Barring a major upset against Colorado, the Huskies are going to be bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive year. What happens next?
Blowing out menial opponents in Montlake –Boise State, Idaho State and California were crushed by a combined score of 135-23 — is a familiar theme for the University of Washington football team (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12). Not even potential rust from their second bye week will keep the Huskies from inflicting on Colorado (3-5, 0-5 Pac-12, last in the Pac-12 South) a similar rout when the Buffaloes visit Husky Stadium Saturday (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The question is in the weeks ahead: Where will UW finish 2013?
With four games remaining, the Huskies are one win from becoming bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive year. Steve Sarkisian has never surpassed the seven-win mark as a head coach, going 7-6 each season from 2010-12. The inaugural winning record of that trio, buoyed by an unlikely Holiday Bowl victory against Nebraska, was seen as a major accomplishment. The more recent two?
Not so much.
The onus falls on Sarkisian to help what he often refers to as his “organization” to jump Oregon State for third in the Pac-12 North, launching the Huskies to a mid-level bowl game. Blocking the path to San Diego (Holiday Bowl) or San Antonio (Alamo Bowl) is an arduous but not impossible schedule.
After Colorado, the Huskies play the Bruins in Pasadena, then the Beavers in Corvallis, before facing the Cougars in Seattle to close out the regular season.
“Each one of these games will be different, but we’re capable of doing it,” Sarkisian said Monday of the possibility of winning out. “I see no reason why we won’t. I think we’re going to play great football. They’re all going to be hard . . . It’s always difficult to win at UCLA, Oregon State, and then obviously the Apple Cup. They’re going to be hard, but I just think we’ll be ready to go.”
Defeating at home a Colorado team whose only wins came against Colorado State, Central Arkansas and Charleston Southern won’t be quite as tough. Under first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre, the Buffaloes haven’t lost to a Pac-12 team this season by less than 22 points, though last week they played UCLA tough in a 45-23 defeat.
“They play hard,” Sarkisian said. “I think Coach (Mike) MacIntyre has done a good job of changing the culture there and getting those kids to play hard. They have some good football players.”
The best is receiver Paul Richardson, a junior from Los Angeles that in eight games has 57 receptions for 984 yards and eight touchdowns. He averages 17.3 yards per catch, and is the best threat to torment a UW secondary allowing 215.1 passing yards per game.
Freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau, meanwhile, provides the Buffaloes, losers of 13 consecutive Pac-12 games, hope that better times are ahead. Liufau attended high school at Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep and received heavy interest from Sarkisian’s coaching staff.
Since replacing incumbent Connor Wood Oct. 19 against Charleston Southern, Liufau has completed 64.9 percent of his throws for 846 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
His modest rise as a productive up-and-comer is reflective of a team that is making strides. They’re just way behind the Huskies.
“They’re trying to find that one to get over the hump in conference play,” Sarkisian said. “We just got to make sure that we’re not the one.”
The Huskies should be the better-rested team Saturday.
The bye week gave quarterback Keith Price additional time to rehabilitate the swollen thumb on a throwing hand that seemed as if, against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State, it was one hit away from ending his senior season. Left guard Dexter Charles, perhaps the team’s best offensive lineman, returned Monday from a shoulder injury after missing the previous two games. Bishop Sankey, the nation’s No. 3 rusher (145.3 yards per game), had a chance to recover from his increasing workload.
“A lot of guys with just the nagging bumps and bruises looked fresh and upbeat running around today,” Sarkisian said. “Obviously (October) was a long month for us, from a psyche standpoint. I thought the energy was good from the guys at practice today, and (we’re) excited to go finish the season.”