O’Neil: Why Petersen’s UW Huskies have so much on the line in Rose Bowl
Chris Petersen has more on the line than anyone else involved in Tuesday’s Rose Bowl between the UW Huskies and Ohio State Buckeyes.
That might sound surprising given that it’s Urban Meyer’s last game as Buckeyes coach before he starts teaching students on ethics in leadership or whatever coaching afterlife he’s trumped up to bide the time until the Notre Dame job comes open. That’s a joke. Not the class, but the assumption he’ll coach again.
But winning a final game for Meyer may not have all that much of an emotional pull for a team that played its first three games of this season without him and has already missed out on the College Football Playoff despite suffering only one loss.
A win by Washington, meanwhile, would be a landmark victory for Petersen, and for all that Washington has accomplished in his five seasons, there haven’t been all that many of those.
The Huskies have won a ton of games in that time. More than anyone had a right to expect, but they haven’t tended to occur in the big-stage moments. Not at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta two years ago when the Huskies lost to Alabama in a playoff semifinal. Not at the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State last year. Not even to start this season when the Huskies took on Auburn in a matchup between preseason top-10 teams, neither of whom turned out to be much of a contender.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been big wins. The Huskies have won five straight Apple Cups, two of which decided the Pac-12’s North division. Washington has won two conference titles under Petersen and hung 70 points on Oregon two years ago to end a losing streak against the Ducks that was a scarlet letter of shame for any Husky.
But a win over the one-loss Buckeyes would be a big one for the trophy case. A win that might wind up rivaling that Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma to cap the 1984 season in terms of significance.
Big-game moments were what Petersen was known for at Boise State, when he made a reputation out of his willingness to play absolutely anyone pretty much anywhere. When his Broncos finally got to the big stage the next thing you knew they were scoring on trick plays and running backs were proposing to cheerleaders.
The Huskies are healthier now than they’ve been all year. Left tackle Trey Adams is back. So is tight end Hunter Bryant. And while a win isn’t going to change how this Husky season is judged, it is a last opportunity for the Huskies to play up to the expectations that were loaded onto this season.
No year that ends in the Rose Bowl can ever be considered a disappointment.
Anyone who thinks otherwise should remember the two years of probation, three seasons worth of those unconscionably ugly purple helmets and the fact that this will be Washington’s second Rose Bowl appearance in the 25 years since Don James’ tenure as coach.
But calling this Washington season satisfying isn’t accurate, either. That’s why the outcome of Tuesday’s game is so very important for the Huskies in general and Petersen in particular.