1. Survive their out of conference start
The Huskies start off against last year’s No. 10 ranked BYU team in Provo. How the pass defense (and overall defense) has improved from their Pac-10 eighth rank last year will be clear from the first offensive series against the Cougars. Following that will be Syracuse, and closing out September with a tough Nebraska team who nearly beat No. 2 Texas last year.
2. Avoid the Sophomore Slump
The Huskies exceeded their fans expectations last year - the challenge for them will be to build on that. This team is made up of many kids only one or two summers removed from their Senior Proms. It will be up to Locker and some of the other Seniors, as well as the coaching staff to make sure that none of the Frosh believe too much of their own press.
3. Continue to mature
Last year the Huskies were forced to start more young players than a college team should. However, this year, Sarkisian has done an excellent job restocking the Dawg cupboards. The key to the longer term success of the Huskies is to make sure those youngsters learn from their redshirt years, plus watching this year’s sophomores build on last year’s success.
4. Beat the bad teams
Great teams beat the teams that they are supposed to. In the Pac-10, there is a gap between the have’s and the have not’s, and the Huskies must beat the weaker teams to have any chance of fighting for one of the top seats in the league.
5. Build more continuity
The 2009 Dawgs only had about a dozen Seniors graduate, and as such, they should be able to field a team very similar to last years. Over the course of 2009, it was clear that some of the players weren’t used to each other, or didn’t know each other’s habits very well. A second year with the majority of the same players can only help. Each game—and each season—helps the players learn to depend on each other more.
6. Be consistent
In some games last year, the Huskies played above themselves (USC, Arizona, Cal), but in other games—(Oregon, and Oregon State) they looked lost. As fans, it was a challenge to figure out which Husky team would show up week to week. The defense would play fantastic one week, and then let an Arizona State receiver run uncovered down the hashmarks the next. Across the offense and defense, the coaching staff must demand consistent execution by every member of the team on every play.
7. Beat USC
To have any hopes of winning the Pac-10, the Huskies must build on their recent success against USC. Pete Carroll has moved on, but much of the staff will remain the same. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Lane Kiffin as a coach, to compete in the Pac-10, defeating USC remains a requirement for any challenger.
8. Improve on Defense
The Huskies ended up eighth in the Pac-10 last year on Team Defense. Too see the impact of a weak defense, Stanford was ninth, and it kept them from competing for the Pac 10 title. Stanford was near the top in offense and overall record—but defense let them down. Pete Carroll built a dynasty on a strong defense. Regardless of what magic Locker can work—if the defense doesn’t help him—it will be all for naught.
9. Beat Oregon
Similar to USC, any challenger for Pac-10 supremacy must find some way to slow down Oregon. Many Husky fans will tell you of the days of yore when the Ducks and Beavers would only dream of getting a victory over a Washington school. Times have changed, and over the past several years, the Ducks have become the team to beat. The Ducks spread offense run by Masoli and Chip Kelly can score in a hurry, and Washington needs to let the Dawgs out with aggressive defense against them.
10. Set Jake Loose
The four greatest words in recent Husky history were Locker saying “I am coming back” in December. That one sentence changed the outlook of the Husky faithful and the start of Sark’s tenure at Washington. The 2009 season saw the conversion of Jake Locker from a running quarterback into a pocket passer with some mobility. 2010 will be Locker’s second season in Coach Sarkisian’s pro-style offense, and will have nearly all the same offensive weapons he had last year. It is up to Sark to unleash Locker with creative playcalls and trusting his ability as a playmaker. If they are not going to set him loose now, when will they?
These 10 items represent the roadmap that the Huskies can follow to take a significant next step on their journey back to the top of the Pac-10.