This probably is the most important season in Petersen’s coaching career. It’s the first time disappointment could stain the golden image he created for himself at Boise State.

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He swipes away praise as though it were poison. He staves off hype like it’s his archenemy.

Don’t try to compliment Chris Petersen’s team right now. He’ll swat your kudos into the 15th row.

The Huskies’ football coach is doing his part to downplay the excitement surrounding the upcoming season, insisting his group isn’t proven enough to warrant the big-bowl-or-bust buildup. And though he says the deflection is to keep his players focused — could he also be protecting himself?

Think about it: This probably is the most important season in Petersen’s coaching career. It’s the first time disappointment could stain the golden image he created for himself at Boise State.

Just because he turned a mid-major into a national darling doesn’t mean he can restore UW to glory. Could Petersen be the next Urban Meyer? Sure. But he also could be the next Rich Rodriguez.

Meyer, you might remember, took over a perpetually underwhelming Utah program in 2002 and won 22 games in two years. The Utes’ undefeated 2004 season earned Meyer a job at Florida, where he coached the Gators to two national titles before winning another one at Ohio State.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, inherited a West Virginia program that had won one conference title in the previous three decades — then led the Mountaineers to three consecutive top-10 seasons. However, he lasted just three years at Michigan after going 15-22 overall and 6-18 in the Big Ten.

Perhaps neither comparison is completely analogous given how Washington lacks the national sizzle of the schools in Gainseville, Fla., and Ann Arbor, Mich. But the Pac-12 still is Broadway in the college-football realm, and after two seasons at UW, the dress rehearsals are over for Coach Pete.

To Petersen’s credit, the Huskies’ progress since 2013 suggests he is building a winner. Last year’s team won seven games despite featuring a freshman quarterback, a freshman running back, and offensive and defensive lines laden with underclassmen. And this year, eight starters return to a defense that held opponents to a Pac-12-low 18.8 points per game. No wonder the Dawgs are ranked 18th in the preseason coaches poll, third to No. 7 Stanford and No. 17 USC among Pac-12 schools. All that remains is the small matter of the coaches maximizing the roster’s potential.

One big question posed throughout Petersen’s tenure at Boise State was whether the Broncos would sustain their success if they were in a Power 5 conference. Few questioned that they were capable of knocking off a titan or two per season, but it was easier to get up for those showdowns when cupcakes bookended them on the schedule.

On Sunday, Petersen was asked whether such doubts about Boise were legitimate. His response? Absolutely.

“There’s complete legitimacy. When I was over there I had said that,” Petersen said. “At times, I knew we had a really good team, but is it different than playing (a top team) every week? Yeah it is. I thought coming over here that the Pac-12 was as good as I’ve ever seen it top to bottom, and after being in it for two years, sometimes I hate when I’m right.”

At Boise, Petersen could get away with a 10-3 season here and an 8-4 season there. There was enough cachet built, and enough general separation between the Broncos and the conference that lackluster years were forgivable. But he doesn’t have that standing in the Pac-12, where losing streaks can prey upon every team in the conference. He doesn’t have that leeway in a league where a missed field-goal attempt or a botched snap could be the difference between a bowl game and an early vacation.

There is a psychological challenge Petersen faces at this level that didn’t exist in the Mountain West. Close games and heartbreaking losses test a coach’s resolve as much as it does a player’s. Petersen has proven more than people in sports could ever dream of, but he hasn’t proven he can vault a major program to national acclaim.

Soon enough, we’re going to find out if he can.

Whether it’s fair or not, it probably will take at least eight wins to satisfy UW fans this year, and at least nine to excite them. And whether it’s fair or not, that year-end victory total will have a profound effect on their opinion of Coach Pete.

Petersen is the type of coach who would try to extinguish the hype in any situation. But in this situation, you have to think that any other coach would do the same.