LOS ANGELES -- On the third floor of the Loews Hotel, waiting for yet another in a long line of media days sound-bite interviews, Washington's Chris Petersen and Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen shared a moment that was comical, if not a little uncomfortable, for the Huskies coach.
The pair were talking about their frantic schedules and media responsibilities at the two-day event when Andersen asked Petersen if he was also done at noon. Then Andersen added, "Oh wait, you probably have to stick around and talk about being in the playoffs this year."
The playful poke made the oft-reserved Petersen bristle ever so slightly. He rolled his eyes, blushed a bit and gave his best, sarcastic and over-enunciated ha ha ha.
It's official. The Washington hype has permeated beyond Seattle. It has seeped into the national media, where several publications have picked the Huskies to win the conference, and now it has invaded the fraternity of Pac-12 coaches. Despite Stanford being picked to win the Pac-12, it was Washington -- and the Huskies' potential -- that was the talk of the annual preseason gathering.
Petersen is pulling out all of the stops to defuse the buzz. He's being light-hearted. He's being self-deprecating. He's taking the requisite shots at the media for elevating his team. He's even dipping into the pop culture well.
"We have as much hype as the new Pokemon game that nobody knows nothing about," he said. "That's us. Last year the preseason hype was we wouldn't win four games. And they were dead wrong. I'm really scared that you guys [the media] will be dead wrong again because you usually are. That's why I put no stock in it."
He's right. Little is known about Washington. The hype is a projection. It's a projection that talented sophomores Jake Browning (quarterback) and Myles Gaskin (running back) will make substantial gains. It's a projection that the league's top defense in 2015 (18.8 ppg) will produce similar results. It's a projection that Petersen, the architect of Boise State's rise to national prominence, will work his magic at the Power 5 level.
Those are all legitimate reasons for enthusiasm. But they are projections, nevertheless.
What isn't a projection? Washington is just 2-8 against top-25 teams under Petersen's watch and 0-4 against North Division powers Oregon and Stanford. Those numbers aren't necessarily a reflection of Petersen as a coach, but rather the track record of a team going through the process of being knocked down and rebuilt.
"We were right there in every single game last year but one, and that was Stanford," Petersen said. "Not because we weren't trying. We just weren't good enough. Their skill level wasn't good enough. We weren't there. We haven't proven anything yet."
Petersen is obviously a fantastic football coach. You don't get to be a two-time coach of the year without knowing how to pull the right strings.
So perhaps he really does know what he's working with and he's slow-playing his hand. Or maybe the preseason hype is as he says -- a joke.
"We have to prove that we can finish close games and make plays," Petersen said. "I think it might be more work and harder to get over that hump than to get right [to the plateau]. We've been right there. But I think it's going to be harder to get over that. I don't think that's what a lot of people understand. I don't think people know how difficult that is."
Unfortunately for Petersen, the Husky is out of the bag. The purple-and-gold train is rolling and no podium speech or Pokemon reference is going to stop it. All he and his players can do now is either go out and justify it, or be considered a bust for not living up to the expectations of others.
"In some ways this offseason has been a little bit -- I don't know the right words -- comical, frustrating, ridiculous, in terms of what we've actually done and what people are saying we will do," he said. "Because we have a long way to go."