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Originally published December 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM | Page modified December 7, 2009 at 3:22 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Huskies end a positive rebuilding season with an emphatic victory

The Huskies left you screaming for a lot of different reasons this season. They were neither dull nor easy to comprehend, but they did improve — significantly.

Seattle Times staff columnist

In the Huskies' new era, everything ends with an exclamation mark.

The trend started a year ago when brash, young coach Steve Sarkisian joined the program spouting hyperbole, imagining possibilities and declaring he would return the University of Washington football team to glory. It continued with Sarkisian poaching good friend Nick Holt from the USC coaching staff, which led to the famously hilarious "Awesome!" news conference. And it went to another level during this wild, emotional, reformative season of extremes.

The Huskies left you screaming for a lot of different reasons this season. They were neither dull nor easy to comprehend, but they did improve — significantly.

To conclude this "!!!!!"-caliber season, it was only fitting that they gave you another reason to roar.

Washington took down No. 19 California with one unified, powerful, exhilarating fist to the gut. The Huskies played better than they had all season, flashing improved defense (including a rare pass rush!) and exquisite offensive execution (Jermaine Kearse was a beast!) and an emphatic, potentially final, performance from Jake Locker (oh, dude, one more year!).

They won 42-10 before an announced crowd of 62,334 at Husky Stadium. Their final record, 5-7, represents a dramatic turnaround from last season's winless flat tire. Even better, they finished the year by overcoming the drama of a poor stretch (six losses in seven games!) and winning their final two games (by a combined score of 72-10!) to increase the excitement for next season.

"This was not an easy season by any means," Sarkisian said in reflection. "There were a lot of excruciating losses but the guys battled every day. I'm really proud of our team."

Of course, this being a major rebuilding project, next season isn't earmarked for automatic success. The program must hold its breath now as Locker, a projected top-10 NFL draft pick, decides whether to bolt early for the pros. His decision could swing the Huskies anywhere from Top 25 expectations to another losing season.

But let's shove that angst aside for now. This victory over Cal frames the entire season. Yes, we know the Bears' best player, running back Jahvid Best, didn't play. And, yes, we remember the Huskies thought they'd made a statement two years ago with a late-season win over Cal, but it turned out to be merely the mirage of a poor Bears effort and wound up being followed by an embarrassing 15-game Huskies losing streak.

We've been fooled before. This time, though, it felt different. The Huskies were so dominant, so aggressive. While watching such a thorough performance, it was impossible not to think in terms of what this season could have been. The Huskies did an incredible job going from zero to five wins and being competitive in most every game. However, they were amazingly close to a turnaround that would've made jaws drop from here to Maine.

Three last-minute road losses — Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA — still burn. If they could've won two of those, they'd have a winning record and a guaranteed bowl berth.

The toughest part to swallow is they lost those games mostly because of the inexperience of the players and the coaches. Sarkisian's first season was an undisputed success, but he had to overcome play-calling mistakes in those losses to make it that way.

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"We got a lot accomplished," Sarkisian said. "We've got a long way to go, too. I'd just like to have a couple of fourth-and-ones on the goal line back, and there's no telling where we'd be."

In this game, ample evidence existed to prove that Sarkisian learned plenty this season, too.

His game plan was simple and crisp. The Huskies used their best athletes to punish a California defense that had struggled all season against some of the Pac-10's most explosive players.

If you want to know how far the Huskies have come under Sarkisian, compare this game with the 2008 finale at Cal. The Bears won 48-7. The Huskies played with no pride. They were beaten down by all the losing and fell to 0-12 with humiliating ease. But the university had already decided on Sark. A new era was about to begin.

On Saturday, Year One had a wonderful ending, another glimpse of what's to come, a thrilling swing in the positive direction. It was another exclamation mark to conclude a season full of them.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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