Five Intriguing Angles to the Upcoming Season

Hope springs eternal. I guess that's a good thing, considering UW's recent film noir football past. In the words of Raymond Chandler (or maybe it was Race Bannon), "Let's face it-- Husky Stadium is Sunset Boulevard and the team is face down in the pool."

But as the horrors of ‘07 recede from memory, Husky Nation sets her sights upon the upcoming campaign. The schedule offers a difficult September gauntlet, with games against Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma right out of the gate.

However, five intriguing angles await UW fans between August 30th and December 6th.

They are as follows:
1. How will the Husky defensive line fare against Oregon on August 30th?

There's been much idle speculation as to the type of defense new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will install for the Oregon game. Will it be the 4-3 or the 3-4? Will they be on the attack? (A style for which Donatell has professed a fondness). With Daniel T'eo Nesheim as the lone returning starter to the defensive line, a greenhorn front facing the tough running back tandem of Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount is concerning. According to someone close to the Oregon program, the newcomer Blount "is going to run over the Huskies."

Another worrisome prospect is seeing UW's freshmen d-linemen Alameda Ta'mu and Senio Kelemente thrown to the wolves too early. Will they hold up? Or will they wilt under the increased pressure, scrutiny and speed of the college game?

But word from Montlake is that the defensive players in general have taken to Donatell both as a coach and as a person. "Night and day" has been one insider's description as to Donatell's rapport with the players, as compared with his predecessor, Kent Baer. How this greater unity translates into on-field performance will be compelling.

2. Will the anti-Clay Bennett fervor from earlier this year spill over into the September 13th game when Oklahoma travels to Seattle?

With Oklahoma businessman Clayton Bennett pilfering the Sonics from the region last month, thousands of locals still fume with rage and a sense of loss. The potential carryover effect will be intriguing to look for, when Coach Bob Stoops runs out of the Husky tunnel with his currently fourth-ranked Sooners in tow.

To me, these topics are like comparing maple bars and light bulbs. First off, my liking for the Sonics pales to that of the Huskies, and college football in general. Second, I don't hold the people of Oklahoma responsible for what occurred, and I'm not sure many others do either. Personally, I blame Bennett, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, The Seattle City Council, and Governor Christine Gregoire — and not necessarily in that order.

3. What nuances will accompany the build-up for Notre Dame's October 25th visit to Husky Stadium?

I remember the last time Notre Dame visited Washington back in 2005. Tyrone Willingham, having just been fired from Notre Dame, was now the Husky coach. Charlie Weis, having just been hired to replace Willingham at Notre Dame, had publicly ridiculed the poor physical condition of the Irish players he inherited from Willingham. The Irish won that day 36-17, and afterward at midfield when the men approached each other, Willingham shook hands and provided eye contact, then quickly turned away.

Here we are three years later, and both men's names appear on various "Hot Seat" lists around the country. Weis' excuses for what Willingham left him no longer hold credence, for Weis is entering his fourth season in South Bend. Haughty Irish fans, after suffering the indignity of last year's 3-9 record, largely blame Willingham for their troubles. That's debatable. Likewise, Willingham can no longer claim a need for more bullets, as he did after last season's Oregon game, without blaming himself - for he too is entering his fourth year. The vast majority of the players on the current roster are his.

Come October 25th, Weis will bring his Irish to the Pacific Northwest. By then, both Weis and Willingham will have coached six games into the season. Will either man's status upon the "Hot Seat" have reached Code Red status? Or will both teams enter the game with winning records and national rankings on the line?

It's noteworthy that Notre Dame's preceding game will have been a road trip to North Carolina State. However, given the two weeks they have to prepare for the Huskies, the extended time should nullify any possible weariness born of crisscrossing the continent.

Given the underlying story lines for both teams plus Notre Dame's national prominence, ESPN would be wise to finally bring their Game Day crew to Seattle.

4. How crazy will the atmosphere be for Rick Neuheisel's November 15th return to Husky Stadium?

It might reach WWF proportions. Neuheisel remains a lightning rod for attention and criticism in Seattle, even after being away for five long years. Lots of people blame him for the current state of Husky football. I don't, but I do blame him for instigating the change to the culture and destroying UW's proud running game (which returned for the first time last year with the departed Louis Rankin's superb season). But Neuheisel has been gone for five years now. Aside from center Juan Garcia, Neuheisel's fingerprints are no longer to be found upon UW's proverbial staircase.

But not every inhabitant of Husky Nation shares my viewpoint. Neuheisel might be best served to replicate the late Bill Walsh's strategy back in 1993. That's when the former Stanford coach surrounded himself with a dozen body guards dressed in black, upon his entrance into Husky Stadium. That was deemed necessary following his comments that UW churned out "mercenaries" in the football program.

5. How much improvement will Jake Locker demonstrate?

Despite all the bellyaching and panic from the fan base during Locker's summer excursion into baseball, being able to have fun competing without all the pressure was probably a good thing for the third-year sophomore. Of course, if his first overthrown pass at Oregon sails out of bounds and hits a tuba player in the head, expect message boards to ignite like the lights on the Las Vegas Strip.

The main question is whether Locker's poise and leadership will sufficiently influence the young wide receivers. Washington has the best stable of athletes at the receiver positions since 1997. But can youth be served this soon? Can Locker form a special chemistry with someone like Anthony Boyles, Devin Aguilar or Chris Polk — who can become his go-to guy? The thing that made the 1986 Huskies fun to watch was seeing quarterback Chris Chandler dropping back and zipping a laser beam to Lonzell "Mo" Hill.

Having gone six years now without a bowl game, the Huskies and fan base ache to have fun again. Despite the uncertainty hanging in the air, the opportunity exists to go win some games. Everyone at Washington has had enough of the losing and finger-pointing. Everyone wishes to get the bad taste out their mouths. To get at least to the Holiday Bowl.

That's because, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler (or maybe it was Race Bannon), "Last season tasted like a plumber's handkerchief." Top Stories