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Extra Points

Jerry Brewer explains the thinking behind his columns and invites readers to express their views on the sports world.

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August 31, 2008 12:18 AM

Husky Recap, Game 1

Posted by Jerry Brewer

Oregon 44, Washington 10

We will keep this one pretty short because 44-10 pretty much says it all.

The Huskies were awful. They were ill-prepared for this game. The offense was bad. The defense was bad. The players lacked competitive edge. The coaches were even worse.

It's never a good thing when your new defensive coordinator says after the game, "They just out-answered us in the second half." It's never a good thing when your head coach already feels the need to emphasize how much he believes in his team after one game. It's never a good thing when a coach maligned for poor in-game adjustments watches his team get outscored 30-0 in the second half of the season opener.

For all the talk about change, there was no change.

For all the talk about reviving the defense under Ed Donatell, the Huskies still allowed 496 yards to a transitioning Oregon offense that rummaged through three quarterbacks.

For all the talk about quarterback Jake Locker taking the next step, he was unimpressive as inexperienced receivers and running backs, poor offensive-line play and questionable play-calling assisted his poor performance.

The last time a Husky football coach on the brink of an axing visited Autzen Stadium, Keith Gilbertson lost 31-6 to Oregon. Two days later, the end of his tenure was announced.

Now, that doesn't figure to happen to Willingham. The Huskies had a 1-7 record when Gilbertson's forced resignation occurred. He coached the three remaining games, and then Washington hired Willingham. After one game, even a game this bad, there's no way UW would make a coaching change.

But if that Oregon game signaled the end for Gilbertson, we might look back at this Oregon game as the unofficial end of the Willingham era.

I hope not. I hope the team will rally and make something of this season. After covering the Sonics' departure and the Mariners' collapse already this year, I'd like to write about something more upbeat. At the same time, those experiences have served as a tutorial on sensing disaster. And if you can't tell that the building is on fire after Saturday's game, then you need to get your nose and eyes examined.

That's enough for tonight. After a game like this, all you can do is rant. Most troubling is that this game provides a permanent roadmap of how to beat the Huskies.

"We're going to have to have an answer for this because when you get this on film, everybody's going to see it," offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said.

All of their flaws are exposed. At least I think that's all of their flaws.

TY-O-METER

Current reading on 1-10 scale (1 = buying green bananas, 10 = putting house on the market): 7.5

Optimistic thought: It can't get any worse.

Pessimistic thought: With BYU and Oklahoma on deck, it won't get any better any time soon.

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August 29, 2008 10:32 AM

The Crystal Helmet, Week 1

Posted by Jerry Brewer

Looking locally

Washington 27, Oregon 21
Why: This is my upset special of the week. Credit this one to the kookiness of season openers. Jake Locker will have a fine game running and passing with accuracy, and the Huskies defense will avenge its embarrassing performance against the Ducks last season. Oh, and there's the obvious reason: UW is desperate to win this game.

Oklahoma State 38, Washington State 31
Why: Sorry, can't write about Mike Gundy's team without screaming, "I'm A Man! I'm FORTY!" OK, now that the goofiness is out of my system ... expect a lot of shaky defense in this game. The Cowboys never play much D, and the Cougars have such a thin defensive unit. The Cougs will play inspired and entertaining football in coach Paul Wulff's debut, but this is a team building for the future.

Opponents in the Huskies' immediate future

BYU 49, Northern Iowa 31
Why: The Cougars, who visit Husky Stadium next week, are primed for a run at a BCS bowl. But Northern Iowa is a big-time foe from the division formerly known as 1-AA. The game will be close for at least a half, maybe three quarters, but BYU is too big, too strong and too determined.

Oklahoma 70, Chattanooga 3
Why: The only why about this game is, "Why is it even being played?" Chattanooga has no chance. It will be similar to the Sooners' opener last season, when they beat North Texas 79-10.

Four games of Pac-10 interest

Tennessee 28, UCLA 6
Why: Quarterback Ben Olson is out, but that's not the biggest problem for the Bruins. It's their offensive line, which is a mess. They won't do anything offensively against the Vols. Tough debut for Rick Neuheisel.

Michigan State 26, California 20
Why: The Bears must replace Justin Forsett and all of their top receivers. Against a Michigan State team headed for greatness under coach Mark Dantonio, they will struggle. Remember the name Javon Ringer. The Spartans running back will probably gain 150 or more yards in this game.

Arizona State 42, Northern Arizona 17
Why: Rudy Carpenter will have a big game. Arizona State is just too athletic. Expect lots of big plays.

USC 31, Virginia 10
Why: The bigger issue isn't who will win, but how USC quarterback Mark Sanchez will look. Is he totally healthy? Can he find his rhythm by the Sept. 13 game showdown with Ohio State? If so, the Trojans have few worries this season. It will also be interesting to see how a relatively inexperienced USC offensive line performs.

Game of the Week

Missouri 28, Illinois 17
Why: The Tigers want to show last season wasn't a fluke, and the Illini must make some early-season adjustments without Rashard Mendenhall. It will be a good game for a while, but Missouri is too good.

The Gas/Brew Challenge

Western Kentucky 20, Indiana 16
Why: For anyone who heard my segment with Mike Gastineau on KJR, you know that we have a bet on a game between my beloved Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and his beloved Indiana Hoosiers.

Surely, we are the only Seattle residents with such a passionate interest in this game.

Here's the best: If Indiana wins, I must praise the Hoosiers in Extra Points next week. If Western Kentucky wins, Gas will read a very glowing report about how the Hilltoppers triumphed during our segment (slated for 6:20 p.m. Tuesday) next week.

So Western has to win. For the sake of interesting Extra Points chatter, Western has to win.

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August 28, 2008 8:13 PM

Q&A(rgue): Ducks vs. Huskies -- who will win?

Posted by Jerry Brewer

In this episode of Q&A(rgue), we're debating The Game. The whole debate will be under a haze of purple and gold, green and yellow. Joining me today and providing an Oregon viewpoint is Ryan White of The Oregonian. You can find him daily in cyberspace on his quirky blog entitled The Tailgate. It's lots of fun. You should definitely check it out whenever you need a good laugh.

Let's hope the actual game is as fun as this conversation.

1. Do you think that major conference rivals should play season-opening games?

White: It is strange, isn't it? I'm torn here. On the one hand, whenever anyone argues against a playoff, part of the argument is about how every regular season game is important. Every game matters. The regular season is the playoff. People who believe that should love having a game like this to kickoff the season.

On the other hand, I'd never want to see Michigan-Ohio State or Auburn-Alabama any time other than in late November. Playing a conference rivalry game in August is a scheduling quirk I think you'd probably only find on the West Coast.

Regardless, it is kind of fun.

Brewer: No. I don't mind non-conference rivals, especially intrastate foes, playing in season openers, but I'd rather see games of this importance played later in the season. I don't think any conference opponents should meet in Game 1. Maybe I've grown accustomed to conventional scheduling methods. I just like to see games that, at least in theory, could factor into conference championships be played when the teams are more prepared. I like blockbuster season openers between non-conference foes, but those are different than conference games. You can lose those games and wind up better for it. You lose a Pac-10 game this early, and you're already halfway out of the BCS hunt.

That said, there's no denying the fact that the long buildup to this season opener has made it even more exciting.

2. Does the early timing of this game benefit Washington or Oregon more?

White: At the rate Oregon's been losing quarterbacks to knee injuries, the early meeting probably benefits the Ducks. Any later in the season and who knows what might happen or who might be under center.

If I'm answering honestly, I'm not sure it helps either team. (What
a copout.)

Brewer: I think it helps Washington, but not much. Both teams are going to be unpolished products, the game will probably be ugly at times, and that benefits the Huskies. Maybe the Ducks make some uncharacteristic mistakes. The flip side is that the Huskies are so young that a road game of this magnitude could overwhelm them. If the game were at Husky Stadium, Oregon would be in serious trouble. At Autzen? The Ducks have a security blanket for some of those first-game jitters.

So, the bottom line is the Huskies will have to play an amazing game to win. Whatever help I think they will get won't be enough.

3. How wide is the gap currently between the two schools? How long would it take for the Huskies to rise back to -- or even surpass -- Oregon's level?

White: How much money is Washington willing to spend on marketing these days?

Obviously the gap is of reasonable size. Washington hasn't beaten Oregon since 2003. They're struggling to renovate the stadium and can't find an athletic director.

Oregon, on the other hand, has won 39 games in the last five seasons. You know who else has won 39 games? Oregon State.

Oregon's won a single bowl game since the 2002 Fiesta Bowl -- last year's Sun Bowl.

But the Ducks have done a brilliant job marketing their program, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. They have silly uniforms, yes, but top-end facilities, with more on the way. They raised their profile to the point where IMG felt it a good deal to give Oregon $67 million over 10 years in a marketing rights agreement.

In terms of on-the-field results, however, they've not been any better than the Beavers, and everyone continues to chase USC. With a few good decisions and a break or two, I don't think the Huskies are that far away from the middle to upper-middle part of the conference.

Brewer: I believe that any college football program with the right resources is two good recruiting classes and a quality program for player development away from an uprising. Obviously, there are more factors to consider, but if you can do those two things, you'll be in a position to improve.

So, from that standpoint, the Huskies aren't far away from the Ducks. Oregon has a really good program. You can bank on them being at least in the lower portion of the Top 25 most seasons. UW has had four straight losing seasons, so that's quite a climb. But it can happen.

If Willingham does enough to retain his job this season, I think the Huskies will be a top 25 team in 2009. If the Huskies go 4-8 this year and bring in a new coach with new philosophies, it will take a little longer. That's why it's so important for UW to break through now.

4. What are the best and worst traits of Husky fans? What are the best and worst traits of Ducks fans?

White: We're dead on this question. You know that, right?

Best: Let's say loyalty. Both groups are very loyal, and equally capable of wearing funny hats and there are always a couple guys who are too comfortable out in public in those zebra-patterned pants that were cool for about 10 minutes in 1991.

Worst: Loyalty. I'm reading a book right now called "Obsessive Branding Disorder" by Lucas Conley. Early on, he notes that the doctrine of one of the world's largest advertising firms is "Loyalty beyond reason." So when I write a column and include that Oregon and Oregon State have the same number of wins, I'm told I'm wrong. Or I'm missing the larger point. Or that it's not the whole story.

There's also the training room with the waterfall.

The trick here is that most fans are totally cool, fun people. I just got an email from a friend who went to Washington and at the bottom it says, "Please consider the environment before printing this email." Because he cares.

But there is also the type of fan who lacks any sense of humor, or sense of proportion, and, in a few cases, logic is tossed out the window while the car's moving at an especially high rate of speed. Washington has them. Oregon has them. And they are almost identical.

They're going to hate seeing that.

Brewer: I love the passion, the sense of history and the ownership of the program that Husky fans take. It's truly something special. Yes, those are qualities that every tradition-laden program has, but it's the way the Huskies nurture it that's different. They don't take it for granted. They treat it like it's a magical entity that only certain people can understand. As someone who grew up far from here, I dig that commitment.

Worst traits for Husky fans? There's a sense of entitlement that can be annoying. And while I love how many fans talk about Husky football in mystical terms, I don't buy the argument that an outsider can never understand. I think that's a small-town mentality, and the Husky community is too vast for that kind of thinking. The football program is a unique treasure, embedded deeply into so many hearts. But it's a football program, not the morse code. By respecting and researching the history, by having the legends school you, you can learn.

As far as the Ducks fans are concerned, I will defer to Ryan. I haven't been around them enough. I will say that, in my few dealings with those fans, I see some commonality with Husky fans, with all sports fans. I sense Oregon fans can be a little more insecure, and I didn't like how they treated Kevin Love when he returned to his home state. But I know plenty of great, well-rounded Ducks. And I like my dealings with them.

I'm happy dealing mostly with the Huskies on a daily basis, though. They challenge me. I like that.

5. Who will win Saturday? Why?

White: There is much gnashing of teeth down here about Nate Costa's knee injury. The interesting thing about that is that Justin Roper has a larger body of work to talk about than Costa. Roper was actually pretty good in the last year's Civil War and in the bowl game.

But he's not why I think Oregon wins. The offense isn't even why I expect Oregon wins. I think the defense is real good. And the game's at Autzen. At night. So the fans will in no way be loud or drunk.

However, talking to secondary coach John Neal last week, he ascribed the appropriate amount of worry to the task of preparing for Jake Locker, who he called "Clark Kent." If Oregon can maintain Locker's existence to that of a clumsy newspaper reporter wearing nerdy glasses, the Ducks will win.

This might be a good time to point out that in their final scrimmage, Roper, the slower quarterback, ran for a 25-yard touchdown.

Brewer: I'm calling the upset. Huskies, 27-21. I think new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will have the UW defense playing inspired. I think the holdover Huskies who watched Oregon score 55 points on them last season will play for pride this time. I think Jake Locker is going to have an amazing game. At times, the Ducks struggled defending him last season. Locker ran for 78 yards and threw for 257 yards and four touchdowns. He was a big-play machine in that game. If he can be more efficient this time (he only completed 12 of 31 passes against the Ducks a year ago), the Huskies will fare well.

Now, don't ask me which of those young receivers and running backs will help him out. Maybe Jordan Polk, the impressive young returner, will star on special teams and help out the offense.

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August 27, 2008 8:51 PM

Powerless Rankings: Coveting gap-toothed Hall of Famers

Posted by Jerry Brewer

Our weekly tracking of the 10 most absurd, disappointing or unfortunate stories in sports:

10. Monta Ellis
Comment: The young Golden State Warriors guard will miss 3-4 months with an ankle injury. Never what you want to hear after a guy signs a $66 million contract.

9. The Rick Neuheisel Effect
Comment: The wacky former Husky coach is back to his needling ways. UCLA has a new ad out, with Slick Rick featured, declaring that the Bruins are coming after USC. Must admit I laughed when I first saw it. But this was a foolish move.

8. Chad Johnson
Comment: Ocho Cinco has a partially torn labrum in his shoulder. He will try to play, but who knows if he can last the season? Suggestion: No crazy arm movements during touchdown celebrations this season, Chad.

7. O.J. Simpson
Comment: Hate to bring down this blog post by talking about the Juice, but check out this story. His daughter, Arnelle, beat him down recently. If we're fully committed to tracking absurdity in sports, this story is a must.

6. New York Giants
Comment: Now that Osi Umenyiora is out for the season, the defending Super Bowl champs are without three of their ace pass rushers this season. This won't be the same team that conquered Tom Brady last February.

5. Michael Strahan
Comment: The loquacious, gap-toothed one decided to stay retired after reportedly asking the Giants for a ridiculous amount of cash to come back. Too bad. Now we must listen to Strahan on TV all year.

4. Matt Leinart
Comment: Kurt Warner is expected to start over Leinart this season. All that talk about Leinart's maturation was apparently a preseason myth.

3. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards
Comment: The NASCAR stars have put on probation for six weeks after an unsportsmanlike altercation following a race last Sunday. This would be a huge deal if an NBA or NFL player had acted the way they did. And these guys were misbehaving in their cars.

2. Shawne Merriman
Comment: The San Diego Chargers linebacker will forego surgery on two torn knee ligaments and try to play this season. He's essentially going against the advice of four doctors. Here's hoping he doesn't ruin his career because he wants to be a warrior.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars wide receivers
Comment: One receiver (Matt Jones) got busted cutting cocaine with a credit card. Another (Reggie Williams, former UW star) had knee surgery. And then Jerry Porter, believed to be a relevant player once, is out after undergoing hamstring surgery. And now there are reports that Dennis Northcutt, is being accused of a brutal assault of a woman who claims she's having his baby. The position is so bad that Troy Williamson, considered a bust, is Mr. Dependable.

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August 26, 2008 10:00 PM

The Agenda: Huskies, Huskies and more Huskies

Posted by Jerry Brewer

I've abandoned trying to dissect Tyrone Willingham. I don't think there are any secret meanings behind his words and don't believe he's a very complicated football coach. It's much easier to accept him for who he is -- a rigid coach who never deviates from his beliefs and values -- and leave it at that.

If he finds a way to win at Washington, his characteristics will grow on us. If he doesn't, well, he won't be around much longer. Obviously, if you've read my columns over the past year, I believe he can win here, but I'm not arrogant enough to reject any opinions to the contrary. The truth is, we still have much to learn about Willingham as a coach, and we'd better learn quickly, or else we'll be studying up on another guy.


I say all this to reflect on the very well-written (and well-read) column in today's paper by my colleague, Times college sports reporter Bud Withers. In it, Bud broke down how he feels Willingham is showing signs of wilting under the must-win pressure so far this season. It was a fascinating observation -- and not just because it detailed how the coach is punishing our beat writer, Bob Condotta.

Ultimately, all of this stuff doesn't matter if you win. But by doing things so defiantly his way, Willingham continues to alienate people that he needs on his side. I'm wondering if he'd have more of a margin for error if he'd handled some of the public aspects of his job better. To name a few: better treatment of boosters, better media policies so that the fans get a clearer sense of what's happening within the program and a more revealing personality.

Those are all just trimmings, yes, and have little to do with W's and L's. But sports are not played within a bubble. It's important to remember the community's influence on your job security.

Now, I'm not suggesting that a friendlier Willingham would keep him off the hot seat. Winning is the bottom line. But he could get the benefit of the doubt more often if he were more personable.

That said, there are plenty of coaches who are much worse. In my dealings with Willingham, he's always been very polite and accommodating. Even when he is not revealing, he is usually well-mannered. There are some coaches, especially in college football, who are just plain jerks. Willingham is not one of those. He's just very protective of his control. He's perhaps the most distrustful public figure I've met. I'd be fascinated to learn what made him grow so skeptical.

I thought Bud wrote a very tough column about Willingham in a balanced manner. More than anything, it showed how much of a microscope the coach is under this season and hinted at whether he could handle it. In this case, Bud's conclusion was no. We'll let the season determine if this smoke turns into a fire.

Personally, I'm feeling sapped of the will to write about Willingham and his job security right now. As every athlete says these days, it is what it is. It won't be going anywhere. So I'm ready to move onto the season and see what happens.

A few hours ago, I filed a column for Wednesday's paper about Juan Garcia's amazing comeback and how he makes the offensive line whole. The O-line is the Huskies' most reliable unit, and if Garcia stays healthy, it could become the dominant strength of this team. With the young running backs and receivers on this roster, quarterback Jake Locker will need all the help he can get, and good blocking will spur the development of this offense. A little extra time for receivers to get open would be nice. A few gaping holes for those young running backs each game would aid an offense that might have to rely on the big play over steady, every-down production, especially early in the season.

As the week progresses, I'm thinking about delving into this idea of whether the Huskies are catching Oregon at the right time in this season opener. Even without quarterback Nate Costa, even with additional issues on offense, the Ducks still look better than the Huskies on paper.

But without question, the opportunity is there for an upset. As I've said all preseason, we have no idea of who the Huskies are just yet. And that can be a good thing for this team.

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August 25, 2008 4:22 PM

Fall/winter Extra Points lineup

Posted by Jerry Brewer

OK, my vacation is over, just in time for the start of football season. With that in mind, let me give you a rundown of how Extra Points will be changing to accommodate our national pigskin obsession.

During this portion of the year, the lineup will include the following features each day:

Monday: North/South, East/West. This will be a weekly preview/review of the week in the NFL and college football. Of course, it will be heavy on the two local teams, the Seahawks and the Huskies. (It debuts next Monday, Sept. 1.)

Tuesday: The Agenda. When there are complaints from readers and athletes or coaches, one of the most common phrases is: "What's your agenda?" Well, in this weekly posting, I will write, in random, journal-like form, about my thoughts/feelings/reservations/hesitations in the sports world. The idea is to give you a more comprehensive look into my mind, what motivates me, why I did or didn't do something and sometimes even a look ahead to what columns I'm working on. (It starts tomorrow.)

Wednesday: Powerless Rankings. This is my weekly look at the most absurd, unfortunate and disappointing stories or people in sports. It moves from Fridays to this day to accommodate for end-of-the-week football chatter. (It resumes on schedule this week.)

Thursday: Q&A(rgue). Hey, it's cyber bedrock for me. It's not going anywhere. However, I plan vary the participants in the coming weeks and get beyond debating with only sportswriters. Too many agreeing viewpoints. Time to mix it up. (Naturally, we'll be debating the start of college football season this Thursday.)

Friday: The Crystal Helmet. This is simply a fancy way of dressing up predictions for the weekend football games. I will keep score of my prognosticating, which is sure to provide you with plenty of laughter. (It starts this week.)

Saturday: Husky Recap. A fun postgame look at what the Huskies did right and wrong each week, featuring the Ty-o-meter, a tracker of how each game affects the coach's job security. (Wonder what the Ty-o-meter reading will be after this trip to Autzen Stadium?)

Sunday: Seahawks Recap. A fun postgame look at what the Seahawks did right and wrong each week. (This one doesn't begin until the Seahawks opener on Sept. 7.)

Beyond those daily anchors, I reserve the right to praise, chastise or ridicule anyone or anything at any time. Wouldn't be a blog without that privilege.

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August 14, 2008 5:03 PM

To be continued ...

Posted by Jerry Brewer

If you haven't noticed already, Extra Points is on vacation. I will return Aug. 25, just in time for the week leading up to the college football season.

At that time, a few new features will be introduced in this ever-evolving blog/journal/think tank/whatever you want to call it.

In the meantime, enjoy the space we are getting from each other because this fall is sure to present some polarizing issues in which we definitely won't be in agreement all the time. To me, the disagreements are one of the best parts of sports, and I look forward to debating with everyone because you all represent a fabulous collection of views and insights.

While I'm away, feel free to communicate with me in the comments section below or in private e-mail (jbrewer@seattletimes.com) and leave some stories, questions or viewpoints that are on your mind presently. When I return, I'll be certain to keep in mind the concerns or perspectives that matter most to you -- the readers, the fans, the people who make this job so special. Staying in touch with your thoughts makes me a better columnist.

Perhaps I'm a little nostalgic today because I'm less than a week away from my two-year anniversary at the Times. It's been the best experience I've ever had as a journalist (aside from my days as a young, burgeoning journalist at Western Kentucky University). And I'm excited to refocus, improve and make Year 3 better than the previous two.

Talk to you soon.

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August 7, 2008 10:43 AM

Q&A(rgue): Willingham, Locker and the unavoidable hot seat

Posted by Jerry Brewer

It's Thursday, which means it's time to debate again. Today, we will focus on coach Tyrone Willingham and the Huskies. My guest is ESPN.com writer Mark Schlabach, an excellent reporter who covers college football and men's college basketball at the Worldwide Leader.

Most pertinent to this discussion, Schlabach recently wrote his list of coaches on the hot seat. Of course, Willingham made the cut. You cannot avoid the certainty that this is a make-or-break season. But let's debate the subject by hitting on some broader topics for a few minutes. Let's also see, through Schlabach, what the national view of the situation is.

All right, let's get to it.

1. We know Tyrone Willingham must win to retain his job. But should he be on the hot seat after just three seasons at Washington?

Schlabach: In today's college football, three seasons (or even two) seems to be the window of opportunity for most coaches. I don't think it's fair for Willingham because the Huskies' schedule has been one of the toughest in the country since he's been there.

Brewer: In a perfect and patient world, it's unfair. For a program with a lesser reputation, it's unfair. But at Washington, this is the way it has to be. The Huskies have had four straight losing seasons, including three under Willingham. Their record during that span: 12-35. Many people wanted Willingham gone after last season, but I disagreed. I thought he needed another year. Now that he has it, he must show progress in the won-lost column. He knows it. His players know it. Everybody knows it. Let's see if progress can be made.

2. One argument for retaining the coach of a struggling program is continuity. What do you think about the idea of continuity versus making change for a fresh approach?

Schlabach: I think any time there is a coaching change, there's a transition. A coaching change tends to set teams back in recruiting. A perfect example is Steve Kragthorpe and Louisville. Kragthorpe is a terrific coach and turned Tulsa, of all schools, into a winner. He inherited a Louisville team with quarterback Brian Brohm, but the Cardinals struggled last season. A coaching transition is never seamless, and there's a lot to be said for continuity.

Brewer: Remember the days when almost every coach got four years to turn a program around, for the sake of recruiting, for the sake of continuity? You can destroy a program by making a change every two years. At the same time, a coach must show himself worthy of patience. It's a tough call, and it's different for every situation. For instance, at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez will get fired in two years if the Wolverines don't perform. But he's inheriting a program on solid footing. Willingham? He inherited a program that had hit rock bottom, winning only one game the previous season. So he deserves a little more time. But the Huskies can't keep suffering through poor third quarters and losing games in the second half. They have to finish, even though they don't have great depth. If they don't get out of that rut, it is time for change.

3. The Pac-10 was fantastic last season. How tough do you think it will be this season? Can Washington win seven games playing the Pac-10 schedule along with non-conference games that include BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame?

Schlabach: I think Washington will face an uphill climb in trying to get to seven wins. The non-conference schedule is brutal again. Oklahoma is a national championship contender, and BYU might crash the BCS party. Notre Dame will be better after playing so many freshmen in 2007. USC is still the class of the Pac-10, but the Trojans are replacing a lot of great players. Arizona State and California are probably next in line.

Brewer: My contention is that, because the Huskies are such an unknown commodity, we can't start marking off wins and losses just yet. Unless something dramatic happens, we probably can say that the Huskies won't beat Oklahoma and USC. Beyond that, I just don't know. I have to see the team play first. Having a winning record with this schedule won't be easy, but when will it ever be? The Pac-10 is always going to be a nine-game grind. The Huskies are always going to play a challenging non-conference schedule on top of that. If the team is good enough, it will win. If not, it won't. Simple as that. I do think the Pac-10 won't be as much of a bear this season. Beyond USC and Arizona State, I see a lot of question marks.

4. You can make some comparisons between Jake Locker and Tim Tebow. But will Locker ever become the all-around quarterback that Tebow is?

Schlabach: Locker has a chance to be as good as Tebow in many aspects of his game. The thing most people don't realize about Tebow is if Florida had a true tailback, Tebow's statistics wouldn't be as gaudy. He runs the ball every time the Gators get close to the goal line.

Brewer: Locker is more physically gifted than Tebow, which is saying something. Locker is faster, more athletic. But Tebow is bigger and far more superior as a passer. The guy has completed roughly 67 percent of his passes during his college career. Locker has yet to show that accuracy. I don’t see Locker winning a Heisman Trophy, whereas Tebow might win again this season. So they won't compare there. But don't be surprised if, 10 years from now, we look in the NFL and recognize Locker as the better player.

5. When Willingham came to Washington, he was charged with building a winning team with tons of character. In college football today, can you build a perennial BCS contender and avoid the embarrassing off-the-field incidents that seem to burden every major program?

Schlabach: A lot of guys have tried, but off-field problems are even hurting some of the coaches who have the highest ethics. Look at Mark Richt at Georgia. He takes his players to Honduras for a Christian mission trip during the summer, then has eight players arrested at home. Joe Paterno is facing similar problems at Penn State. You really have to work to have it both ways -- recruiting great players and great citizens.

Brewer: I don't think it can be done. I think a coach can limit the number of problems that arise. I think a coach can make statements through the ways he punishes his players. But this is football. A team full of choir boys won't win the national title. The reality is, you must have some roughnecks. The problem I have is when a coach recruits a kid who has been in trouble multiple times in high school and then acts surprised when the kid finds trouble in college. And also, the second and third and fourth chances these guys get are out of control.

So, you can win with a character-based team, but you can't expect every player to stay out of trouble.

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