Spring is over which means it’s as good a time as ever to start looking ahead to next season. When Chris Petersen took over as head coach of the Washington football team he inherited a roster full of depth and talent, as well as some question marks.
He also inherited a program with expectations that have been on a steady climb. While Petersen may have many questions of his own when dealing with the roster this fall, an import question to husky fans should be concerning Petersen, not the roster:
What is an acceptable season for Washington football and coach Petersen in 2014?
Last season the huskies finished 9-4 (5-4) with a win in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl. Is a season similar to that enough to satisfy fans? Does Petersen need to win more than five conference games in 2014? Do fans need instant results to confirm that a Petersen-for-Sarkisian swap at the coaching carousel was worth it?
Before his early exit, Steve Sarkisian was catching a lot of heat because of his inability to really push beyond a .500 record in conference play. My expectation for Petersen is to continue Sarkisian’s build towards a conference contender. The pressure to finish with a strong conference record will be Petersen’s primary concern in 2014.
The PAC-12 boasts one of the deepest conferences top to bottom. Although they didn’t get the attention of the powerhouse teams in the PAC, quietly the Washington football program had an impressive year. The dawgs were unable to steal any wins in the PAC against teams that were considered higher quality than themselves, yet they easily handled every other opponent.
The dawgs’ conference losses came from Stanford (road), Oregon, Arizona State (road), and UCLA (road) . In their five conference victories the dawgs won each game by at least ten points (the closest against the cougs) and had an average margin of victory of 29 points/game.
This year Washington football has the same conference schedule as the 2013 season. However, unlike last year, the dawgs meet three of their four conference losses at home instead of on the road. The exception being their showdown against Oregon in Autzen October 18th.
Which brings up another question: How important is Petersen’s success against rivals?
Would an 11th straight loss to Oregon put a blemish on Petersen’s tenure early on? What if it is another blow out loss? Fortunately for Petersen, the recent losing streak against the Huskies’ most hated rival means that another loss won’t be cause for concern, assuming all else goes well.
On the other hand, if Petersen can break the streak and notch a much anticipated victory for the dawgs in the fiercest rivalry in the Pacific Northwest he would instantly cement himself in Washington football coaching lore. Much like Sarkisian did in his first year as coach when the dawgs upset #3 USC in his first conference game, fittingly against his former (and now current) employer.
Given the dawgs’ dominance against the non-elite of the PAC, as well as winnable home games against the conference elite, I think that a fair mark for Petersen in his first year should be double digit victories (don’t forget the extra non-conference game). Undoubtedly the dawgs should roll to a 4-0 start before entering conference play. Given that, six wins in the PAC for Petersen’s first full season against a major conference should be easily attainable.
Whether it be six wins in conference play, a road victory against the Ducks, or a double digit win season, Petersen has plenty of opportunities to prove he has moved this program to heights Sarkisian was unable to achieve. If Petersen is successful in two of the three, his first year will be received as a step in the right direction.
Washington football is teetering on the precipice of reaching the elite of not only the PAC-12, but college football as a whole. A program that is head and shoulders better than the mediocre, but not good enough to overthrow the elite. Sarkisian took over a Washington football team that could not manage a single victory and turned them into a contender within a power conference.
This is no longer a team that deserves general apathy from its fan base like the teams under Tyrone Willingham. This is no longer a success story of how a team can come from the depths of the cellar to the plateau of mediocrity. This is a team that is ready to reclaim its spot as royalty within the ranks of college football. A team with a history bathed in roses. And Chris Petersen is the man to take them there…again.
What are your thoughts? What constitutes a successful first season for Coach Petersen?
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