A month ago, this football season looked as promising as any in this town in more than a decade.
In the space of four days, the Seahawks and the Huskies snatched Houdini wins out of the air.
Seattle beat Green Bay on the “Monday Night Football” game heard ‘round the country. And three nights later, Washington played defense like it used to play in the 1990s and beat Stanford.
Both games felt like harbingers. But that was then. This is, well, who knows what this is now?
Both the Hawks and Huskies are 4-4, mired in the very definition of mediocrity. Both have had moments of exhilaration at home, followed by 60 minutes of abject frustration on the road.
Their records are mediocre. But there has been nothing ordinary about either the Huskies or the Hawks this season.
Washington played Purple People Eater defense at CenturyLink Field and beat Stanford and Oregon State. Fans stormed the field.
Maybe that was an overreaction, but let’s face it, there haven’t been many storm-the-field moments for Washington football. Coach Steve Sarkisian is trying to create something extraordinary at Washington, trying to re-energize the student body and the season-ticket base. Every Saturday in the fall should feel like something to celebrate. Every win should be a reason to party. Storming the field is a good thing for Washington.
But what happens to this team on the road, when it loses so overwhelmingly at Louisiana State, Oregon and Arizona? Are the hotels too nice? Are the players too pampered? Are the stadiums too intimidating?
How do you explain such Jekyll and Hyde teams as the Huskies and Hawks? Does CenturyLink fire them up or lull them into a false sense of security?
The Seahawks have seismic victories this year against Green Bay and New England. And in the home opener they jumped on Dallas so fast that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn’t have time to find someone to clean his glasses.
But on the road, with a rookie quarterback and a cautious offense, the Seahawks have lost to all three of their NFC West rivals. And in the fourth quarter last Sunday in Detroit, the Seahawks’ lockdown, nasty, bend-but-don’t-break defense cracked.
So who are the Hawks and Huskies? Are they just a couple of mediocre Seattle teams? Are they destined to finish this season making us wonder about what might have been? Is this another treadmill year?
It will take these next two months to truly define these teams. Both still can fashion something special out of their stuttering starts.
As difficult as the schedule has been for Washington, it gets soft as Colorado powder now. The Huskies are better than the rest of their opposition. Better than California, better than Utah, Colorado and Washington State.
But they need to play away from CenturyLink as well as they’ve played inside their temporary home. Nothing they’ve done this season should give their fans confidence that they can beat a team like Cal on the road Friday night. They’ve reached a critical portion of the season.
A bowl invitation isn’t a lock this season.
There are seven Pac-12 teams — Oregon, USC, Stanford, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State — ahead of Washington. Every game left feels like a must win.
An 8-4 season, with another solid recruiting class, will be another step in the right direction for Sarkisian’s re-construction plan. It’s crunchtime.
A bowl bid is hanging like a chad.
The Seahawks play five of their last eight at home. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has a half-season of experience. It’s time to ask him to do more. But his receiver corps is decimated, and in this pass-first league, the Seahawks will only go as far as their ground game takes them.
And in the second half of this season, the defense has to play even better. It has to create more turnovers.
This is a great time of the year for a football fan. Every weekend feels like a high-wire act. Every game means something.
The Seahawks can (should?) finish 10-6. The Huskies can (should?) end the season on a five-game winning streak.
Time is left to turn mediocre into marvelous.