Washington didn't step forward in 2011

The Valero Alamo Bowl was a highly entertaining offensive explosion. If you want to read about offensive bowl records, go here. And Washington's 67-56 loss to Baylor certainly showed that the Huskies could score some points.

Further, Baylor was ranked 12th, was favored by 9.5 points and finished 10-3. So the Bears were supposed to win.

Still, what does this game mean for the Huskies, for their season, which ends with a 7-6 mark that is identical to a year ago, and for their big-picture status after Year 3 under Steve Sarkisian ended with a thud?

Here's a guess that most Huskies fans feel worse than they did a year ago. For one, it's shameful to surrender 67 points and 777 yards, no matter how good the opposing offense is. It's hard to walk away from a season with those numbers on the ledger, particularly for Huskies fans who recall the glory days under Don James, when defense was the program's cornerstone.

But the bigger issue is losing five of the final seven games in 2011 after a season-ending four-game winning streak in 2010 hinted at the program advancing back into conference and national relevance. That advance seemed confirmed when Washington started this season 5-1 and earned a national ranking. But when the schedule toughened up, the Huskies failed to meet the challenge. That is the ultimate take-away from the season.

Toss in aInsider bad week with in-state recruiting, and it's hard to shake the notion that Sarkisian's reclamation project has hit a slippery spot.

The Huskies have a nice crew returning next year, most notably quarterback Keith Price. But it became clear over the second half of the season that there's still a significant divide between the Huskies and the top third of the conference. While getting better on both lines is near the top of the to-do list, the primary issue is obvious to all observers: The defense. It stinks.

Sarkisian would be justified if he called coordinator Nick Holt into his office and said, "I love you, buddy, but this isn't acceptable. We've got to go in another direction." But it appears that's not going to happen.

So, simply put, Holt will be coaching for his job in 2012. He's one of the nation's highest-paid coordinators. He needs to produce at least a top-50 defense in his fourth year.

There are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Huskies' future under Sarkisian. It's still reasonable to recall the mess he inherited in 2009: A team that couldn't win a single game.

But 7-6 won't be good enough next year. And a defense that is no more stout than a petunia garden is unacceptable.