Pac 12

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Washington Huskies

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 5-7, 4-5
Bowl Game: None
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 7th Pac-10
Offensive rank: 62
Defensive rank: 79

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Chris Polk, 1,113 yards, 5 TD
Passing: Jake Locker, 2,800 yards, 21 yards, 11 TD
Receiving: Jermaine Kearse, 866 yards, 8 TD
Tackles: Donald Butler, 94 total tackles; Mason Foster, 85 total tackles
Sacks: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, 10 sacks (9 sacks, 2 assisted)
Interceptions: Mason Foster, 3 interceptions (1 touchdown)

2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 11 @ UCLA: Although they won their next four after last season's loss to the Huskies, the Washington loss marked the beginning of what would be a disappointing season for the Trojans. USC hasn't dropped back to back games against any team since they lost to Kansas State in 2001 and 2002. For a Huskies team dreaming of Pasadena in January, ending that streak could prove to be key.

October 23 @ Arizona: While there's a lot of chatter about Jake Locker and the Huskies' chances in the Pac-10 this season, the Wildcats have flown under the radar. They have a solid defensive line and secondary that will create an interesting matchup for Locker and the offense. The 'Zona offense will be a good test for a Washington defense replacing five starters and that let up close to 400 yards a game in 2009. Both teams return the vast majority of their offensive production from last season.

November 6 @ Oregon: Washington has some pretty tough conference road matchups and will face arguably the preseason favorite in the conference in early November—just as things begin to take shape in most conference races. The Pac-10 came down to the final game of the season last year and was cloudy for the final few weeks. Washington hopes to be right in the mix in 2010 and needs to win these games against the conference's stronger teams. A win here could go a long way in boosting the Huskies and slowing down the Ducks.

December 4 @ Washington State: The Huskies play the Apple Cup on the road this season. Washington State isn't expected to make much noise in 2010, but would love to make a bang by ruining Washington's hopes at the Pac-10 title.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)

AP: N/A

Coaches': N/A

Key Losses

Ben Ossai, OT; Daniel Teo'Nesheim, DE; Donald Butler, LB

Key Returning Players

Jake Locker, QB; Chris Polk, RB; Jermaine Kearse, WR; Devin Aguilar, WR; Senio Kelemete, OT; Mason Foster, LB; Desmond Trufant, CB; Nate Williams, S

Offensive Overview

As you might expect, Jake Locker is often the focus of any article or mention of the Washington offense. He's considered by many as a possible top overall pick in next year's draft and is on just about every preseason Heisman watch list. Instead of playing baseball this summer, Locker chose instead to concentrate on football and the upcoming Huskies season. Locker is a dual-threat quarterback who greatly improved his passing skills in 2009, tossing 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while racking up 2,800 yards on 58.2% passing. His rushing totals decreased in 2009, but attribute that more to his emerging passing, game awareness and decision-making ability than to any decline in rushing or scrambling ability.

As a freshman last year, Chris Polk rushed for 1,113 yards, earning him Pac-10 honorable mention. He sat out the spring with an injured shoulder, however, allowing true freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jessie Callier to shine. Polk should still get the start in the fall, but the play of Cooper and Callier in the spring puts to ease many concerns about depth in the backfield. At wide receiver, Jermaine Kearse could emerge as one of college football's most talked about players at his position. Some of that may be due to the man throwing him the ball, but Kearse has a desirable skill set to help his team as they set their sights on the bowl season. Second and third leading receivers Devin Aguilar and James Johnson also return, but tight end Kavario Middleton, the team's fourth leading receiver, was recently dismissed from the team. Chris Izbicki, who had a good spring and unseated Middleton as the starter, will step in to fill his shoes. Still, Middleton's departure leaves some uncertainty on the roster as Sarkisian likes two tight end sets and experience at the position is very limited.

In addition to the return of most of Washington's offensive production, four of five offensive linemen return in 2010. The loss of Ben Ossai, a regular at left tackle for the past four seasons, leaves a hole that needs to be filled to keep Locker upright, but Drew Shaefer started at the left tackle position for the final four games of the season as a redshirt freshman. This unit needs to improve in terms of sacks allowed to allow Locker to continue his development in the passing game, but with a more experienced bunch this season and a balanced offense, improvement is certainly a possibility, if not a probability.

