SEATTLE — By the time the University of Washington football team’s recruiting class of 2008 arrived on campus, one of the most storied rivalries on the West Coast had been buried in the dirt.
Mighty USC was riding a six-game winning streak against UW, and a 56-0 Trojans win in the fall of 2008 only accentuated the state of the dying rivalry.
Just four years later, as the teams prepare to square off for the 83rd time in their storied football history, the USC-UW rivalry is alive and well — thanks to a transplant coach, back-to-back upsets, a pair of longtime chums and a 1,100-mile recruiting pipeline.
“UW and USC goes back to even before I was born, to back in the day when they were the top programs,” said UW fifth-year senior Cody Bruns, one of five players remaining from the 2008 team that went 0-12. “We’re just glad that it’s just starting to get back that way as the rivalry continues to grow.”
The watershed moment in the rebirth of this rivalry came when current Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian was hired in December 2008. Less than nine months later, the first stone was cast when UW shocked the Goliaths from Southern California with a 16-13 upset.
Add in another upset the following season, a slew of UW players who hail from Southern California and the return of longtime Sarkisian friend Lane Kiffin to coach the Trojans, and this rivalry has gained must-see status on the national landscape.
“This Washington-SC matchup is a classic one, for decades now,” Sarkisian said this week. “For it to be a game of importance again now, today, as it was a ways back, is pretty cool. I think both schools appreciate it. I think the players appreciate it. We obviously have a fair amount of kids from Southern California. I think it’s good that the game is competitive and that it matters.”
For the good part of a decade, UW football was barely on the radar of almighty USC. The Trojans posted seven consecutive wins, including the 56-0 tail-kicking in 2008. Dating back to 1984, the Trojans held a 7-15-1 head-to-head record before Sarkisian arrived.
But now the Huskies have USC’s attention. And the rivalry is officially renewed.
“I think a lot of that has to do with Sark, his USC background and the games over recent years,” USC senior quarterback Matt Barkley said during a mid-week phone interview. “It adds to the whole rivalry thing.
“A lot of teams make their own rivalries with USC. A lot of teams make it their Super Bowl. But the tradition with Washington actually goes way back. We’re looking forward to another good game.”
To Huskies center Drew Schaefer, another of the five fifth-year seniors who preceded Sarkisian at UW, the back-to-back wins over USC in 2009 and 2010 were only the beginning.
Since then, Schaefer said, the Huskies have proven that “we’re starting to climb our way toward the top echelon of the Pac-12.”
Over the long haul, USC has proven that there’s still a pretty clear separation between national contenders like the Trojans, Oregon and Stanford and the rest of the Pac-12. The Huskies have take steps toward closing that gap with upsets like the two over USC and last month’s nationally-televised win over ninth-ranked Stanford.
Today, in what will cap off a run against four top-15 opponents in five weeks and will also mark the last game with USC before the rivalry takes a two-year hiatus, UW has a chance to really prove itself as a Pac-12 contender.
The Huskies are hoping this game looks more like the ones in 2009 and 2010 than the 23-point loss they suffered at USC last season.
“There were two games that really came down to the wire, and then last year they really gave it to us down there pretty good,” UW’s Schaefer said. “This year, I think it’s time for us to really learn from those mistakes, take that next step and continue the rivalry going.”