Coming off of their 2009 campaign, the Huskies clearly have a lot of the pieces in place needed to climb back to glory. However, with a little success comes new challenges.
Too often in sports after a big year, defenses adjust and target certain players a little more—and numbers correspondingly go down. After last year, the 2010 Huskies will have several players targeted by defensive coordinators around the conference—which opens doors for others.
The players on this list were selected based on two things: potential upside this year and their ability to overcome the additional attention mentioned above.
As each of the Husky conference foes plans out its year, they will need to take into account the potential of these players.
1. Jake Locker—QB
Can any Husky list not include Jake? However, in this case, Locker really is primed for a breakout year. In last year's practices, head coach Steve Sarkisian forced Jake to stay in the pocket—and use his legs as a last resort. Some folks were disappointed—but there is a method to this madness.
Jake's first two years were run first— mostly running for his life. His third year taught him pocket discipline. If you combine those three years' experience, you have a quarterback who understands the pocket and his legs. Now he has the experience to choose well between the two. It's a lethal combination—and no matter what defenses do this year, Jake is positioned to beat them.
2. James Johnson—WR
Johnson had a great true freshman year. He surprised several teams early on, and he settled into his role as the season wore on. Kearse and Aguilar combined for more than 1,400 yards receiving last year—and 13 TDs. This year, those two will continue to take most of the attention—which will free up Johnson for more big plays.
At the pro level, teams line up star corners against each star receiver. However, at the college level, a slightly weaker safety or nickel back may end up lined up on one of these three studs—and that translates to an advantage for one of them on every single offensive play. My guess is that Johnson will be the one to take advantage of the mismatches.
3. Cort Dennison—LB
With the departure of several seniors—as well as Mason Foster's breakout 2009 campaign drawing attention—an opportunity is open for Dennison to make a lot of plays. Coming off a great 2009, redshirt junior Dennison also has had an extra year of experience to draw from heading into 2010.
With a year under Nick Holt's new scheme and playing all 12 games last year, Dennison has a great chance to pair with Foster and wreak havoc in the Pac-10. With his combination of speed and strength—plus the absence of the top two Huskies in tackles-for-loss last year—Dennison can become a legitimate backfield nightmare for offensive coordinators.
4. Demetrius Bronson—RB
Why on Earth would a running back who contributed only 5 percent of last year's total rushing yards—behind Polk and Locker's 90 percent—be headed for a breakout year? Simple: In order for this pro-style offense to click, there has to be someone to provide a second threat in the backfield—and Bronson can be that guy.
He's basically the same size as Polk—although not as much of a home run threat yet. With the Huskies playing more tight games in 2010, there won't be blowouts to rest players—and Bronson will answer the bell when Polk needs a break. Bronson is the type to thrive with more touches—just like he did in high school, when he produced nearly 4,000 yards.
5. Steve Sarkisian—Head Coach
Although not a player, Sark clearly had a superb season last year. However, given the prior year's 0-12 start, the only way he really could go was up. This year will confirm if Sark is as good as Husky fans think he is.
To build on the foundation he started last year, the Huskies need to go bowling. Plus, they can no longer get blown out—and they need to win the close games. Games like Oregon, Oregon State, and Notre Dame must have different results this year.
Sark has Locker back and a maturing young team—but also a tough out-of-conference schedule. The pieces are there, and Sark is in great position to return college football in the Northwest back to its proper state—with the Huskies on top.
The above four players and one coach all have wide open field in front of them, and the safety might not have the right angle to catch them—it's up to them to finish the play. If these five can finish strong, long-absent postseason awards will be there for all of them.