husky football in person, I detest that a third of those games a year could be non-competitive games that aren’t entertaining and don’t provide a true measure of the Dawgs.
But that’s not reality. Perception is. And avoiding those 6 extra sure losses raises the profile of the conference as a whole, and the Huskies specifically. If that makes them more attractive to potential recruits and coaches, then that’s the price to pay. I don’t like it, but that’s the landscape of college football, and the Pac 12 is stacking the deck against itself.
Ryan Priest: I don't care about whether we play an eight- or nine-game conference schedule, so long as the B1G, Big 12 and SEC are doing the same. We'll never be able to properly evaluate teams from disparate parts of the country until they're competing on a (more or less) level playing field. I'm with Brad in that I'd like to see high-quality non-conference games over 63-3-type of victories over schools like St. Andrews College for the Blind, but if that's the price we pay for getting to an even non-conference schedule, so be it. Hopefully, the new playoff selection committee will put a huge weight on strength of schedule, and I'll be able to have my cake and eat it too.
thecassino: Realignment has killed this as an issue, because it has conflated it so badly. There's no good solution. It would be nice for every conference to play the same number of conference games, but when you have conferences expanding as they are, the number of games played doesn't matter as much because there are so many teams in the conference that aren't going to play each other. Take a look at Georgia's schedule this year. They don't play anybody out of conference, and their conference record is trash too. They played 2 good teams all year, and the one away from home they got trounced but they control their own destiny in playing for the title. Playing an 8 game schedule in the Big-12 is not the same as playing an 8 game schedule in the Pac-12 is not the same as playing an 8 game schedule in the SEC and so on. And the same with 9 games.