Add to that the fact that a couple of key JC kids won't make an impact until mid-season, if this year at all, and it doesn't brighten the outlook.
However, this team can really make a statement in the department they really need to in games one through three.
I think everyone can somewhat agree that the Washington Husky football team is suffering from an inferiority complex. They are fine coming out of the tunnel, they are fine when they hit the field, and they are fine when the competition begins.
Where they haven't been fine is when things start to go south. A key fumble, a bad interception, or a missed assignment on defense leading to a long touchdown and the body language of the Husky team goes from excitement to the dumper in the time it takes to say, "Not again!"
This is because the team, while learning a new system and getting to know new coaches, still has to learn to win. They need to learn how to absorb a shot to the gut and get up off of the canvas to keep fighting.
The defense is going to be good, and the speed at linebacker should make this team able to close running lanes quickly, assuming they don't use their speed to overrun and take bad angles. Greyson Gunheim and Wilson Afoa have the potential to be all-Pac 10 performers on the defensive line. If Jordan White-Frisbee can bring 80% of what he was capable of before two foot fractures, this front seven could be outstanding. And that will be enough to keep this team in games later than their predecessors.
However, the offense may still be another year or two away from having enough depth on the line from being dangerous, but if they can not make too many mistakes and capitalize on the breaks, the defense as well as Sean Douglas' outstanding punting should give them opportunities to score.
Given the demons this team must exorcise in terms of confidence, when you look at the schedule, it becomes very apparent that this team's season will hinge on the first three games.
First and foremost, the Huskies have to win the opener against San Jose State in Husky Stadium. It doesn't matter how ugly it is or how poorly they play, they absolutely HAVE to win that first game.
It is much more important to win at this stage, even if they play like crap. Keep in mind that most teams improve the most between games one and two, so all of the focus must be about getting that illusive "W" in the left-hand column. Nothing else will make this team feel good about itself. There can be no moral victories in game one, only total victory.
If this team drops the opener, as they did against Air Force last year, it could be disastrous.
So assuming the Dawgs beat Dick Tomey's Spartans in game one, that sets up a road trip to Norman, Oklahoma, where no one expects the Huskies to win. It is the perfect game two, as there won't be the pressure like there was in game one to get into the win column. The Huskies can play loose, and hopefully be competitive.
If Washington plays Oklahoma competitive, or at the very least, competes hard and makes some good things happen, it will give the team more confidence as they fly home to Seattle to prepare for perhaps the most important game of Tyrone Willingham's second season.
In week three, a very beatable Fresno State Bulldog team comes to visit. Pat Hill is a world-beater and isn't afraid to play anyone in their own house, but on paper his 2006 team doesn't look as strong as his recent squads have been.
Washington, hopefully coming off of a win in the opener and then a loss where they made a good showing in front of a hostile crowd in Norman, will be ready to show just how far they've come. Or how far they still need to come in terms of becoming a competitive team in the Pac-10.
A win over Fresno State would put the Huskies at 2-1, and would establish proof to themselves that they truly can win football games. That would be a wonderful way to enter the Pac-10 opener against UCLA in friendly Husky Stadium. Washington was in the UCLA game for most of the contest, and many would argue the Huskies should've won it.
This season will be defined as either year two of a reclamation project or year two of the beginning of a successful turnaround based on these first three games. They'll set the tone for the rest of the year.
Bring on the Spartans and let's get it on.
Other Dawgman Op-Ed pieces:
Watch the young linebackers
2006 will go as far as this group does
Patience with Big Ben
4 keys to 2006
Games One through Three are Crucial
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