A young, inconsistent Washington Huskies team is capable of winning two of three games to qualify for postseason.
This, as they say, is one of them good problems.
It’s a testament to progress — a nod to growth at an accelerated rate.
The following may have seemed unfair to these young Huskies two months ago, but it has since become truth: It’s bowl game or bust.
Yes, this 2015 season can’t be considered a success unless Washington (4-5, 2-4 in the Pac-12) plays a game after the Apple Cup. For all the potential the team has flashed, its validity hinges on a postseason berth.
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The Dawgs are good enough to do it. They’re strong enough to win two out of their next three and becoming bowl eligible. They’re capable of earning that prestigious 13th game.
But will they finish, or will they fade?
None of us was quite sure what to expect from the Huskies when this season began. Their offensive depth chart included 19 underclassmen, and their defense lost four stars to the NFL.
But we soon learned that this year’s D was as effective — if not more effective — than any of its Pac-12 counterparts. And when half of your team is the class of the conference, shouldn’t you win at least half your games?
The 18.8 points per game Washington has allowed this year is 1.4 fewer than No. 2 Stanford. The Huskies are tops in the Pac-12 in yards-allowed-per-play as well.
That should be enough to ensure a team flight somewhere in December. But if it doesn’t happen, can they really look back on this season with pride?
Washington coach Chris Petersen was asked about the significance of making a bowl game Monday, and he acknowledged that it’s an incessant incentive. But he also emphasized how the focus moving forward was on building skill and improving as a unit.
“There’s very few days left for this team to kind of be together,” Petersen said. “Every day, every hour that we’re together matters.”
You can’t argue with such a statement when the Huskies are as green as they are. But this just makes a bowl berth even more integral to their development — because they need the additional practice time.
The biggest hurdle Washington has faced this season is finding consistency in its offense. The Dawgs will hang 49 points on Arizona one day, then commit four turnovers the next. Such volatility is to be expected when your starting quarterback and leading rusher are both true freshmen, but the only way to iron out these wrinkles are with reps.
Those 15 extra practices reserved for bowl teams are essential for a guy such as Jake Browning, whose potential still exceeds his production. Those extra workouts are critical for a young receiving corps and burgeoning offensive line.
This was never going to be the year that the Huskies competed for a Pac-12 title, but if that year is to come, they can’t allow the rest of the conference to put in more work.
Credit Petersen for putting Washington in this position in the first place. In his second season, he has overseen a team that beat then-No. 17 USC on the road, and hung tight with Boise State, Cal and No. 12 Utah.
But at this point, the oh-so-close losses are just as prominent as that oh-my-goodness win. With three games left, it’s time for the Huskies to prove that victory can be the expectation — not the exception.
“Really, probably there are a lot of guys that haven’t ever worked this hard in their life,” said Petersen, adding that he thinks his team is “close” to where he wants them to be. “If we can stay strong for this next month and keep after it, that’s really all we can ask from these guys.”
Saturday, the Huskies have Arizona State in Tempe, followed by Oregon State in Corvallis, then Washington State at home.
Two wins will make them bowl eligible in a conference with seven postseason slots.
There is no denying that Washington has made some unexpected strides this year. But at this point, falling short of a bowl would be a major step back.