Defensive Overview

Defense is where the Huskies need to see the most improvement if they hope to contend for the conference title. As with most teams, success on defense will begin up front and following spring practice, things are looking pretty good for the Huskies…at least in the middle of the line. Alameda Ta'amu started in 11 games last season, while Cameron Elisara started eight games. Elisara also saw time at end in the spring due to injuries at the position. Tyrone Duncan and Semisi Tokolahi could also see playing time at tackle. Everrette Thompson and Kalani Aldrich were injured this spring and their return to 100% by the time the season arrives is questionable. Elisara could fill in at end, while Talia Crichton could see time after starting four games and playing in nine as a true freshman last year. Finding a way to replace Daniel Te'o-Neshheim's sack production will be important for what could be a patchwork end rotation.

Mason Foster returns as perhaps the most promising defender on the Huskies defense after finishing second on the team with 85 total tackles. Foster will man the weakside linebacker spot and Cort Dennison will return in the middle after starting five games in 2009. Alvin Logan and Victor Aiyewa—two former safeties—will compete with Matt Houston for the strongside linebacker position.

In the secondary, Desmond Trufant missed the spring with an injury but should be one of the starters at cornerback, while a host of corners are competing for the other spot with Quinton Richardson thought to be leading the way. At safety, Nate Williams will be the strong safety after starting 11 games last season, while Will Shamburger is expected to get the start at free safety after an impressive spring that prompted coach Sarkisian to call him, "probably the most improved player on our defense," according to The Seattle Times. Last year's leader in interceptions was Foster, a linebacker, with three. Donald Butler, another linebacker, was tied in second with Trufant at two. The secondary simply needs to force more turnovers and improve upon last year's pass defense that allowed an average of 241 yards per game.

Special Teams Overview

Will Mahan pinned 17 punts inside the 20 yard line last season, averaging 40.6 yards per punt. He'll return in 2010 with Erik Folk returning as the team's kicker. Folk hit 18 of his 21 field goals in 2009, including the game-winner to beat USC with just three seconds left, and all 35 of his extra point attempts. Folk saw his first action as a sophomore last season, and to come into a game with the chance to beat USC in only his third collegiate game and just four field goal attempts under his belt and connect is encouraging.

With team averages of 9.5 yards per punt return and 18.6 yards per kickoff return, improvement in the return game would be nice. Offense and defense rightfully draw more of a team's attention, but adding a spark on the special teams can be very uplifting and can provide a much needed swing in momentum at a key point in the game.

Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian

Regard for Steve Sarkisian is high in Seattle with a 28th ranked recruiting class (according to Rivals) that includes five four-star recruits, a five-win improvement over 2008 including a victory over then-third ranked USC and a general sense of optimism that seems to have engulfed the Huskies football program entering 2010. With the exception of a stint as the quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2004, Sarkisian spent most of the past decade with the Trojans, serving as quarterbacks coach, assistant head coach and offensive coordinator during his tenure in Los Angeles. Following a solid first season (despite the sub-.500 record), a recruiting class that establishes a solid foundation for the program and with a great deal of talent already on the roster, Sarkisian could have Washington back on the road to the BCS sooner rather than later.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Jake Locker, QB; Cody Habben, OT; Mason Foster, LB; Nate Williams, S

Season Prediction

2nd Pac-10

The matchup with Oregon in early November could hold a lot of weight in how both teams finish in the conference. With USC no longer the dominant force they once were, things opened up last season in the Pac-10 and should do the same this season. Even if the Trojans compete for the conference crown, the days of playing solely for second place seem to be over.

Jake Locker won't be the only asset that the Huskies will send onto the field next season. Washington returns most of their offensive production from last season including their starting quarterback, running back and seven players who caught at least 14 passes. Every single player, and that includes offense, defense and special teams, who scored points last season is back for 2010.

The defense must focus on replacing Te'o-Nesheim's sack production and needs to force more interceptions in the passing game. Putting pressure on the quarterback to disrupt the passing game often goes hand-in-hand with improving pass defense and forcing turnovers, so an improvement in either area should benefit the other. Of course, the Huskies still ranked 93rd in pass defense and forced just eight interceptions despite 10 sacks form Te'o-Nesheim.

All-in-all, though, this looks to be a very successful season for the Huskies. Even if they finish lower than second in the Pac-10, as I have them projected, there seems little doubt that Washington will be in the bowl season come December or January. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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