O’Neil: Huskies’ expectations higher than they’ve been in 20 years
Aug 30, 2017, 9:10 AM | Updated: 10:17 am
Expectations can be unwieldy.
At least that’s been my experience as a Husky.
So as excited as I am about this football season – and to be clear I’m more excited than I’ve been since I first set foot on campus – the past 20 years have taught me that it’s best not to assume success. Not when it comes to Washington football.
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Some of that has to do with the particular point in time in which I enrolled at Washington. Some of it goes back to 1997, which is the last time I remember hopes being piled this high for a Husky season only to watch Washington wind up in the Aloha Bowl. And while I’m old enough to know that past disappointments don’t dictate the future, I’m also a Husky who’s aghast at the reality that since I came to Washington the Cougars have been to more Rose Bowls (two) than the Huskies (one).
I’m a member of the Huskies’ Lost Generation, starting at Washington when expectations were at their absolute highest but the wave of success had already crested. It was 1993, the Huskies were coming off three straight Rose Bowl appearances but Don James had just walked away and Washington was beginning its bid in hoosegow of NCAA probation.
In more than two decades as a Husky, I’ve been subjected to purple helmets (1995-98), a fast-talking shyster of a coach (Rick Neuheisel) and watched the most joyless man in America (Tyrone Willingham) go out and prove that he could, in fact, grind a once-proud football program into winless dust while showing absolutely no emotion at all.
The scar tissue that’s resulted from my life as a Husky should explain why I’ve had to talk myself into not chafing against the weight of the team’s highest preseason ranking in 20 years.
No. 8. That’s where Washington was ranked by the Associated Press to start this season. No. 8 even after losing four players who were chosen in the first two rounds of this year’s NFL Draft. It’s the highest Washington has been ranked since 1997 when some guy named Brock Huard was the quarterback and the Huskies were No. 4 to begin the season.
The Huskies were good that year. They were supposed to be great, though, and when they hosted Nebraska in the third game of the season it was a top-10 battle that was going to show that the Huskies were back at the national forefront.
That’s what we thought as Huskies. No wait. That’s what we expected as Huskies, but the ‘Huskers won 27-13 and it wasn’t really that close. The game that was supposed to prove Washington was back instead wound up demonstrating how far the Huskies still had to go.
There is no Nebraska waiting on the schedule this year. There’s not even a Wisconsin. Instead it’s Rutgers on Friday and then Montana and Fresno State in a non-conference schedule full of empty calories that’s going to bloat expectations even more.
I hope Washington is ready for it this time. I certainly believe the Huskies are.
This is Chris Petersen’s fourth year as head coach. This is his roster, his quarterback in Jake Browning, and the one thing that we’ve seen in Petersen’s first three seasons on Montlake is that the more of his recruits he gets on the field, the better the team is.
Last year, Petersen reminded Washington what success felt like in a season that was absolutely intoxicating right up until the final minute of the first half of the national semifinal in Atlanta.
This year, we’re going to see if Washington can hold up to the weight of these great expectations. Here’s hoping we’re ready for it this time around.