Every fan wants the Washington Huskies to win a Rose Bowl, but can fans realistically expect a berth this season? No. Not this year at least. The Huskies will improve and build upon its past success under head coach Steve Sarkisian, but don't expect to see the improvement reflected in the team's record.
Do not expect this year's jump to put them in the same territory as Oregon and USC either. The team's tough schedule, combined with question marks surrounding its defense and offensive line, will prevent the team from reaching the status of an elite program this season.
The Huskies have the toughest schedule in the nation. After facing the AP Poll's No. 3 team LSU at Baton Rouge in week two, the Huskies play two more games against national championship contending squads back-to-back; No. 5 Oregon in week five and No. 1 USC in week six. The Huskies also play No. 21 Stanford in week four, meaning the Huskies will play the Pac-12's top three teams to open their season.
To become an elite program this season, the Huskies must beat Stanford. The Stanford game is winnable; it is a home game for Washington, and Stanford will be vulnerable. Along with losing Andrew Luck, the team loses two offensive lineman to the NFL. Additionally, the team's passing defense is below average, and finished 95th in passing defense in 2011.
A win against Stanford puts the Huskies within striking distance of Oregon and USC and gives the Huskies an opportunity to finish in the top two in the Pac-12 North, a jump that is definitely an improvement from last season.
To become an elite team, the Huskies must not only beat Stanford, but also win out the rest of its games. The team has to win in the Apple Cup and the Huskies also have to take care of business on the road against Cal.
Being an elite program means finishing with nine wins, a significant jump is eight wins, and a realistic outcome is seven wins.
The Huskies will not win every game they are capable of winning. Remember Oregon State last season? This year, the Huskies have road games at Cal, Arizona, WSU along with a home game against Utah. All four of these games have the potential of becoming 2011's Oregon State game.
Wins and losses mean everything, but with such a tough schedule, it is vital to look at how this team competes against the top tier competition it will face at the beginning of the Pac-12 season.
The Huskies were blasted by Stanford, Oregon and USC last season; losing by the scores of 65-21, 34-17, and 38-21 respectively. Will they be competitive in their games with USC and Oregon entering the fourth quarter? Do not be upset if the team only wins seven games in the regular season. Be upset if the team is not competitive at all against Oregon, LSU, Stanford and USC.
Having young playmakers on offense like Keith Price, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams is exciting, but these playmakers do not have a proven offensive line, much less a proven running back with Chris Polk gone. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will team up and try to replace Polk's production, but neither possesses the same durability or strength as Polk.
Redshirt sophomore right tackle Ben Riva along with sophomore left tackle Micah Hatchie are two key players for the Huskies. If the two starters can hold their own on the line against the Pac-12's elite, then managing the offense becomes much easier for Keith Price.
On defense, a new coaching staff with different schemes and more experienced players may help, but this unit has to prove itself after last year's handful of embarrassing performances. The secondary could become a position of strength if NFL prospect Desmond Trufant and freshman Shaq Thompson play up to their potential.
New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox changed the team's defense by not depending on its base 4-3 alignment as it has in the past under Holt, but instead the team will also use other base defense formations to better fit its personnel.
So what are realistic expectations? Expect a bowl game and expect improvement on defense, but don't expect an improved record.
Next season the Huskies will have three-year starters in Price, Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams on offense. By next season they'll have an established run game along with an experienced defense. Next year is the year.
If you are a true Husky fan, you'll forget everything you just read. Deep down you want to believe this team can go undefeated this season. Deep down, I believe the same thing. Not because of what I've read or what I've seen, but because I love Husky football and I smell roses.