There's a new atmosphere surrounding the University of Washington football program.

It didn't take long for first-year Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian to change how the team was regarded by football fans around the country and how the players looked at themselves.

Something had to be done after the team finished 0-12 and lost coach Ty Willingham as a result.

Sarkisian was hired and a new outlook immediately settled into Seattle.

"I think people were excited about something different," UW fullback Paul Homer said. "They were excited to see him come in and see what he would do with this team."

The focus was on football from the start under Sarkisian.

When most of the rest of the nation was watching the NCAA men's basketball championship game, Sarkisian had his team out on the field.

There was no question his priority was to rebuild the football team.

"When he first came in for our first meeting he was all business and you could tell he was going to make us work," Homer said. "The totem pole was back down to the bottom and I was happy about that. I think that was absolutely needed because you want people to compete for their role."

That doesn't mean Sarkisian has no use for lightheartedness. He often has a player tell a joke at team meetings.

Sarkisian was determined to make football fun for the Huskies and they responded.

Defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim said he didn't know much about Sarkisian when he first arrived in Seattle. Te'o-Nesheim and his teammates quickly found out.

"Coach Sarkisian is really energetic and a great guy to play for," Te'o-Nesheim said. "He's brought a great system in to win and we just need to execute it."

Low expectations were blown out of the water right off the bat this season as the Huskies played head-to-head with LSU before finally falling 31-23 in the season-opener.

After rolling through Idaho to break their losing streak, the Huskies stunned USC 16-13. That win catapulted the team back into the national consciousness, for a week, at least.

Suddenly fans went from cheering a broken losing streak to hopes of a bowl berth. Maybe a good one.

Things got bogged down a bit after that. A big loss to Stanford on the road, followed by a heartbreaking 37-30 loss at Notre Dame tempered the high hopes. A crazy win over Arizona seemed to indicate that the team was right on track, but losses to Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA have the Huskies' backs to the wall with three games left and needing the sweep for a bowl bid.

It's frustrating for the players and coaches that know they could have six wins if a few plays would have gone in a different direction for them.

"I want our kids to be in a position to compete," Sarkisian said. "Sure, we'd like to have a few more wins and get a few more decisions back. But you don't get that. So we grow and we move forward."

A big reason the Huskies have played better this year is the development of quarterback Jake Locker.

Regarded as a running quarterback first and foremost in previous seasons, Locker has thrown the ball with accuracy and the Huskies have thrived through the air. He has passed for 2,203 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He is second in the Pac-10 in passing to Oregon State's Sean Canfield with 244.8 yards a game.

"I think that the way we've played this year is something that we can be proud of," Locker said. "I think as a whole this football team understands that we're headed in the right direction. We just need to understand what it takes to win those close games."

The Huskies need to win Saturday at OSU to keep their bowl hopes alive. Even if UW finishes short of a bowl this year, the season is already a big turnaround from last year and the program seems to be headed in the right direction.

"I think he's played a huge part," Homer said. "He brought in great coaches with him. He got the fans into it and got the players into it. He got the best out of everyone."

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