I still think the Huskies suck, but ...

As a die-hard Coug, nothing irritates me more than when Husky fans say, "I love the Huskies, but I root for Washington State to do well whenever they're not playing the UW!"

My usual response?

"Oh, that's nice. Personally, I hope the University of Washington loses every game in every sport for the rest of eternity."

However, just because I don't like them doesn't mean I can't respect them, and I'm finding with each passing week that I respect Tyrone Willingham and his overachieving group more and more. That was never more evident than Saturday, when the Huskies -- 23.5-point underdogs on the road -- nearly pulled off the upset of the weekend against mighty Cal.

In my mind, Isaiah Stanback was virtually the only reason the Huskies were playing as well as they were up until this point in the season. With the news that he was going to miss the rest of the season, I figured they were sunk for sure.

After all, their starting quarterback is Carl Bonnell, who left Washington State because he was never, ever, ever going to see the field for the Cougs. And their backup quarterback is Johnny Durocher, who left Oregon because he was never, ever, ever, EVER going to see the field there. And while their third string quarterback is Jake Locker, the greatest quarterback in the history of Washington football -- just ask most of the fans -- the coaches are desperate to not burn his redshirt.

I'm still baffled as to how they're doing it, as no logical explanation makes sense. This is basically the same bunch of guys who stunk the last three years. Yet, their guts -- dare I say heart? -- really defy explanation. How do you rationalize Carl Bonnell throwing four interceptions, yet the Huskies still holding a lead late against the Bears? How do you explain a receiver who had caught just one pass in his UW career reeling in the game winner on a miraculous Hail Mary pass?

Here's how: Tyrone Willingham is a great coach with a great coaching staff.

The guy has the goods. He's been successful everywhere he's been, and the only reason he lost his job at Notre Dame is because most of the powerful people in that program never wanted him there in the first place. He expects excellence, and somehow, some way, he gets his players to expect it, too.

See, a lot of coaches miss the fact that the key to developing a successful program that can be competitive year in and year out is developing strong young men who have the heart, maturity and talent -- in that order -- to succeed. (Larry Coker, take note.) Willingham has started to do that, and while I initially resisted the assessment about four games ago that the Washington program had turned the corner, I'm now as convinced of that as I ever will be.

Tyrone Willingham is a great coach, and the Huskies would do well to lock him up for a very long time.

Does that scare me as a Coug fan? Nah ... until the Huskies actually pull of a big win -- something similar to the beatdown the Cougs put on No. 16 Oregon in Pullman -- or figure out a way to win an Apple Cup, I'll still revel in our superiority.

Besides, it'll mean a lot more to beat a decent team in the Apple Cup for once!

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