YES, THE WASHINGTON Huskies are riding a 14-game losing streak that will no doubt climb to 15 on September 5, when they open this season against powerhouse LSU. But pigskin prognosticators say the rebuilding effort is under way in Montlake. “I think they’ll put up more of a fight this season,” The Sporting News’s Dave Curtis says of the Dawgs. “I don’t think there will be as many blowouts.” Um, yay? Not-so-ringing endorsements aside, here’s five reasons to actually get pumped about the purple and gold.

1. A COACH YOU CAN GET BEHIND

The Huskies’ disgraced departing coach (we can’t bear to print his name, but it rhymes with Flybone Shmillingsham) was so loathed in Seattle that even Slick Rick Neuheisel would have been a welcome replacement. But U-Dub did Dawg fans one better this offseason by tapping Steve Sarkisian, a press-friendly, Twitter-loving former assistant from USC, whose emotional, fiercely competitive style proved he was the anti-Ty before spring practices started.

2 . JAKE LOCKER IS BACK

UWDawgPound.com blogger John Berkowitz sums up the Huskies’ hopes for regaining Pac-10 cred in three words: “Locker, Locker, Locker.” The run-and-gun junior quarterback has risen again after a broken thumb sidelined him in 2008, and if he stays healthy, Montlake Jake is a legitimate threat to become the second NCAA QB to throw for 300 yards and rush for 200 in the same game. The first? Former Husky and 2001 Rice Bowl MVP Marques Tuiasosopo. 

3. WINS = STADIUM FUNDING

The bill that would have partially bankrolled a Husky Stadium face-lift died in April. Drag. But take heart, Seattle sports fans: We’ve been here before. In October 1995, one month after an 11th-hour pitch for a new baseball stadium struck out, the long-suffering Mariners made the playoffs for the first time, Edgar Martinez hit “The Double,” and the legislature called a special session to approve funding for what would become Safeco Field.

4. THE SHOOTOUT IN SAMMAMISH

This fall’s most buzzed-about game won’t be played in Montlake, but it’s stacked with U-Dub subplots. On September 18, Nick Montana and SoCal’s Oaks Christian High School will meet Jake Heaps and Skyline High in Sammamish. Heaps (one of the best prep quarterbacks in the country) spurned his hometown Huskies in June by committing to BYU, but Montana (you may remember his famous football-slinging father, Joe) got them giddy again days later by accepting a UW scholarship. This game is so big, ESPN is rolling into town to cover it.

5. DAVE "SOFTY" MAHLER’S GIFT TO SCIENCE

Mahler, the biggest Husky apologist at 950 KJR, has a man crush on Coach Sark, but it could get much more serious. “If the Huskies beat Oregon in Seattle,” he told us in August, “then I will medically find a way to deliver Sarkisian’s next child.” Is that a promise or a threat?

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