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Originally published October 11, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified October 12, 2010 at 12:01 AM

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Jerry Brewer

Next four football games will seal Huskies' fate

The Huskies face four ranked teams in the next four weeks and have to win at least one of them to have a chance at a bowl game.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The astonishing thing is how quickly a football season moves.

If you're rolling, it feels like you're on a trip to an amusement park. And if you're the Huskies, it feels like you're riding shotgun in a driving-school student's drag race.

The Washington team badly needs for this year to slow down. The season will reach its halfway point this week, and the Huskies haven't even gotten started. Now, with a schedule that offers four ranked foes in the next four weeks, they're dangerously close to wrecking Jake Locker's encore.

The Huskies have a 2-3 record, which is way too soon to panic, but over the next month, they can make or break their season. They're essentially competing to receive permission to play meaningful games late in the year.

They must scrap together at least one victory from this hazardous conglomerate — No. 24 Oregon State, at No. 17 Arizona, No. 14 Stanford and at No. 2 Oregon — to stay mathematically in contention for a 6-6 record and certain bowl berth. But that's assuming they can start the year 3-6 and then close by winning three straight games, something the program hasn't done since 2006.

So, really, it would behoove the Huskies to scrounge up the magic to win two of these next four before the schedule seemingly eases up at the end, when they play UCLA, California and Washington State.

All that preseason hope and promise has led to this predicament. The young, inconsistent, frustrating Huskies need a break in the schedule right now, a cupcake, or at least more manageable competition. Instead, they'll have the toughest month of any team in the country.

What do you even say to that? May the force be with you?

The astonishing thing is how quickly a football season rages out of control.

You're riding shotgun in a driving-school student's drag race — and the brakes don't work. Start sending up prayers now.

It's a good thing coach Steve Sarkisian preaches that his team should never look ahead.

"I'm not even looking at that," Sarkisian said of the tough road the Huskies face. "I think we get in trouble as a football team when we start looking at the what-ifs down the road and the consequences of a loss or the what-ifs if we win. I think that's when we get in trouble. We need to focus on the task at hand ... and when that game comes, we need to have the ability to focus on the snap at hand."

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Even with trouble brewing, Sarkisian doesn't panic. In attacking this major rebuilding job, the coach has focused admirably on the big picture and maintained steady progress, even though he has just a 7-10 record. Under Sark, the Huskies have generally responded to disappointment by showing improvement. No question, this program is healthier today than when he inherited an 0-12 mess in December 2008.

But can he keep the Huskies from blowing an opportunity to take a major step forward?

When Locker delayed going to the NFL and returned for a fifth year, the Huskies were given a chance to accelerate their rebuilding. A winning season and bowl game were expected, and the thought was that the taste of success would propel the program. But thus far, the team hasn't played to its potential, particularly on offense, and Locker hasn't played well at times.

The Huskies have lost two winnable games (Arizona State and Brigham Young), and now they'll engage in a fight for survival. The challenge isn't impossible, just highly unlikely. This team must play at its max to rescue this season.

"As we looked at the film from Saturday night's ballgame, we really recognized the fact that the margin for error right now for our football team in the Pac-10 Conference is minimal," Sarkisian said.

Coaches, so gifted at saying nothing and everything at once, use three idioms to mask their level of worry.

Stage 1 Concern: "I'll have to look at the film."

Translation: "Yeah, we have problems, but I don't want to admit it until I can review the game and come up with enough positives to cloud the issue."

Stage 2 Concern: "We have a small margin for error."

Translation: So Sarkisian is saying, "I'm worried, but maybe we can cover some things up by admitting we're not that good, playing with more effort and taking on an underdog mentality."

Stage 3 Concern: "It is what it is."

Translation: "We stink. I smell it. Leave me alone, and say whatever you want."

Bright side for the Huskies? It isn't what it is, yet.

There's still hope. Sarkisian can still talk about improving little things and call football "a game of inches, as Al Pacino tells us."

Actually, that cliché predated Pacino's speech in the 1999 movie "Any Given Sunday." But you can forgive Sark for being too preoccupied to search for the origins of such coachspeak.

The season is moving too quickly, too recklessly, and the Huskies are running out of time to avoid a crash.

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

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