5 Reasons Why the Washington Huskies Will Not Fall into the Pac-12 Abyss
The loss of a four-year starter at quarterback would be a set back for any program, especially if he were one talented enough to be drafted in the top 10 of the NFL draft.
It would therefore seem logical that the Washington Huskies will take a step back from their 7-6 campaign in 2011.
But there are some factors that make that less than a certainty.
While the Huskies lose their most talented player, Washington should be a better overall team next year.
Here are five of their reasons for optimism in 2011.
For all the hype Jake Locker got going into the 2010 season, it was Chris Polk who was Washington's true offensive MVP.
Heading into the UCLA game, Washington, at 3-6, had their backs against the wall and had to win out to gain the bowl eligibility that has been so elusive to the Huskies this decade.
So, who did Coach Sarkisian turn to in this time of crisis?
The running back responded by putting up 508 yards at an average of 6.9 yards per carry, with four touchdowns in the final three games.
Granted, the 29 carries for 284 yards against Washington State inflated those stats a bit, but even taking that game out, he still a solid average per carry against UCLA and Cal. Polk finished the season with a 177-yard performance in the Holiday Bowl, giving him 1,415 yards for the year.
He will be returning next year as will some depth in the way of Jesse Callier and Deontae Coorper, who is returning from injury.
The running game that powered the Huskies to a bowl last year should be even better this upcoming year.
For years the offensive line has been an issue for Washington. The line has lacked depth and was inept at holding the pocket for Locker throughout his career.
Last year was another tough year, but the line showed improvement towards the end of the season, clearing room for Polk to do damage on the ground.
This year the Huskies project four starters with playing experience and have a whole lot of young depth that was red-shirted from last year's recruiting class.
The depth alone should bring improvement, but it's the quality of the players Washington is bringing in on the line that makes this unit stronger.
The defensive line has traditionally been strong for Washington, but like the offensive line, this last decade has not been their finest.
The Huskies inserted two freshman—Hau'oli Jamora and Sione Potoa'e—into the starting lineup last year, and by the end of the season, we saw impressive results.
With all four starters returning, and with the young men having had another year to develop, the defensive line looks to start 2011 the way they ended 2010.
Head Coach Steve Sarkisian
When he was hired, Sarkisian immediately set a new tone for the team and completely changed the atmosphere into something more recognizable for long-time Husky fans.
Sarkisian has embraced the rich history of Washington and has tried to make that past part of the present by bringing in more and more ex-husky stars to be around the team. Also, Sarkisian has opened up the practices to the public, allowing everyone to get a glimpse of what he and his staff are working on.
This sort of integration would seem to be common sense, but former head coach Tyrone Willingham wanted no part of it.
Sarkisian has hit the recruiting trail at full force and has made Washington a player again for the quality recruits from southern California. He has improved the numbers at key positions and, most importantly, he has ,increased his win total the first two seasons at Washington.
Sarkisian is a young head coach who is still learning, but there is no doubt that he has generated a great deal of excitement around the program and has made Washington relevant again.
And while next year may be his biggest test yet as a head coach, Sarkisian has recruited and improved the overall talent level on the team, so, despite losing Locker and Mason Foster, he is facing his biggest challenge with his best squad thus far.
The logical assumption after losing Locker is there will be a drop off at the quarterback position.
While there is no question Locker is extremely talented, his supporting cast was young and still learning during his last year as a Husky. Plus, Locker himself was still learning how to be a quarterback his last two seasons at Washington.
This year Sarkisian rolls out Keith Price, who, while limited in game experience with only one start, has had time in this system with Sarkisian and knows the offense well.
Considering that Washington is returning most of the offensive line (with improved depth), their top running back, and their top receivers, it isn't too far fetched to think Price may have better passing numbers than Locker posted last year.
So, while the talent level may have taken a hit, the efficiency of the offensive could easily improve. Add the top TE recruit in the country to a team that lacked any real passing option at the position last year, and we should be looking at an offense that is more reminiscent of what Sarkisian has done in the past, with a strong running game setting up a good play-action passing attack.