Bowl Games give Dawgs Preview of Next Fall

The bowl games confirmed that last year the Huskies played one of the hardest schedules in the country. They actually played against nine teams that went to bowls, and six of them won. The Huskies can relax though, because they are only signed up to play eight this coming fall. I guess that means they will have an easier schedule.

Not going to a bowl really hurts your development as a team for no other reason than the missed practices that come with the bowl, but it does give you an extra scout on early opponents for the next year.

Usually the teams that do not go to a bowls have better recruiting classes simply because that is all they have to work on. I think that is the case with the Huskies because their class is certainly the best they have had in years. At least three of the bowls will give the Dawgs a sneak preview of next season. Their first three opponents for 2008 - Oregon, BYU, and Oklahoma - were all bowl teams that Washington already has film on.

Washington opens next season against the Oregon Ducks, who won their bowl game against some obscure team that I didn't even know played football. They demolished South Florida in one of the real mismatches of all the bowls and were impressive, but not as much so as they were with Dennis Dixon. Now that Jonathan Stewart has declared for the draft it looks like the Huskies have a real chance of stealing their opener on the road.

Never has an opener been so critical to the Huskies - especially when you consider how the Ducks have handled Washington over the past four years. With their win last season in Seattle, the Ducks have now beaten the Huskies four straight times for the first time since the 1928-1933 seasons when they won four and tied one over a five-year period. This is an unbelievable opening game simply because it is a ‘must' win right out of the blocks. This opener represents the most significant first game in the Tyrone Willingham era simply because it is a conference game.

The Ducks' bowl game didn't really help the Huskies as much as the last three regular season games that Oregon dropped after they had lost their starting quarterback. Those are three games of how other Pac-10 teams (Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon State) schemed to stop the Ducks' spread option offense. The drop off in offensive production after losing Dennis Dixon was significant and their bowl win was tainted by the quality of their opponent.

Washington has won its last two openers and should have beaten Air Force to open Willingham's first year. His Husky teams are obviously well prepared for opening games and even went on the road to beat Syracuse last year. Oregon is certainly a much more formidable road opponent than any of those teams but the Huskies are the one with the returning quarterback this time around. The last time the Huskies won in Eugene was 2002 - three coaches ago - so they will be in tough. Still, the point is the Ducks had a real slide at the end of the season and there are some defensive schemes that were effective in slowing down an offense that Washington didn't have the answers for.

That bowl game also gave the Huskies a good look at the new quarterback at Oregon and how different they may be without Dixon. With first games that is always a critical element. The Ducks also graduate lots of starters besides their two stars and opening games are always unpredictable.

BYU and Oklahoma were also in bowls and they represent the second and third opponents for Washington. UCLA had BYU bottled up most of their bowl game and would've won had they not had their winning field goal blocked on the last play. BYU is not going to change their offense, and yet UCLA showed a good scheme that pretty much kept the Cougars in check the whole night. Considering UCLA was playing after the firing of Karl Dorrell, it was remarkable how well they played, especially on defense.

West Virginia showed how the spread option offense could exploit Oklahoma's defense and if I'm not mistaken that is exactly what Washington has been trying to do with Jake Locker. I was visualizing Jake making all the same runs Pat White was making and thought that West Virginia played inspired football after losing their coach. The difference was their coach chose to leave. Still it was a great game, and will serve as an excellent scouting report for the Huskies. West Virginia's defense also gave Oklahoma fits and I wasn't all that impressed with Sooner quarterback Sam Bradford.

I know Billy Wong, who handles the Huskies complete video operations, had to have taped those bowls and that the graduate assistants have probably already broken down those games. Of course, Oregon will not have played a game and the Huskies have strategically placed a bye early, so if they could win that first one on the road, then they should be in good position to maybe upset either BYU or Oklahoma. Or both.

USC looked awfully good in the Rose Bowl, and Oregon State played their standard solid defense in their bowl game as well. Only Arizona State really got handled. Texas showed some good wrinkles to use against Dennis Erickson's team, but basically beat them with better athletes. California looked somewhat better in their bowl, but after dropping four in a row to end the season, they too showed lots of flaws in their game.

With the exception of USC, I thought Washington would have matched up well with any of the Pac-10 bowl teams. Add Hawaii and Boise State, and there is no doubt that the Huskies are at least closing in on the rest of the conference talent-wise, and could really have used the extra practices themselves.

That still is one of the rules I don't understand about the bowl season. Over half the teams in major college football get 15 extra practices plus an extra game to improve their teams. The other half, who didn't qualify for a bowl, don't get them so don't improve. Yet they are the ones who need it the most. They should just allow all teams 'winter ball' and then everyone gets the extra practices - which are the equivalent of a full set of spring practices.

Bringing in two new coordinators will also work to Washington's advantage because Oregon will not know what to expect from the Huskies on either defense or in the kicking game. In fact, at this very moment neither do the Huskies. I realize that everyone pretty much plays the same defenses and uses the same kicking game schemes, but there is still the element of surprise when you don't know exactly what to expect.

I'll bet the majority of the Husky players watched the Duck bowl game knowing they are the first team in the Huskies' quest for bowl bid of their own, and I imagine that all of the Huskies will watch the Ducks thrash South Florida a number of times before they kick off. The good thing is that none of the Ducks will get to see what the Huskies did in their bowl, or their bowl game the year before, or the one the year before that, or the year before that. Stop me!

The Huskies have now missed a bowl for five straight years. Therefore, it also means the Huskies have also missed 75 practices. That means they have missed a whole year and a spring ball because you really only have 4 practices per week during the season plus the 15 in spring. You wonder why this climb back is taking so long? Think about it, the top half of this conference has played a lot more football than the Husky, Wildcat, Cardinal and Cougar kids.

Why has Oregon State improved so much over the past eight years? Because they have scheduled down and ensured themselves of bowl bids and thereby qualified for more opportunities to actually play the game. The bowl system creates this discrepancy and really hurts the teams that need the most improvement opportunities. Go figure! Top Stories