I got it wrong on my prediction for the season opener. Sure, I predicted the Huskies to beat Boise State, but I called for a close game, a nail-biter. As I noted in that prediction, my opinion on the game had changed in the month or so leading up to it - in the summer, I looked at what happened in the Las Vegas Bowl - on a neutral field - and looked at the players returning for each team, and the fact it was the opener of the rebuilt stadium, and I felt like it was a game the Huskies should win, and probably by double digits.
But as the game drew closer, I started to get more worried. Why? Well, aside from his first game against LSU in 2009, the Huskies have looked sloppy and mistake-prone in their openers under Sark. And the general consensus has been that Chris Petersen is a superior coach to Sark, and he has a reputation for getting his best performances when he's had more than 2 weeks to prepare. I also allowed doubts to creep into my head about whether Keith Price would bounce back significantly this year, and whether a much more experienced offensive line group would show the kind of improvement you'd expect from a group with this many starts under their collective belts.
When I saw folks here in the comments sections predicting blowout wins, I was dubious and thought they were being rash, or looking through unreasonably purple-tinted glasses. I didn't have that kind of firm belief that these Huskies would be good enough to blow out a program like Boise State. When I met Chris for beers the Thursday night before the game, he asked me how I thought the game would go, and I told him I was nervous and expected a close game. But a funny thing happened as I told him this - I realized that I really ought to be more bullish on this team and their chances against the Broncos. I thought about how I always expected the Huskies to win games under Don James, and that an objective look at the roster showed a team with the kind of returning talent and experience that in those days would have generated a 10+ win season.
Still, I wasn't ready to let go of my doubts, and my official prediction reflected that. I was as nervous as I've been in a long, long time heading down to Husky Stadium that day - I knew how important it was for Washington to win this game and get this critical season off to a good start. I hoped that the Huskies would get an early 2-score lead so I could relax a bit. But I did not expect the 2nd half explosion and the dominance on display. Hoped for it, sure, but my belief that they would actually do it wasn't there.
But really, it should have been. I've spent a fair amount of time on this blog discussing the roster situation that Sark inherited and providing reasons why the string of three straight 7-6 seasons wasn't necessarily showing a program stuck in neutral. I've been impressed with the recruiting classes Sark has signed, and I saw a roster this year that, while still a bit on the young side, finally boasted a lot of experience overall. I was excited to see Sark again borrowing great ideas from other successful programs and implementing a hurry-up/no-huddle offensive philosophy, thereby greatly increasing reps in practice and ensuring his defense would be better prepared for the other teams in the conference that operate in a similar manner. I thought the move would benefit Keith Price as he looked pretty good in the select times the Husky offense went HUNH in 2012, and I thought we would see an improvement in our WR group which would in turn make KP look better. And with the way the defense made tremendous strides in 2012 under the entirely new defensive staff, I was feeling pretty good about that side of the ball.
And all of those things were on full display last Saturday. These Huskies looked every bit the part of a team ready to contend for a conference title. Sure, this might be the weakest Boise State team since the last outfit that visited Husky Stadium, but even if you think they will be an 8-4, 9-3 type of team, a 38-6 win where you outgain your opponent 592 to 346 is still quite impressive. As has been detailed in multiple ways this week by a variety of our authors, this offense really clicked and shows the potential to join the upper echelon teams like Oregon, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor, etc. And the defense showed a remarkable ability to limit big plays, get better as the game goes along and rely on sticky man coverage in the secondary that allows the linebackers greater freedom to respond to an offense trying to spread the field.
Is this a team that will go undefeated and play in the BCS Championship Game? Probably not, but it's no longer ludicrous to consider the possibility. Will they surpass two top-5 teams in Oregon and Stanford and win the Pac-12 North to earn the chance at playing for their 15th Rose Bowl (2nd most in the conference)? Maybe not, but they have the ability now to stay close enough to both teams that some fortunate breaks could push them past both. They already proved they could beat Stanford last year, and this may well be the year they break the streak against Oregon.
Maybe you think I'm making too much of one game. And maybe I am. But the thing about it is it was a combination of being impressive, but not out of the blue - everything we saw out of that game was something we thought this team was capable of doing. The only question was if they'd reach that potential.
Those of us that have been looking at the roster and looking ahead pointed to this year as the year that should be the "breakthrough" year for Sark. I think the breakthrough is at hand, and while I don't expect perfection out of this team - I think they'll have a stumble or two - this is now a team that I think has the talent, the experience and the confidence to go out and have a chance to win every game they play.
I'm ready to believe in this team - are you?