(Leach Photo By William Mancebo/Getty Images) (Sarkisian Photo By Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
By Nate Hanson, Sports Radio KJR
Both Steve Sarkisian and Mike Leach enter seasons in which the fan base for both teams are expecting better. However, the expectations are different for what is deemed better. For Sarkisian, it's ending a run of three straight seasons of winning just seven games and it's time to take the next step in which the team flirts with 9 or 10 wins. For Leach, it's justifying the hype that surrounded his hire.
Let’s start with the hometown Huskies. Sarkisian took over a program that was in its darkest hour. The team was winless in Tyrone Willingham’s final season of a dreadful tenure. Young quarterback Jake Locker suffered a season-ending injury forcing Ronnie Fouch to fill the void. A change was needed and Sarkisian was chosen to bring the football program back to prominence.
In his second year, Sarkisian rode a four-game winning streak to end the season, including a Holiday Bowl win over a Nebraska team that thumped the Huskies earlier in the season. Locker became the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft and it appeared to be smooth sailing back to the top for a once prodigious program.
Keith Price elevated the quarterback play in Sarkisian’s third season. After a 5-2 start, the Huskies were poised to take another leap forward. However, a 2-4 limp to the finish line, which included a loss to 3-9 Oregon State and the 67 point debacle to RGIII’s Baylor Bears in the Alamo Bowl, put the brakes on the Huskies climb to the top of the Pac-12. Still, it was a seven win season and with a new defensive coordinator coming, expectations were high for the Huskies leading into 2012.
Despite the struggles of the offensive line and Price’s sophomore slump, the Huskies were 7-4, ranked 25th and had an 18 point lead in the fourth quarter of the Apple Cup. Eight regular season wins and a stellar bowl game were in sight. Then, the biggest collapse in Apple Cup history. Eight wins was still a possibility heading into the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. Travis Coons nailed a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter to put Boise State behind for the first time. The eight win season slipped away again as Boise State made a game-winning field goal with a minute left in the game. A possible 9-4 year ended 7-6.
For Washington State, Mike Leach is in his second year of rebuilding. After the hiring of Leach, Cougs were clamoring for a six win season and a bowl bid. The Cougs only got halfway there. 2012 was the first losing season in Leach’s career. It was a disaster on and off the field. The team’s lone star, Marquess Wilson, quit midway through the season and accused Leach of physical abuse, an accusation Wilson retracted. The season ended on a high note as the Cougs snapped its eight-game losing streak with an Apple Cup victory.
The product on the field never matched the expectations. WSU only averaged 20 points per game. The team was outscored by 19 points per game in its nine losses. Compared to the expectations, Leach’s first season was a failure. Leach’s team needs to consistently compete in order to show progress during his second year.
It’s a different type of pressure for the two coaches. So, who has the most pressure entering this season to win?