Washington hoping to eclipse 7-win plateau

Washington's next win will give it seven for the season. The Huskies, for multiple reasons, don't want to finish on that number.

For one, the team goal is to go 4-0 in November, which likely would propel the Huskies back into the national rankings and land them in a good bowl game.

Secondly, as most know, the Huskies have finished 7-6 for three consecutive years. This season was about taking the proverbial next step. Over the first half of the season, it appeared they were doing just that. On Oct. 5 at Stanford, the Huskies were 4-0 and ranked 15th. Even after losing consecutive games to the Cardinal and Oregon, they were still ranked 20th, pollsters giving them a break for losing to top-five teams.

Then the Arizona State trip happened. The Huskies got bombed 53-24 and the national and Pac-12 estimation imploded.

"Mentally and physically, I think we were a little bit worn out," coach Steve Sarkisian said.

At that point, the wins over Boise State and Illinois had lost their juice. It was fair to wonder if this season, after Sarkisian had repeatedly called this his best team, would be different than the previous three.

The Huskies, as expected, dominated both California and Colorado, games sandwiched around a bye. Now, however, with a trip to No. 13 UCLA ahead, their overall mettle will be tested. After the Bruins, the Huskies go on the road to Oregon State, then play host to rival Washington State.

Washington needs to win two of three to eclipse the dreaded seven-win plateau in the regular season. That, of course, would require the Huskies to win on the road at least once, which has been a struggle under Sarkisian.

"We have the pieces in place to make that run," Sarkisian said. "Now we have to put it into action."

It's not as though the Arizona State game can't be overcome. To be fair, it was the Huskies’ only poor performance this season. But it's inescapable that the final three games will define the season and announce whether the program is moving forward or merely treading water.

A good place for a late surge to start is quarterback Keith Price, who has quietly put together a strong senior season. He ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, and has moved up to No. 2 on the school's all-time passing list with 8,434 yards.

But his career doesn't yet have a signature season that features, yes, more than seven wins.

"Keith has a really unique opportunity over this last month of the season to leave a tremendous legacy on this program," Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian said Price has stepped forward with his leadership this season, and that will be critical with consecutive road games ahead.

Sarkisian said he likes where his team is mentally after being worn down by a brutal midseason stretch. The only thing that matters, however, is getting past seven.

"You can't go 4-0 [in November] until you get to 1-0, which we were able to do last Saturday," Sarkisian said. "Here comes No. 2, and it's a tremendous test going to the Rose Bowl on Friday."