Four times this century, a Pac-12 football program has participated in one of the major bowls in three consecutive years.
USC did it seven seasons in a row (2002-08) during its Pete Carroll-era dominance.
Oregon did it four consecutive years under Chip Kelly (2009-12)
Stanford mirrored Oregon’s accomplishment, but on a one-season delay (2010-13).
And more recently, Washington went to major bowls in back-to-back-to-back fashion under Chris Petersen (2016-18).
The Trojans, pummeled by NCAA sanctions, required almost a decade to get back to sport’s grand stage.
But Stanford and Oregon recovered quickly: Each experienced a one-year backslide before returning to the top of the conference.
That is Jimmy Lake’s challenge in his first season in charge on Montlake:
Return the Huskies to the Pac-12 throne before their second-class status becomes an identity, not an outlier.
The numbers support the next 13 months — this season and next — as a crucial stretch:
*** UW’s overall record and bowl:
2014: 8-6/Cactus Bowl
2015: 7-6/Heart of Dallas Bowl
2016: 12-2/College Football Playoff
2017: 10-3/Fiesta Bowl
2018: 10-4/Rose Bowl
2019: 8-5/Las Vegas Bowl
*** UW’s conference record:
The Huskies ascended, held their position — that’s more difficult than the climb itself — and then dropped from relevance last season.
Were this a normal 12-game season, we’d consider it an undeniable, indisputable tipping point for the program.
But sweeping conclusions don’t square with shortened seasons.
We’ll wait until the close of Nov. ’21 before rendering final judgment on the state of the program.
2019 season: 8-5/4-5
Head coach: Jimmy Lake, first season (career record: 0-0)
Lake’s seat temperature: Frozen over
Lake’s appointment to replace Petersen was one of the cleanest, clearest, no-brainer promotions in conference history. He coordinated a championship defense, put together backfields that were the envy of the league, sent players to the NFL, turned down coaching offers from other schools. The lone unknown was the timing of his eventual ascent. Then Petersen stunned us all with his post-Apple Cup departure, and Lake was handed the keys. He has an odd mix of security and urgency. The Huskies need to get back to the top of the division sooner than later.
Contract status: Lake is signed through the 2024 season and will earn $3 million this season (excluding pandemic-related reductions)
QB clarity level: Nonexistent
It was just two seasons ago that UW’s quarterback room included Jake Browning, Jacob Eason, Colson Yankoff, Jacob Sirmon and Jake Haener — an embarrassment of four- and five-star riches compared to so many of the Huskies’ peers. Now here we are, one week from the 2020 opener, and only Sirmon remains. A graduate transfer (Kevin Thomson, Sacramento State) has been brought in, and we expect him to take the first snap next week in Berkeley. He’s the safest choice in a season with so much uncertainty swirling.
Roster grade: B-
The Huskies lost Eason, Hunter Bryant, Myles Bryant, Trey Adams, Nick Harris and Salvon Ahmed last spring. They lost Levi Onwuzurike and Joe Tryon as opt outs. So what’s left? The secondary is loaded, as usual. But beyond the back line, where are the playmakers? Where are the pass rushers? Where are the future first rounders? We haven’t been impressed by the wideouts for several years. The running backs look merely solid. If there’s a dominant player on either line of scrimmage, this would be a fine time to step forward. From our vantage point, the roster has something to prove.
Program trajectory: Check back in February
This topic was explored above, but let’s add the following: Combine the disrupted offseason, the abbreviated regular season, the coaching change and the epic recruiting class available in metro Seattle, and we’d argue that UW’s outlook depends as much on the signatures acquired this winter as games won this fall. In fact, we made that very argument prior to the pandemic.
Our projections …
Nov. 7: at Cal
Comment: Worse Cal teams have beaten better Washington teams the past two years. This only counts as an upset if UW gets the W.
Nov. 14: vs. Oregon State
Comment: Back home and back on track, although it could be just as tough on the eyes as UW’s 19-7 win last season.
Nov. 21: vs. Arizona
Comment: Huskies owe a few words of appreciation to the gods of crossover schedules.
Nov. 27 (Friday): at Washington State
Comment: On the list of crazy you-know-what in 2020, UW losing the Apple Cup after seven years of dominance doesn’t even register.
Dec. 5: vs. Stanford
Comment: Home team has dominated the series of late. UW’s defense is the difference in driving rain and wind.
Dec. 12: at Oregon
Comment: Huskies head to Eugene with a chance to win the division. They come home with no crown but one consolation: Oregon doesn’t win it, either.
Dec. 19: TBA
Comment: Of greater significance to the program than the Week Seven result: How UW performs during the early-signing period that concludes Dec. 18.