It may seem farfetched for a 4-9 football team to make the jump to conference champions, but I intend to take a look at what needs to happen for the Huskies to make an improbable run to Pasadena. Here are the keys to each part of the team for the run to occur:
Offense: Jake Locker had an impressive all around rookie season in the PAC-10, but he will need to improve his accuracy and decision making under pressure. Locker will need to put the ball in tighter spots with the inexperience at wide receiver. The young play makers will need to step up and help Locker break some big ones and push the Huskies over the top.
The wild card in this group has to start with Chris Polk. Tight end is another key position that needs to develop as a tool for Locker. On third and long the tight ends need to beat the linebackers to the open space and collect first downs.
The Huskies need to have a running game that scares opposing teams. Whether this is lead by Brandon Johnson or one of the young runners, this team cannot win if Locker is the leading rusher at season's end. Locker is a weapon on the ground and should be used that way, but the bulk of the load will need to be a running back.
Defense: Where to start with this one. The Huskies may have had the worst defense in their history last year. In order to make the post season this unit will have to make a complete 180 degree shift. They lacked the leadership to make adjustment last year and that cost them nearly every game.
The addition of a new coordinator in Ed Donatell is a step in the right direction. Donatell has made a commitment to confusing the opponents and installing a blitz oriented package.
The defense will need to find an identity and one that scares the opponents quarterback. This identity will center on players playing with confidence and helping the others overachieve. Some candidates for this duty are players like EJ Savannah, Jason Wells, Nate Williams, and Daniel Teo-Neshiem. These are the players that will carry this team down the road.
Creating turnovers in bunches is the fastest way to turn games in your favor and this group will need to make this a priority if a trip to Pasadena is in the books.
Special Teams: This was another poor unit last year. The kickers were very average at best. Ryan Perkins was serviceable, but has a limited range especially in adverse weather. The winner of this battle will ultimately be Erik Folk who red shirted last year and has a better kicking leg than that of Perkins.
Jared Ballman was decent on punts and will still need to increase the hang time to help the underachieving special teams unit. Speaking of the coverage, this unit will need an injection on energy that has been lacking the last several years. The 2001 season began with a victory over Michigan, which was sparked by touchdown returns on a blocked field goal and interception. Special Teams needs to be a positive factor in key victories this season.
Luck: And lots of it. Any season comes down to a few plays that you just can't explain any other way. Whether it is a freak fumble at the end of a game, a kick that hits the upright, or a deflected pass that ends up in the receivers hands, any successful season needs to have an element of luck.