Don't be surprised if ... Washington

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Fourteenth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.

Don't be surprised if ... the momentum of the Washington program takes a strong turn in a positive direction.

Fact is we don't know if Steve Sarkisian will be a good head coach or if defensive coordinator Nick Holt will prove worthy of all that money.

They haven't coached a game yet.

But, writing as a person who was an eyewitness to much of program's shocking implosion, I've just got a feeling the six-year Misery on Montlake Era is over.

Which is good for the Pac-10, because the precipitous decline of a perennial power hurt the conference's national image.

(My guess is some Oregon fans will take issue with this, but -- be honest -- don't you folks miss the days when the bitter rivalry really meant something? That to-the-bones hate was electric when both teams were ranked.)

The biggest reason for Huskies fans to be upbeat is the early recruiting returns. Sarkisian has a shot at hauling in a top-25 class, which is quite an achievement for a team that went 0-12 last year.

Washington certainly needs to upgrade its talent -- its across-the-board team speed in particular -- to match up in the Pac-10.

But the thing that's often missed: The Huskies weren't that bad last year, at least not until quarterback Jake Locker got hurt the fourth game -- a seven-point loss to Stanford -- and the team waved a white flag over the season knowing that Tyrone Willingham was being kicked to the curb.

Fact is the Huskies, in terms of pure talent, were a lot closer to the team that lost by one point to BYU. Heck, if administrators had scheduled properly, the team would have won two or three games early in the season and then who knows what might have happened?

But this is about 2009. So what are the reasons for optimism?

  • The Huskies have 18 starters back, and those are all position players. And that total doesn't include linebacker E.J. Savannah, who was the leading tackler in 2007.

  • Folks seem to have forgotten that Locker is one of the most dynamic athletes at his position in the nation. He showed vastly improved accuracy this spring and seemed comfortable running a pro-style offense instead of the spread-option he led the previous two seasons.

  • This team is not devoid of talent. Savannah, Locker and defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim are all-conference-type guys. D'Andre Goodwin leads a solid group of receivers. Things look solid at tight end and linebacker. Nate Williams is a good safety. Running back Chris Polk was offered a scholarship by USC.

  • The high-energy style Sarkisian and Holt brought from USC is perfect for waking up a program in the doldrums (and the lack thereof was one reason the dour Willingham failed). Husky football has lacked fire and enthusiasm since Rick Neuheisel was in charge.

  • No matter how hard other Pac-10 coaches try to motivate their teams otherwise, opposing players are going to sleep on the Huskies. Someone -- or maybe a couple of someones -- is going to get bitten by taking a win over Washington for granted.

All that said, I agree with Seattle Times beat writer Bob Condotta: The over-under on Washington wins is probably four.

But four is a lot more than zero.

And, in 2010, it won't be unrealistic to project six wins and bowl eligibility. (Though, as is their way, UW administrators have signed up a brutal nonconference schedule: at BYU, Syracuse and Nebraska.)