Welcome to the eighth edition of The Figgis Forum, a fan-driven season preview for each Pac-12 team. We’re making our way out of Pullman and headed West for a slight change of scenery. In contrast to open lands of the Palouse, our next destination is one of big city living. On to Seattle we go, the one location where fans can take part in “sailgating”. On second thought, it sounds too pretentious and I prefer a traditional tailgate on dry land.
All-Time Record: 714-441-50 (.613%)
National Championships: 1*
Conference Championships: 16
Bowl Games: 36
Bowl Record: 17-18-1 (.486%)
Consensus All-Americans: 22
NFL Draft Picks: 292
1st Round Draft Picks: 24
Weeks in AP Poll: 416
Weeks at #1: 15
All-Time Record: 59-45-1
Longest Win Streak: 6 Games (1908-1914)
Longest Losing Streak: 12 Glorious Games (2004-2015)
Largest Margin of Victory: 66-0 (1974)
Largest Margin of Defeat: 0-58 (1973)
Last Meeting: 2016 (W 70-21)
There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just come out with it. The Washington Huskies were very good for a very long time. Their streak of six consecutive sub-.500 seasons from 2004 to 2009 was their longest in program history. Since 1900, they have had a total of 26 losing seasons. For context, Oregon State had an NCAA record 28 consecutive losing seasons from 1971 to 1998. The Huskies experienced a lot of success early on and even after down years, they seemingly always rebounded quickly. Their first ten-win season came in 1923 under head coach Enoch Bagshaw. They would record their second ten-win season just two years later; however, they would wait another 34 years to achieve their next ten-win season.
From 1930 to 1946, the Huskies won 59% of their games with a record of 89-51-11. Then over the next 12 seasons, they won just 39% of their games with an overall record of 47-67-5. It was during this time, specifically the 1948 season, which Oregon had finished tied with Cal at the top of the conference and a vote was held to determine which team would be sent to the Rose Bowl. The California schools were expected to vote for Cal and the northwest schools were expected to vote for Oregon. UW betrayed this expectation when they convinced Montana to join them in voting for Cal over Oregon and the rivalry was born. The last two years of this rough patch (1957 and 1958) were under Coach Jim Owens. In 1959 and 1960, Owens got Washington back to their winning ways, finishing both seasons with a mark of 10-1 after conference titles and Rose Bowl victories. The remainder of his time as head coach was not nearly as glorious. After the 1960 season, Owens would win 50.3% of his remaining games through the 1974 season. Adding fuel to the rivalry fire, the 1962 season saw Washington fans rush the field and tackle Oregon receiver Larry Hill as he was attempting to catch the game winning pass. The game then ended as a tie.
To replace Owens, the Huskies made the decision to hire Don James, who had been the head coach of Kent State. In his first two seasons in 1975 and 1976, James went 6-5 and 5-6. Then starting with the 1977 season, the Huskies began a stretch that would be their greatest in program history. From 1977 to 1984, Washington finished 10-2 four times (1977, 1979, 1981 and 1982) and finished 11-1 in 1984. This run included three Rose Bowl appearances (two victories) and an Orange Bowl victory. James’ teams then dropped off over the next five years as the Huskies finished 7-5, 8-3-1, 7-4-1, 6-5 and 8-4. The next three years, Don James’ last as head coach, were the peak of the Washington program. In 1990, James led the Huskies to another 10-2 season, conference title and Rose Bowl victory. In 1991, the Huskies finished their only undefeated season in program history at 12-0 with another conference title and Rose Bowl victory that resulted in the Coaches Poll naming them the National Champions (the AP crowned also undefeated Miami). In his final season as head coach in 1992, James led the Huskies to a 9-3 finish with a third consecutive conference title and a loss in the Rose Bowl. During this season, it came to light that several Husky players received improper benefits. A later NCAA investigation led to charges and sanctions of “lack of institutional control”. James and his staff were not cited in the sanctions and James resigned before the 1993 season in protest of the sanctions that he felt were unfair. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997 and to this day is the winningest coach in program history with an overall record of 153-57-2.
To replace James, Washington promoted longtime assistant Jim Lambright. Lambright lasted six mediocre seasons that bottomed out with a 6-6 finish and his firing in 1998. It is also worth noting that Lambright was coaching the Huskies during this game. Upon firing Lambright, UW hired Colorado head coach, Rick Neuheisel. Neuheisel violated NCAA recruiting rules before ever even coaching his first game with the Huskies by visiting high school players before the approved date. He coached for four years with the highlight being an 11-1 season and Rose Bowl victory in 2000. This 2000 season drew a lot of criticisms over lack of discipline as multiple athletes were allowed to play despite being under separate criminal investigations. Neuheisel was fired before the 2003 season after taking part in gambling in a 2003 NCAA tournament basketball bracket and lying about his actions to school officials.
