Sometimes, it's easy to make too big of a deal out of one game. But in the case of Washington and Nebraska this Saturday, it's hard to make a big enough deal out of the Cornhuskers' visit to Montlake.
I'd argue this is the biggest non-conference game on the banks of Lake Washington in a decade -- since Miami paid a return visit to Seattle back in 2000.
Remember that one? UW was coming off a 7-5 campaign in Rick Neuheisel's first season, and fans were more than ready for the Huskies to ascend back to their perch atop the Pac-10, a lofty place they had vacated in the wake of sanctions against the program in the early 1990s.
Washington delivered, sending No. 4 Miami - led by Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Ed Reed, Reggie Wayne and Dan Morgan - back to Florida with a 34-29 loss. While the loss proved to be little more than a bump in the road for the Hurricanes (who wouldn't lose another game for about 28 months), it propelled Washington back to its first Rose Bowl since the 1992 season.
Regardless of what would happen with Neuheisel just two seasons later, the game was considered, at the time, to be program defining. And while it can hardly be argued that a win over Nebraska on Saturday is the sort of thing that would propel these Huskies to another Rose Bowl - although, UW fans will most certainly dream - it will, without a doubt, be a major statement about just where this program stands under Steve Sarkisian.
Coming on the heels of a better-than-expected, five-win 2009, there was a lot of optimism surrounding this team coming into 2010. And while losing on the road to BYU wasn't in the plans, the damage done there is nothing that wouldn't be cured - tenfold - with a win over No. 8 Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers bring one of the most feared defenses in the land to Husky Stadium. The Black Shirts haven't exactly hit their stride yet -- "just" 35th in total defense after contests against Western Kentucky -- but after replacing a handful of starters this year, one has to figure they'll be hitting their stride in game three. Not to mention they figure to be jacked up in front of a sold-out crowd.
Actually, it really doesn't matter if this Nebraska defense is as good as advertised. What matters is there is a perception that the Nebraska defense is really good. And if Sarkisian the offensive guru and his erstwhile Heisman Trophy candidate can find a way to pile up some yards and points against a unit roundly considered to be very good while somehow pulling off a victory ... well, you might not want to write off Jake Locker's candidacy just yet.
Beyond that, this probably is Locker's best chance to show pro scouts whether he's really worth trusting with their franchise come April. This is likely to be the most NFL-esque defense Locker will face, with what will probably be some of the smallest holes he'll have to fit passes into all year. Light up Nebraska the way he did Syracuse, and there's legitimate excitement.
And lest you think this pregame hype is an SB Nation Seattle creation, consider that no fewer than five four- and five-star recruits will be making their official visits this weekend. Two of them are considered to have "low" interest in Washington, but a big win against a Top 10 opponent in front of that crowd could be quite persuasive.
However, the converse is also true. If the Huskies go out and lay an egg against the Cornhuskers, then what? At 1-2, with losses to their two reasonable non-conference foes, it's not like the season is going to spin out of control, Willingham style. But at the same time, it will signify that the program isn't quite as far along as Washington fans had hoped.
Either way, this shapes up as an enormous contest that will tell us a heck of a lot about just where the Washington program stands just a few games into Steve Sarkisian's second season.