Washington began the 20th century with one of the most dominant runs of sustained success in sports history. With college football still in its infancy on the West Coast, the Huskies ruled the Pacific Northwest under coach Gilmour Dobie, who amassed a 58-0-3 record in Seattle upon taking over in 1908.
Soon, the 100th anniversary of the end of the school's 64-game, 10-year streak will pass. Following his final 6-0-1 season in 1916, Dobie left and ended up coaching Navy during World War I. With the war ravaging rosters and shortening or canceling college football schedules across the country, the Huskies' unbeaten run ended: They went 1-3 in 1917, their loss-less decade ending on Nov. 3 at the hands of California in front of a crowd of 2,000 in Berkeley.
No college football team has gone a longer period of time without a loss, and it's a record that will never be broken (partially because some of Washington's opponents at the time included high school teams).
A hundred years after the end of a first, unsurpassable peak, the Huskies are attempting to usher in a new golden age of football on the banks of Lake Washington. They're hoping for the permanent end of a down era and the beginning of sustained success under the direction of Chris Petersen, whose tenure at Boise State resembled Dobie's at Washington in some ways: a young coach building a powerful program with the most dominant record of an era in an unlikely place.
In 2006, Petersen inherited a strong foundation at Boise State, where he had been offensive coordinator under Dan Hawkins. He went 13-0 in his first season, capped by the memorable Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma. Only once did he win fewer than 10 games -- 8-4 in 2013, his final year -- and six of his eight Broncos teams finished the season ranked in the AP top 20. From 2006-13, Petersen's Broncos went 92-13, easily owning the nation's best winning percentage over that span. Like Dobie, it wasn't always done against the best competition, but Boise State nevertheless made its mark nationally, with four teams finishing in the AP top 10, including unbeaten major bowl winners in 2006 and '09.
Thanks to Petersen, Boise State has had as many top-10 teams in the past 11 years as Washington has had in the past 32 years. It's a remarkable feat for an off-the-beaten-path Mountain West program, especially one that has been an FBS team since only 1996, and it's why Petersen was viewed as a slam dunk -- and a clear upgrade over Steve Sarkisian, who took the USC job -- when Washington hired him to try to bust of an era filled with disparity and mediocrity following a Rose Bowl season in 2000. During Petersen's tenure as head coach in Boise, Washington ranked 86th in winning percentage, behind teams like Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt and Kent State, a long fall from two decades as a power that included the 1991 national championship under Don James, the team's most successful post-Dobie era.
In trying to revive the once-proud program, Petersen has already lost more games in three years at Washington (14) than he did in eight years at Boise State (12), but his hire is paying huge dividends, living up to the universally positive reviews the move received when it happened. After two years of building, the Huskies broke through in 2016. Preseason projections largely predicted an emergence as a top-20 team, and the Huskies exceeded all hopes, winning the Pac-12 for the first time since 2000 and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
This was no fluke or shock, either. It may have happened just a year ahead of schedule, meaning that a return trip wouldn't in any way be surprising.
Petersen is known for his ability to install a system, identify the right fits -- often overlooked players -- on the recruiting trail and successfully develop them. At Washington, he has access to better players than he did at Boise State, and it's paying off against steeper competition. Petersen's first full year of recruiting resulted in a class ranked a decent but unspectacular 27th by the 247Sports composite rankings. But while that class may not have received national plaudits, it included the foundation of the team's current offense, three players who started as true freshmen and are growing into superstars: quarterback Jake Browning, running back Myles Gaskin and left tackle Trey Adams.
They are some of the biggest reasons for hope that last year's breakthrough can be duplicated despite substantial losses on defense, including three of the 2017 NFL Draft's top 43 picks from the Washington secondary. The losses of speedy wideout John Ross, defensive tackle Elijah Qualls and a few others will hurt, but skepticism about the defensive backfield replacing Sidney Jones, Budda Baker and Kevin King -- combined with optimism about USC's title chances -- is all that's holding Washington back from being a near-universal pick to return to the playoff.
Browning stumbled late in the season after what was later revealed by The Seattle Times to be a shoulder injury, which was corrected by January surgery. Through Washington's 9-0 start, Browning had a passer rating of 202.8 with an average of 10.3 yards per attempt, 34 touchdowns and only three interceptions, numbers that placed him behind only Lamar Jackson in the Heisman Trophy conversation. A healthy Browning proved to be a perfect fit for Petersen's offense, and even without Ross, he'll return with three starting linemen, a standout receiver in Dante Pettis and an excellent backfield tandem of Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, setting the stage for what should be among the nation's most efficient offenses.
Defensively, an excellent front seven and a favorable first-half schedule lacking great opposing passers -- plus no USC until a potential Pac-12 title game -- can ease the transition of a new-look secondary under coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who, like Petersen, has earned the benefit of the doubt.
From 2013-15, Petersen went a combined 23-16 in his last year at Boise State and his first two at Washington. In his other nine seasons, he's gone 96-10 with five top-10 teams and six conference championships. The 2016 season was proof that he could succeed at a high level in a major conference, and while expecting results similar to what Boise State achieved in the WAC and Mountain West is unrealistic, there's little reason to believe the Huskies won't be able to consistently contend for Pac-12 championships and major bowls under Petersen's watch. Washington has won big before, and it wasn't just that first golden age over a century ago.
If Petersen's stint at Boise State has some similarities to what Dobie did at Washington, then the hope is that what comes next follow's Dobie's model, too. Dobie went 116-45-12 at Navy, Cornell and Boston College upon leaving Washington and taking on stronger competition on the East Coast, with Cornell standing out as one of the nation's top programs early in his tenure. A hundred years after Dobie's exit, Washington would gladly take a second act from Petersen similar to what the first great coach in school history accomplished elsewhere.
The 2017 season may mark the 100th anniversary of the end of Washington's first glory days, but all indications are that it will be a sign that a new golden age is only just beginning.