The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.
No. 25 Washington
To think something from Washington could hold down a top-25 ranking in anything other than Cabernet is the reason we continue to believe in sports as the last unscripted drama.
Two years ago Washington's football program was 0-12 and only happy because it wasn't Washington State, which was probably a worse team overall except it actually defeated Washington, 16-13, in triple overtime, to record its only victory over a school that wasn't named Portland State.
For Washington to be sitting here, two years later, at No. 25 in Rankman's annual preseason countdown is a testament to college football's recuperative powers.
All it took was wishing former coach Tyrone Willingham well on his way out of Puget Sound after he turned out to be the right man to navigate Washington through NCAA sanctions and scandal — but the wrong man to lead them in football.
Willingham did leave behind a prized recruit, quarterback Jake Locker, and that combined with up-and-comer Steve Sarkisian last year led to an upgrade to 5-7.
The five-game improvement was the best in college football. Sarkisian, coaxed from Pete Carroll's staff at USC, brought toughness and pro-style credibility to the program — while Locker brought the durable goods.
Rankman argued in the public square you could have swapped Locker for Tim Tebow at Florida in 2008 and the Gators wouldn't have missed a beat en route to the national title.
Washington's huge upset win over USC last year in Seattle made you think the Huskies were different, and the 5-7 record could have been even better had Washington lost to Notre Dame in overtime, to UCLA by a point and to Arizona State on the last play.
The promise for 2010 was not solidified, though, until Locker announced he was going to forgo millions from the NFL and return for his senior year, a decision that shocked many and might have saved Sarkisian from bolting to USC after just one year in Seattle.
"He's physically gifted," Sarkisian says of Locker. "He's a better human being."
With Locker, and 1,000-yard rusher Chris Polk and receiver Jermaine Kearse returning on offense, Washington should score points-plenty as it hopes the frightening (in a bad way) defense can hold opponents to fewer than last year's 26 points-per-game-allowed average.
The schedule isn't easy, with an opener at Brigham Young, and then Syracuse and Nebraska at home before an Oct. 2 trip to USC.
Since when, though, was going from 0-12 to a bowl supposed to be easy?
"Our challenge is to take that next step" Sarkisian says.
Incredibly, Washington might be ready.