It is hard to believe that the last time the Huskies were included in the ‘others receiving votes’ category was the dreadful 2008 season. The team returns to the AP top 50 this pre-season at 39th.
The differences between the excitement for the 2010 season versus the 2008 season are drastic. We must remember, however, that going into 2008 there were a few reasons for optimism: The 2007 season had introduced the Husky fan-base to Jake Locker, as well as producing a 1000-yard rusher in Louis Rankin.
With Rankin gone, it was going to be the Jake Locker show. The team nearly lived up to their top-50 billing, narrowly losing to 16th ranked BYU, after being trounced by Rival Oregon to open the season. It was a disappointing loss, but it gave fans hope that they could compete in 2008.
The team showed their absolute reliance on Locker for offensive production after Locker went down, and the team sputtered to a 0-12 record to finish off the season.
Going into this season, the fan base feels a much more tangible excitement. Clearly, Locker is the star of the show still, but unlike in 2008 he is surrounded by athletic play-makers who have gained a ton of experience in last year’s turn around five-win effort.
Running back Chris Polk produced over 1000 yards rushing in his redshirt freshman season. Jermaine Kearse led the talented group of Wide Receivers with 866 yards and eight touchdowns, earning him a spot on the Rivals pre-season WR power rankings, at number nine
Then of course there is the man directing the offense, redshirt senior Jake Locker. The Locker taking the field against BYU in 2010 is a vastly improved player from the 2008 season. Locker has developed into a complete QB, able to pass out of the pocket, as well as use his athletic ability when the protection breaks down.
Sarkisian’s tutelage has been a key component of Lockers progression, and many experts put him at the top of their draft boards—and it isn’t just because he is one heck of an athlete.
The offense is clearly more established, but there are still question marks as it comes to the defense. The Huskies face two big losses in Donald Butler and Daniel Teo-Nesheim, but the coaching staff is really optimistic about their potential this year. Sarkisian feels the defense is starting to really grasp the system and take on the personality of their fiery coordinator, Nick Holt.
Depth on the defensive line will be an issue, but the starting 11 is a group that has potential to be much improved over the 2009 version.
The BYU team that they face is also a bit different from the 2008 version. This year’s team, like Washington, is left out of the pre-season top-25, but does end up coming in 34th. The 2008 team was led by veteran Quarterback Max Hall, and had a thousand-yard rusher in Harvey Unga.
Unga has since left the team and will not be back for the 2010 season, and in his place are inexperienced, but talented, backs in Juniors JJ Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya, as well as true freshman Josh Quezada.
The Cougars will be missing the leadership and ability of Max Hall at the quarterback position. His absence has produced a spring quarterback battle between junior Riley Nelson and freshman Jake Heaps. Heaps, a four-star recruit from the state of Washington is thought to be the eventual successor, but has not taken the job outright from Nelson. Whoever wins the job will get the benefit of returning all the productive wide receivers from last season.
The BYU defense loses several starters, but has a strong secondary and should be productive for the 2010 season.
In the 2008 game in Seattle, the Huskies came very close to pulling off the upset, and the team was never quite the same after that loss. This return game at BYU has the potential to be a huge indicator of how the season will go—for both teams. While BYU isn’t the toughest game on the schedule for Washington, for a team that has not won on the road since 2007, it is important to start the year off with a victory.
Washington is carrying a lot more expectations going into this season, and are expected to be able to play on the road with BYU. It will be a strong indication of the teams development in year two of the Sarkisian era, and whether the offense is as explosive as the last two games in 2009 led us to believe.
While the 2008 and the 2010 team share the distinction of being the last two Huskies teams ranked in the top 50 of the pre-season AP teams, the team that takes the field in 2010 will be a much stronger team.