Welcome to the first of many BCS Program Profiles. What this series aims to do is look back at the 16 year BCS era and give a look at the road teams traveled to reach their current point. Today we start with Washington, once a great program that fell on hard times during the BCS era and now is on the way back up the college football ladder.
States of the Program
State of the Program Entering the BCS: Washington was clearly a top tier Pac-10 team. With USC down for most of the 90s, Washington was the most consistent winner with a National Championship in 1991 and no losing seasons since the 1970s. While the program had a couple of missteps because of mid-90s probation, it looked poised to be the king of the Pacific Northwest in the BCS era.
State of the Program Exiting the BCS: Washington is a midtier Pac-12 program and it has taken some time to get back even to that level after falling apart in every way possible after Rick Neuheisel was fired after the 2002 season. Things are looking up and Washington appears close to a breakthrough back to the top of the league after being away from the spotlight for most of the last decade.
BCS Program Rank: 39 (6th in Pac-12)
Adjusted Wins Per Year: 63 (9th in Pac-12)
Conference Championships: 38 (T-6 in Pac-12)
Final Polls: 44 (T-8 in Pac-12)
Bowl Games: 43 (T-6 in Pac-12)
If you are wondering how those middling rankings could equal a top 40 overall ranking, the key factor here is Conference Championships. Those that won nothing were assigned a rank of 101, the median rank for those that did not win a conference title. Even one championship in a BCS AQ league was worth a lot in the rankings in that category and Washington was able to manage that before falling off the table. In particular, Oregon St. was ranked higher in every category except Conference Championships (where it won nothing) and is ranked lower overall than Washington.
1998 - 6-6, lost Oahu Class to Air Force, Jim Lambright fired as coach
1999 - 7-5, lost Holiday Bowl to Kansas St., Rick Neuheisel's first year
2000 - 11-1, won Rose Bowl vs Purdue, Pac-10 Champions
2001 - 8-4, lost Holiday Bowl to Texas
2002 - 7-6, lost Sun Bowl to Purdue, Rick Neuheisel fired after season
2003 - 6-6, Keith Gilbertson's first year
2004 - 1-10, Keith Gilbertson fired as coach
2005 - 2-9, Ty Willingham's first year
2006 - 5-7
2007 - 4-9
2008 - 0-12, Ty Willingham fired as coach
2009 - 5-7, Steve Sarkisian's first year
2010 - 7-6, won Holiday Bowl vs Nebraska
2011 - 7-6, lost Alamo Bowl to Baylor
2012 - 7-6, lost Las Vegas Bowl to Boise St.
2013 - 9-4, won Fight Hunger Bowl vs BYU, Steve Sarkisian leaves for USC after after season
Best Team: 2000. There is little discussion here. The 2000 team quarterbacked by Marques Tuiasasopo won 11 games and had a legitimate case to be included in the National Championship game. It also won the Rose Bowl and finished in the top 5 nationally.
Honorable Mentions: 2013, 2001
Worst Team: 2008. Admittedly, the 2004 team was likely just as bad, but it didn't lose to a historically awful Washington St. team like this Washington team did (see Three Worst Losses below). The 2008 team also lost to USC 58-0. Just a terrible, terrible team once Jake Locker went out injured in a blowout loss to Oklahoma in the season's third game (Washington had nearly upset a 10-win BYU team the week before, losing on a blocked PAT after an awful celebration call by the referees).
Dishonorable Mention: 2004, 2005
Average Team: 2011. This team had a great offense and no defense, something we see from its bowl game where it scored over 60 points and lost. The 2012 team could also qualify for this category, given it had the opposite problem with no offense and a good defense, and also the same 7-6 record at the end.
Three Most Important Wins:
3. December 30, 2010 - Washington 19, Nebraska 7
Earlier in the 2010 season, Washington had been destroyed at home on national television by Nebraska, giving up 55 points. It was a significant step back coming on the same weekend as the USC upset from the year before (see number 2 below). So when Washington was drawn to face that same Nebraska team in the Holiday Bowl, it was written off as a formality. It wasn't, mainly because Nebraska had no desire to be there and Washington showed up motivated to prove a point. The win was one of the major building blocks in Washington's return from the abyss (the building process continues now).
2. September 19, 2009 - Washington 16, USC 13
The game that signaled Steve Sarkisian could coach. At the time, Washington had a win (already an improvement over the 0-12 season from the year before), but nobody could have forecast a win over then third ranked USC. Of course the loss signaled much more about USC's downfall, but it was exactly the kind of big win a coach needs to put his rebuilding program back on the map.
1. January 1, 2001 - Washington 34, Purdue 24 in Rose Bowl
Three Worst Losses:
3. September 26, 1998 - Nebraska 55, Washington 7
This game, more than any other sealed Jim Lambright's fate as the Washington coach, ending links back to Don James and the golden age of Husky football. It showed that Washington under Lambright could not compete with the best in college football any longer and a change was necessary. That Nebraska turned out to be below its previous standards and a loser of four games that season made it worse than it seemed when Washington entered a top 10 team hosting a top 2 team in the polls.
2. November 24, 2001 - Miami 65, Washington 7
The end of Washington's ascension under Rick Neuheisel. In 2000, Washington had finished 11-1 with a home win over Miami early in the season. The Huskies claimed they should go to the National Title, as did Miami who finished with the same record and a win over Florida St. (who actually went to the title game). The next season, Washington was inconsistent and entered a Thanksgiving weekend game at Miami (the game has been postponed because of the September 11 terrorist attacks) 8-2 while Miami entered as the dominating number one team in the country. What followed was one of the more thorough big game beatdowns off all time (with Miami's 59-0 beating of a top 15 Syracuse team the week before also in the mix). A 30 point second quarter by Miami solidly ejected Washington from the national elite and Washington would lose the bowl game and then not finished ranked again until 2013.
1. November 22, 2008 - Washington St. 16, Washington 13 (2OT)
FootballOutsiders.com all rank Washington St. as the worst or second worst team in the country, by every single metric. And other than North Texas, it wasn't close. Yet Washington somehow managed to lose.
Best Decision Made: Hiring Steve Sarkisian. No, Sarkisian didn't return Washington to glory before leaving for USC. Still, he got Washington back on the map. Without his work, Chris Petersen never takes this job this year. Without his work, Washington is still a fallen power with no hope like it was under Ty Willingham rather than a potential rising star program.
Worst Decision Made: Promoting Keith Gilbertson to replace Rick Neuheisel. We can all debate whether Neuheisel should have been fired after a gambling scandal (that did not involve football). What can't be debated is that Gilbertson, who had previously run Cal into the ground in the mid-90s, was a terrible choice to replace Neuheisel, even if he was on staff and staff continuity was being valued.
What to expect going forward: With Steve Sarkisian gone to USC and Chris Petersen in from Boise St., there will be changes, but the upward trajectory of the last few seasons should continue. Washington finally has strong talent again for the first time since the middle of Neuheisel's tenure. It also has a proven coach to lead that talent. After a decade in the wilderness, it appears that Washington is close to a full recovery. Just in time for the change to a new era.
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