Is our late-season optimism warranted?

After a middling season of mediocrity, the Huskies showed life in whipping Oregon State and Washington State, to finish at 8-5. They now await word of where they'll play their bowl game.

Washington winning its final two games sparked a positive buzz on our message boards. But is that optimism warranted? To gain perspective, let's look back into the annals of the Husky Half Brains.

In September 2009, I attended the Idaho game with a woman named Lucy, and we were sitting in unfamiliar territory. It was section 36, in the south side upper deck.

Four rows beneath us, there was a group of four guys constantly on their feet shouting and cheering. Some killjoy about 10 rows behind us took exception and summoned security. An usher went up to the group of four and told them to sit down and be quiet. The group of four took exception to this. Most vocal was a bearded black guy in a striped shirt, who refused to sit down and kept turning to glare up at the killjoy.

Again the ushers returned, and this time removed the group of four from the stadium. As this was Lucy's first college football game, she asked me if fans getting thrown out of Husky Stadium like that was the norm. I explained that it didn't use to be like that, but it was a developing trend.

Back in those days, the hang out for Half Brains was the old Husky Half Brain website. I logged on the following day to see a long, Tequilla-size post from a regular named DeLarry (he used to post as AngryAlum on Dawgman.com).

DeLarry was incensed about how he and his friends had been thrown out of Husky Stadium simply for standing up and cheering. He asked, "Isn't that what you're supposed to do at a #$#$@$# football game?"

After reading his post, I sent him a private message (back before sending PMs was cool).

"Was that you in the striped shirt?", I asked. Indeed it was, he replied. DeLarry and I started talking and had dinner a few weeks later. And what he said during that dinner (and I believe on the message boards) became prophetic for the 2009 season.

"They're going to play like shit until they're bowl ineligible," DeLarry said. "And then they will play lights out and win their final two games."

Sure enough, the Huskies lost four straight games to ASU, Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State.  The loss against the Beavers was a brutal plungering to the tune of 48-21. It was one of those games you could tell was over from the first offensive series.

The OSU loss knocked the Huskies' record to 3-7, and officially eliminated them from bowl contention.

But suddenly, the Huskies sprang to life. They beat Washington State 30-0 in the Apple Cup, on a day when Dave Hoffmann was introduced as the Husky Legend. And then the Dawgs beat up on the #24 Cal Bears 42-10, with Jake Locker running wild and throwing beautiful passes. He looked like Cam Newton out there, and it proved to be the best game of his UW career.

It filled some jaded Half Brains with cautious optimism about the future. It made them think that maybe first-year coach Steve Sarkisian had it right when he proclaimed back in September that the turnaround "won't take very long."

But nine months later, as a Jake Locker fourth down pass bounced off the facemask of a BYU player and the Huskies lost their 2010 season opener, we were merely witnessing the dawning of the 7-Win-Steve Era.

After last Saturday's win over WSU, some of us are feeling that same positive mojo from the end of '09. But is it warranted?

Both the 2009 and 2014 teams had 4-5 records in conference.

Unlike in 2009, this year's Huskies didn't fall out of bowl contention. But that is largely due to scheduling differences. The '09 season featured non-conference games against LSU and Notre Dame, while this year's cupcake platter included the likes of Georgia State and Hawaii.

And unlike in 2009, the Huskies don't have a Heisman Trophy candidate returning for his senior season. In fact, Washington's three star players (Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha) are on their way to the NFL. The weakest link on this year's team has been at the QB position.

So with the top players leaving and a cupcake schedule helping to prop up Chris Petersen's win totals, is the optimism founded?

The answer is yes. Despite the heartbreaking choke job loss to Arizona three weeks ago, the Huskies played hard and impassioned football for a full 60 minutes. That was the first time we had seen that.

That sustained effort showed itself again in the win over Oregon State and again over the Cougs.

Whereas earlier in the season, wins over Georgia State and Hawaii and losses to UCLA and Oregon all kind of felt the same. The team seemed unmotivated and out of sync.

But the Beaver and Cougar wins felt good, in part because the players wanted to win so badly that it was palpable.

It was proof positive that something is happening behind the scenes. That Chris Petersen's efforts to rid the team of Sark's influence and teach these kids how to practice and prepare are starting to pay off.

A prime example was cited by RoadDawg55 on the Husky Fan Podcast. During the Arizona game, freshman DB Sidney Jones got torched a couple times. Under Sark, we would always witness that player and the whole team wilt and fold. But that didn't happen. Jones rebounded with two interceptions later in that game, which was indicative of a resiliency and mental toughness we haven't seen around here since the 2000 Rose Bowl season.

The Jones example is one we're seeing across the board, and that the future does look bright. Legitimately for once.

As DeLarry said recently, "That's because we've finally got a real &*#&*# football coach!"