Neuheisel was replaced by Keith Gilbertson who only lasted two seasons after finishing 6-6 in 2003 and 1-10 in 2004. The 1-10 finished was, at the time, the worst in program history. Gilbertson’s .304 win percentage in the second worst in program history among coaches who led the program for more than just one season. The worst mark in program history belongs to Gilbertson’s successor, Tyrone Willingham. Willingham was somehow allowed to coach for four seasons with his teams finishing 2-9, 5-7, 4-9 and a glorious 0-12 in 2008. The 2008 team was the only winless team in the FBS and bested the 2004 team as the worst in program history.
After Willingham was let go, Washington hired USC assistant coach Steve Sarkisian. Sark coached the Huskies for five years, but had much more success than his predecessor as he was able to get the program back into bowl eligibility. Though Washington was back above .500, Sarkisian’s teams started to draw the ire of fans as he finished with a record of 7-6 for three consecutive seasons, earning him the name “Seven Win Steve”. Sarkisian left UW to replace Lane Kiffin at USC prior to the Huskies bowl game in December 2013.
For the start of the 2014 season, Washington managed to lure Chris Peterson away from Boise State to take the program to the next level. In his first two seasons, Peterson finished 8-6 and 7-6 and had his breakthrough last season when the Huskies won the conference and finished 12-2 after being eliminated from the College Football Playoff by Alabama. Chris Peterson has revived the program that was the longtime power of the northwest. The question that remains is if their position will be maintained or if it will be short lived. Let’s hope for the latter as I, for one, support a Husky Free Northwest.
Fan Q & A
For the following section, I would like to thank Jeff from UW Dawg Pound for taking the time to answer my questions and give his perspective on the upcoming season.
What win total would constitute a successful season? What bowl game?
10 wins at least. But, I think the real goal is winning the Pac-12 North and playing in the Pac-12 Championship game. If that happens with a loss to Oregon it would take some of the shine off. Beating the Ducks always makes a season at least somewhat successful.
What win total would constitute a failed season? What bowl game?
Hard to name a win total, but 8-9 wins would feel like a letdown. Anything short of reaching the Pac-12 Championship with this team has to be considered a disappointment.
What are you most optimistic about this coming season?
The run game. We return a pretty good OL from last year which should be even more improved, especially considering our tackles were just sophomores last year. That combined with the 1-2 punch of Gaskin and Coleman should have Husky fans feeling very good about the ground game. Bonus answer: the defense in general. Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has put one of the Pac-12's best defenses on the field for 3 straight years, and even with some young players in the secondary, I see no reason they aren't one of the conference’s best yet again.
What are you most apprehensive about this season?
A little worried about the pass rush. We really only had one great pass rusher last year in Joe Mathis, and once he got injured we suffered in that department. There's plenty of talent and the pass rush should be at least fine, but I don't see a ready-made replacement on the roster right now.
What do you expect to be the toughest game?
Early in the season, @Colorado won't be easy. @Arizona State has always given the Huskies fits over the years. But I have to go @Stanford, in November. While The Farm isn't an intimidating atmosphere, the Huskies won't have the benefit of playing in front of a raucous home crowd like last year. This match up could likely decide the Pac-12 North champion, and this late in the season, David Shaw should have found a QB to get Stanford humming.
What could be a potential trap game?
The aforementioned Arizona State game in Tempe. The desert hasn't been historically kind to the Dawgs. UCLA always seems to play us really close when we're good, so that could be a weird one too.
Are there any injury or depth concerns heading into the season?
We're not really deep at WR with proven targets after Dante Pettis, and Chico McClatcher to a degree. What proven player steps up if he goes down? We're expecting contributions from freshmen, and hoping some sophomores have taken jumps in the off season.
Who do you think will win each division?
Taking the easy way out...Washington wins the North, USC the South.
Who will come in last in each division?
North: Cal South: Arizona
How do you think your in-state rival will finish?
WSU should still have a good season, probably 8-9 wins. Could take some time to get the new WRs clicking after Gabe Marks and River Cracraft moved on, but Leach has been there long enough to have his system ingrained. Replacing Shalom Luani in the secondary won't be easy, but they should be able to generate some pressure up front with Hercules Mata'afa. Even though Luke Falk is a senior they won't win the Apple Cup in Seattle.
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* Obviously it is worth mentioning that the 1991 national title was shared with the Miami Hurricanes. Miami was crowned the champion by the AP, the Huskies by the Coaches Poll.