Steve Sarkisian has produced some significant wins in his four years as Washington’s head coach, including back-to-back upsets over USC (2009-10) and a Holiday Bowl triumph over Nebraska (Dec. 30, 2010), but none bigger than Saturday’s 20-17 victory over No. 7 Oregon State at CenturyLink Field that silenced a growing legion of Sarkisian’s critics.
One negative opiner, Oregonian columnist John Canzano, wrote prior to Saturday’s game that the Huskies were the “softest, least resilient” team in the Pac-12, an assessment that clearly failed to take into account 1-6 Colorado, and one that Canzano could have easily based on the fact that in its three previous games before Saturday, Washington lost to Oregon, USC and Arizona by a combined 128-52.
The 4-4 Huskies defeated teams they were favored to beat (San Diego State, Portland State), lost four games (LSU, Oregon, USC, Arizona) they were picked to lose, and won two games (Stanford, Oregon State) that oddsmakers figured they had no business winning. The Huskies could have made it three wins in games they were picked to lose, but couldn’t get out of their own way in a 24-14 loss to the Trojans.
All week long, mainstream media and bloggers yammered about Sarkisian’s team being in a “crisis” situation. What crisis? Based on the reckoning of oddsmakers, the Huskies are ahead of the game.
By defeating the-then No. 8 Cardinal (Sept. 27) and now the No. 7 Beavers, Washington has scored two wins in the same season over Top 10 Associated Press teams for the first time since 2001, when the Huskies beat No. 10 Michigan and No. 9 Washington State.
Since 1947, when The Associated Press first began ranking teams, Washington has won twice from Top 10 teams in a single season in only three other years, 1982 (No. 9 UCLA, No. 3 Arizona State) and 1984 (No. 3 Michigan, No. 2 Oklahoma) and 1991, when they beat three teams — No. 9 Nebraska, No. 7 Cal and No. 4 Michigan.
The 1982, 1984 and 1991 teams all went down as special editions of the Huskies. The 1982 club stood at No. 1 for seven consecutive weeks, the 1984 team beat Oklahoma in a memorable Orange Bowl and finished No. 2 in the country, and the 1991 squad is the best Washington has ever had.
Despite defeating Stanford and Oregon State, the current Huskies pale into inconsequence next to those previous seasons. The offense is fairly awful, the defense barely passable, and both units are prone to confounding physical and mental errors. But Washington went 2-2 against the four ranked teams they have played since Sept. 27 when experts predicted the Huskies would go 0-4 in those games.
Washington’s latest victory places the Huskies in a position to become bowl eligible for the third consecutive year following 0-12 in 2008, and with the easiest part of their schedule ahead — at 3-6 California Friday, vs. 3-5 Utah (Nov. 10), at 1-7 Colorado (Nov. 17) and at 2-6 Washington State (Nov. 23). Washington needs to beat just two of the four to become bowl eligible.
For Sarkisian, the calamity would be a November meltdown and failing to earn a bowl bid after going 2-2 against the recent spate of ranked opponents. So the question is: