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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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July 26, 2008 10:12 AM

July questions, take four

Posted by Bob Condotta

Another round:

Q: Do you think there is a link between the Huskies' strength of schedule and the desire by some to see Tyrone Willingham given the boot? Everyone knows that Tyrone is under extreme pressure to win but how is that reasonably possible when the Huskies have the hardest schedule in the nation two years in a row and we open next year against LSU. I don't want to see this program go through another coaching change and I think given time and a little more favorable schedule Tyrone will be a successful coach.

A: No, if for no other reason than the schedules are mostly set years in advance, then changed only when plans go awry --- which unfortunately for UW has happened a lot of late. I've detailed several times how the 2008 schedule came to be. The Cliff's Notes version is that they had BYU and Notre Dame on the 2008 slate years ago and moved Oklahoma from 2007 to 2008 to ease the schedule in 2007 --- which would seem to indicate right there that they made moves to try to help Willingham succeed. That move was made in 2005 when it was decided that the program might not be ready in 2007 to play Ohio State and Oklahoma on back-to-back weeks, as was originally planned, a schedule made during the Neuheisel era. I remember Neuheisel joking at the time that "whoever the coach is then'' will have a lot of fun with it. That made the 2008 schedule harder, but in 2005 I think the thought was that by 2008 the program would be ready for it. I've heard people say UW should have just dropped one of these teams, but you don't do that to schools like that and ever get them again. I don't think a school like UW should take those kinds of chances against schools like Oklahoma and Notre Dame. And again, they got the Oklahoma game moved once.

As for LSU in 2009, that opening came about because both Nevada and Illinois pulled out of planned games against the Huskies in Seattle --- both teams pulled out after Willingham was hired as coach (not that those events are related, just giving you the timeline). UW added Idaho to fill one of the slots --- which everybody seems to forget about when discussing this topic --- and LSU to fill the other. Having an opening so late in the process meant UW didn't have a lot of options for opponents for the LSU slot, and given that the Huskies aren't exactly selling out every game anymore, that made LSU additionally attractive (as did the fact that there is a built-in relationship between the current leadership at UW and LSU). One of the Illinois games was to have been in 2008, a road game, and again, when Illinois pulled out, that changed things and forced UW to readjust. Navy also pulled out of a series that was to begin in 2010 and Indiana pulled out of a game in 2007 which also forced some scrambling. When Barbara Hedges left office, the schedule for 2008 featured BYU, Boise State, Notre Dame and at Illinois. When Willingham came aboard, they swapped Boise State and Oklahoma to ease the 2007 schedule, and Illinois later dropped out, a game that didn't need replacing for this season when the Pac-10 then went to a nine-game conference schedule. Also, it's not as if the schedules in Willingham's first two years at UW were overly difficult --- home games with Notre Dame and Idaho and a game in Seattle against Air Force, and home games with Fresno State and San Jose State in 2006 with a road game at Oklahoma. As a lot of people have pointed out, UW is 5-5 in non-conference games under Willingham and 6-20 in Pac-10 play. It's the conference slate --- something that obviously can't be changed --- that has been the real killer for UW the last three years.

Aside from all of that, however, I really don't think there's any link at all between Willingham's future and scheduling LSU. Willingham's future at UW figures to be determined long before that game is played. Either he wins this year and gets an extension, or that will be the first game for a new coach.

Q: What is Lindy's?

A: Lindy's is one of several pre-season college football magazines released each year. It's named after the publisher, J. Lindy Davis, who is from the south and started the magazine with just an SEC preview each year and expanded to include magazines covering every major conference. I have been fortunate enough to do work for Lindy's for the last 10 years or so.

Q: I think most Husky fans are most concerned about the D-line being put into a trial by fire situation. On the other hand, last year's ''experienced'' line was generally ineffective. What is the historical precedent on inexperienced d-lines? Most of these kids (Elisara, Matthews) were four-star recruits that seem to have some potential. Is d-line enough of an "instinct'' position that experience may be overrated (ala RB)?

A: D-line is generally considered to be a spot that takes a little while to grow into. As one piece of evidence, there have been only two sophomore and no freshmen D-linemen named to the All-Pac-10 team in the last decade (actually, three since 1998 including 1998 --- only two since 1998). At four a year, that's 40 available slots. Quarterback is the only spot at which there have been fewer (though obviously only one a year has been named --- the only sophomore or younger in that time has been USC's Matt Leinart). You could also consider the career of the greatest DL in school history, Steve Emtman. He redshirted his first season in 1988 and then was a reserve as a redshirt freshman in 1989, making 19 tackles, before exploding as a third-year sophomore. That's not to say young players can't become immediate stars. But the only other time in my career covering UW football I remember the Huskies potentially going with a D-line that was as close to this in being inexperienced was 2004, a season that obviously didn't turn out so well (not that the D-line was the sole cause of that, but it certainly didn't help anything). In general, D-line isn't as much of an instinct position as, say, RB where underclassmen often emerge as starters. Technique and simple brute strength are two of the biggest keys up front. I think there is a lot of reason to think the current D-linemen will be better in the long run. But simply asking for them to better right out of the gate than last year's D-line, disappointing as it was, might be a lot. Not saying it can't happen, but history would suggest it will take some time for the D-line to grow into a strength, one reason it will be little surprise to see the Huskies mix things up quite a bit more on defense this year.

All for now.

(And given that I will be out-of-town much of the weekend, there may not be much else here for a few days).


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