Editor's note: Fourth in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — In his first three seasons at the helm of the Washington Huskies, Steve Sarkisian's teams have won some and lost some — doing so on an even basis.
Despite an overall record of 19-19, Sarkisian said the program has made incremental progress since he taking over a program that went 0-12 in 2008.
The Huskies went 5-7 and upset USC in Sarkisian's first season. Close setbacks at Notre Dame (37-30 in overtime), Arizona State (24-17) and UCLA (24-23) proved costly.
"It's so frustrating now looking back at that season," Sarkisian said whole reflecting on the narrow losses. ".… That could have been a much different team if we had won those."
Washington struggled the next season as well, even with the return of highly touted quarterback Jake Locker and another triumph over USC. Despite a 3-6 start, the Huskies turned things around with three consecutive victories to become bowl eligible. They capped off the program's first winning campaign since 2002 with a 19-7 victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
In 2011, Washington went 7-6 once again. The Huskies snapped a three-game skid with a 38-21 decision over rival Washington State in the regular season finale. Then came a shootout loss to Robert Griffin III and Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.
"Every season has been different for us. They haven't all been the same," Sarkisian said. "The thing for us is to put it together. Ultimately you get dealt a hand and you have to play that hand."
And now, in his fourth year in Seattle, Sarkisian thinks the program is "on the brink of something special." The culture, he added, is in place.
"It's not about inheriting some players (and) bringing in new ones. These are our guys," Sarkisian said. "They give us everything they have everyday. We love our guys and can't wait for the season to get started."
OFFENSE: With star running back Chris Polk opting to leave early for the NFL, the Huskies have a big void to fill. Polk led the team with 1,820 yards of total offense and 1,488 yards rushing. Receiving leaders Devin Aguilar and Jermaine Kearse have also moved on to the pros. Quarterback Keith Price is left to discover new options.
DEFENSE: After giving up 777 yards in a 67-56 bowl loss to Baylor, Sarkisian wound up firing defensive coordinator Nick Holt. Linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills were also let go. Former Boise State and Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is now calling the shots for Washington on defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Although the Huskies are looking for a kicker and punter, they do have leading return specialists Kasen Williams (15 punts) and Kevin Smith (37 kickoffs) back in the fold. Williams is a sophomore, while Smith is a junior.
PLAYMAKERS: Price put up some impressive numbers as a freshman. He passed for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins also had a good first year, catching 41 passes for 538 yards and six scores. On defense, senior cornerback Desmond Trufant has 24 career pass deflections and five interceptions.
TOUGH STRETCH: It won't take long to find out if the Huskies are contenders or pretenders in the Pac-12. They open conference play at home against Stanford before facing Oregon in Eugene the following week. Then comes USC in Seattle.
EXTRA POINTS: Washington will play its home games at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, this season while Husky Stadium is renovated . . . The Huskies may end up starting only four seniors . . . Tate Martell, a 14-year-old quarterback from California, has committed to playing for Washington. He won't be able to sign a letter-of-intent, however, until 2017.
2012 media poll: 3rd, North
2011 record: 7-6, 5-4
Head coach: Steve Sarkisian (4th season, 19-19 overall)
Sept. 1 — SAN DIEGO STATE
Sept. 8 — at Louisiana State
Sept. 15 — PORTLAND STATE
Sept. 27 — STANFORD
Oct. 6 — at Oregon
Oct. 13 — USC
Oct. 20 — at Arizona
Oct. 27 — OREGON STATE
Nov. 2 — at California
Nov. 10 — UTAH
Nov. 17 — at Colorado
Nov. 23 — at Washington State