SEATTLE - I don't know if the Huskies will beat eighth-ranked Nebraska inside raucous Husky Stadium on Saturday.
I do know that Washington's players believe - make that, know - they can.
"We can play with them," senior linebacker Mason Foster says.
"We're the ones up at 6 a.m. lifting weights," senior safety Nate Williams adds. "We're the ones staying late at night working and studying film. Whether the whole world is against us or not, we know what we're capable of doing."
And that's Steve Sarkisian's biggest accomplishment in his one season plus two games coaching the Huskies.
The progression from hope to mere faith to having real reason to believe is the process of revival at Washington. Sarkisian and his staff have taken the Huskies to this final step - legitimized belief -- while bringing Washington football back from an abyss with a five-win improvement in 2009, upgrading the athleticism in all three phases of the game, attracting recruits and exciting fans.
Other than that, Sark and his pals haven't been doing much at Montlake.
Of course, all teams say they believe they can win all games. When's the last time you heard a player in any sport at any level say "We have no chance this week"?
But these Huskies have legitimate reasons to believe they can make a national statement on their revival against the Cornhuskers. They are in dogged pursuit of Washington's first bowl game since 2002.
I was struck by their how much they believed in themselves in the locker room, inside a cramped media room and on the way onto their buses on a hot night in Utah earlier this month. After an opening loss at Brigham Young in which the Huskies mainly beat themselves, Sarkisian and his players spoke of a 13-game season. That, of course, means a bowl game.
Even at the height of their frustration after a mistake-filled night, they believed big.
"The best thing about it is our players won't be in awe of the moment. We won't be in awe of them coming out or their helmets or their fans," Sarkisian said of facing Nebraska on national television inside a likely-to-be-sold-out Husky Stadium. "Our players have been there before."
Almost 12 months ago to the day, in fact. Washington was 1-1, just as it is now, early in 2009 entering what is a recent habit of facing a titan in Week 3. Those Huskies said, albeit with less gusto than now, that they could compete with third-ranked USC. That was faith talking, the product of Sarkisian's complete remodel of the psyche, environment and makeup of the roster and the program. Their only win under Sarkisian to that point was at home against Idaho in a shaky defensive day.
Then Washington went out and stopped the Trojans' vaunted offense, did just enough against what Sarkisian called the nation's best defense at that point in '09 - and beat USC 16-13.
The Huskies, not accustomed to the heady national ranking that win earned them, then played poorly at Stanford in losing the following week and didn't rebound until late in the year. But that win over the Trojans is why the Huskies believe they can beat the Cornhuskers on Saturday.
It's refreshing and uplifting, this believing with a legitimate foundation. Sure beats hollow faith.
That's what 2008 felt like, among other things. The loss that accelerated the debacle of that '08 season season and the demise of coach Tyrone Willingham was a one-point home defeat to BYU, when Jake Locker was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on what should have been his tying touchdown late. (I won't recount that in further detail. If you are reading this, you already know more about that than you ever wanted to).
Next it was time for the annual Week 3 behemoth, this time third-ranked Oklahoma. All that Locker could say that week was that "we made a lot of strides just in that belief that we're good enough" to compete with BYU.
Those Huskies had never won consistently in college. So they had no legitimate reason to believe they could beat Oklahoma.
Washington lost to the Sooners 55-14, the largest margin of defeat in a home game since 1929, and didn't win again until Sarkisian arrived.
He restored hope immediately upon his triumphant, energized arrival from being a perennial Pac-10 champion and national title contender while a top assistant at USC. Nine months later, the players began believing. Then came the upset of the Trojans, the signature win of Sarkisian's early tenure that legitimized their beliefs.
Another chance at a signature victory is there for the taking on Saturday.
"I'm a big guy in looking at facts and trying to find things that really matter that we can give to our team," Sarkisian said. "You look at our last three ball games at home, our opponents have had nine pre-snap penalties on offense - seven false starts and two delay of games. That's a tribute to our fans and the energy and enthusiasm they bring that not only does our team feed off of but also has an effect on our opponents.
"We'll be calling on all our Dawgs to bring it on Saturday."
Since Sark's into facts, here are some more than give Washington reason to believe it can beat Nebraska:
*The Huskies have outscored their last three home opponents - Washington State, California and Syracuse -- 131-30 dating to last fall's Apple Cup. OK, WSU is so awful that one shouldn't count. But that's still impressive and emboldening.
*Yes, Nebraska redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez has rushed for 284 yards and five touchdowns in two games. But Washington is not Western Kentucky or Idaho. And this will be a stern test for the kid, his first road start in front a packed, roaring crowd and frothing-at-the-mouth defense.
When Washington defense has had normal or advantageous field position this season, they've excelled. It was almost amazing BYU only scored 23 points with as much time as the Cougars spent in UW's end of the field, because of so many special-team errors by the Huskies. Syracuse took a 10-0 lead early in last week's game only because of more special-team mistakes by Washington. When it had more of the field to defend, the Huskies outscored the Orange 41-10 - and seven of those 10 points came late, after a UW fumble gave Syracuse the ball at the Huskies 14.
"We're playing at a better level than last year," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said, "because we know the defense better."
Wait, better than when Washington held USC to 13 points at this point last year?
Hey, there's another reason to believe!