Jan. 1, 2001
PASADENA, Calif. - The Washington Huskies are back.
They may not be quite as good as they were in the early '90s when they boasted such players as Mark Brunell and Lincoln Kennedy. But they're getting there.
Returning to the Rose Bowl for the first time in eight years, the Huskies beat Drew Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers 34-24 on Monday.
The No. 4 Huskies survived a third-quarter shoulder injury to quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo on a New Year's Day when they already were playing hurt.
Lingering injuries to tailbacks Rich Alexis (shoulder) and Willie Hurst (shoulder), and receivers Todd Elstrom (knee) and Justin Robbins (shoulder) left Washington's offense at less than 100 percent. The Huskies still had enough to win.
By finishing the season with an eight-game winning streak, Washington (11-1) had its best record since 1991, when the Huskies went 12-0 under veteran coach Don James.
After trips to three consecutive Rose Bowls, Washington's program was punished by a two-year bowl ban for NCAA rules violations. James retired on the spot, two weeks before the 1993 season began.
Jim Lambright, James' longtime defensive coordinator, took over, compiled a 44-25-1 record and guided the Huskies to four bowl games in six seasons. But Lambright was fired following the 1998 Oahu Bowl.
Last season, coach Rich Neuheisel's first in Seattle, the Huskies went 7-5.
This season, the Neuheisel-led squad developed a reputation for nail-biting finishes. Five times, the Huskies rallied in the fourth quarter to win, against Colorado, Oregon State, California, Stanford and Arizona.
They also beat No. 2 Miami in Seattle in their second game and won their regular-season finale against Washington State, 51-3.
Florida State and Oklahoma play for the national championship Wednesday night at the Orange Bowl.
"We'd love to be the national champions," Neuheisel said Monday. "But my experience is that by saying something too loud, you do not sway the voters.
"They already know how we did against Miami and they know how Miami did against Florida State," he said. "In this day and age of computers, I'll have to talk to Bill Gates about getting something better and streamlining all of this."
The Huskies won't win a national title this season, but they won a lot of respect.
"I hope everyone realizes the Pac-10 Conference is not soft," offensive tackle Elliot Silvers said. "We deserve recognition."
And next season?
Washington will lose Tuiasosopo, its senior quarterback and the Rose Bowl player of the game.
Also departing will be All-American guard Chad Ward, offensive tackles Wes Call and Silvers, fullback Pat Conniff and linebackers Jeremiah Pharms and Derrell Daniels, as well as senior punter Ryan Fleming.
But the Huskies have a lot of outstanding young players, too. Safety Greg Carothers, cornerback Derrick Johnson and Robbins were the first three freshmen to start for Washington in the Rose Bowl.
"We came to Washington to play in the Rose Bowl," Robbins said. "We came together and it's a dream come true. It's the best experience of our lives."
Neuheisel says the best of his three recruiting classes will enter school next fall.
Still, he'll miss his Rose Bowl warriors, especially Tuiasosopo, who returned after his shoulder injury and led Washington to two touchdowns in the final quarter.
By JIM COUR
AP Sports Writer