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SEATTLE (AP) -- Tyrone Willingham will begin the season that could likely determine his future at Washington with perhaps the youngest team he's ever put out on the field.
As if things weren't challenging enough for the Huskies.
"We have talked about some of the enthusiasm, some of the excitement (the young guys) bring just not being tarnished and having any of the blemishes we've had in the past," Willingham said on Monday. "Those guys bring a little different attitude and sometimes it's a good position not to know."
Those youngsters will get a quick initiation in one of the most heated atmospheres in college football when the Huskies travel to rival Oregon on Saturday night. Willingham plans to start 10 sophomores or freshman — including a pair of true freshmen — against the No. 21 Ducks.
The list includes sophomore quarterback Jake Locker, who got plenty of experience last year when he was the Pac-10 freshman of the year, and three other sophomores who saw significant playing time a year ago when Washington went 4-9.
But there are those wide-eyed freshmen that will make their college debuts in Oregon's deafening Autzen Stadium, with a 7 p.m. kickoff no less. Most notable is starting tailback Chris Polk and defensive tackle Senio Kelemete, both true freshmen. Kelemete will start against the Ducks despite missing the first eight days of fall camp because of an issue with the NCAA clearinghouse.
"Even though they're young, a lot of these guys are really good, really exciting to watch," said sophomore linebacker Mason Foster, who started four games last year. "They are real hungry to prove they're the best and Saturday night is the proving ground for them. I'm excited to watch that."
Unless the Huskies surprise most pundits and put together a season that smashes expectations of another finish in the bottom third of the Pac-10, the cloud of doubt will hang over Willingham. Only 11-25 in his first three seasons at Washington, the unsaid ultimatum for Willingham in 2008 is get the Huskies back to a bowl game or be looking for a new gig.
The reliance on inexperienced players at key positions only highlights how hard the first three weeks could be for Willingham. After opening at Oregon, the Huskies return home for games against No. 16 BYU and No. 4 Oklahoma.
"The backdrop for this one is kind of special. It is one of our major rivals ... and there really is no real way to prepare those guys for that kind of environment," Willingham said. "I think they will be primed and eager to play and play well in this environment."
Polk's rise to the top of the depth chart was expected once Brandon Johnson, the presumptive starter after rushing for 202 yards and two scores in limited duty last year, was sidelined by a calf injury. Polk enrolled last winter, getting a jump start by participating in spring practice.
Washington officials believe Polk will be the first true freshman to start a season opener at running back for the Huskies since freshmen became eligible in the 1970s.
"Anytime you give the ball to somebody and he has a chance to score every time he touches it, that's fun," Locker said. "You like playing with guys like that."
Polk won't be alone in receiving an immediate welcome to the college game. Redshirt freshmen Alvin Logan (wide receiver) and Quinton Richardson (cornerback) will also get their first starts against the Ducks, not to mention the countless other underclassmen expected to contribute on special teams or as backups in a rotation at certain positions.
On the Huskies' two-deep, more than half are either freshmen or sophomores. Willingham talked most of the fall camp about his team needing to play older than the class indicated next to their name on the roster.
"I think we all know they're talented, or they wouldn't be here," Locker said. "It's just having confidence in what they're doing and they really worked hard at being able to gain that and it should show at game time."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.