Jake Locker's Return Brightens Washington Huskies' Outlook

Zachary HabnerCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2009

SEATTLE - DECEMBER 05:  Jake Locker #10 of the Washington Huskies runs the ball during game against the California Bears on December 5, 2009 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The Huskies defeated the Bears 42-10. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Seattle sports world rejoiced yesterday with the announcement that Jake Locker would return to the Washington Huskies for his senior season.

Forgoing his chance to become the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, Locker now has a chance to define the legacy he leaves with this Washington program.

The decision by "Montlake Jake" to return no doubt sent a jolt across the entire conference, as Washington now becomes a contender for the Pac-10 crown.

While it is unlikely that the Huskies can overcome the schedule of traveling to USC, Oregon, and Arizona, those tests now become easier to handle with Locker's return.

The Huskies also return WR Devin Aguilar, WR Jermaine Kearse, TE Kavario Middleton, and star RB Chris Polk to lead a Washington offense that could have three potential first team All-Pac-10 players.

All of this, coupled with the emergence of a defense in the final two games of the season, could set up nicely for Washington to return not only to a bowl game, but maybe back to the top of the Pac-10.

Their schedule this season, however, could be the downfall for them to return to the Rose Bowl. The Huskies start the season Sep. 4 against a pesky BYU Cougar team in a rematch of the "excessive celebration" bowl.

Washington then travels back to Seattle to face a horrid Syracuse team, at which point the new and improved Nebraska Cornhuskers come rolling in from Lincoln. At least the Huskers will be minus all-world DT Ndamukong Suh. Still, the "blackshirts" will be another heavy out of conference test for Washington.

But the biggest tests for the Huskies come on Oct. 2 and Nov. 6, when they must face a rejuvenated USC Trojan team at the Coliseum and the defending Pac-10 champion Oregon Ducks in Autzen Stadium.

Remember, the Huskies haven't won a road game in two seasons.

If all goes well for Washington, an 8-4 or 9-3 season and a Holiday Bowl berth would feel like a national championship to a program two years removed from 0-12.

What does his decision mean for Locker's draft status in 2011?

Many pundits are stunned by his decision to return, as he did have the potential to be the No. 1 overall pick, according to ESPN's Todd McShay, but his decision to return should not affect his draft status, with a few exceptions.

If Locker sustains a serious injury, he may fall out of the top five in next year's draft, although that is unlikely, as the QB class for 2011 is thin. Remember, Sam Bradford decided to come back and will still end up a top 10 pick even with his injury. Why? The QB class is not as loaded as in previous drafts.

With the likelihood of sustaining a serious injury slim, even one as serious as Willis McGahee's knee injury in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (he still ended up a first round pick with a shattered knee), Locker will easily be a first round pick next season.

If he remains injury free, he can only help his development as a pocket passer, which in turn will help him sustain a better NFL career. He has the potential to be a superstar QB, but the potential needs to be molded. Who better to do that than QB guru Steve Sarkisian?

By having another year under his belt, he managed to up his NFL success rate by 35 percent, according to former Washington QB Hugh Millen.

With the possibility of adding "Heisman trophy winner" or "finalist" to his résumé, Locker would be a guaranteed top three pick in the 2011 Draft.

The future on Montlake is bright, not only for Jake Locker, but also for the entire Washington program.