The Washington football team's first spring under new head coach Steve Sarkisian has given Husky fans plenty of hope going into 2009. Fans who watched the spring game--either at the stadium or on the Internet--was a far more organized and spirited group than what we have witnessed in previous seasons.
Game highlights included Jake Locker's passing, Chris Polk's running, and an improved group of receivers. Combined with Locker, the first unit receivers nearly achieved a perfect performance through the air.
Defensively, the LB corp was splendid, though missing EJ Savannah, sitting out while nursing an injured shoulder. Had this was the regular season, Savannah would have played; however, the coaches wisely chose not to risk further injury to injured players on Saturday.
As spring practices closed, many problems still exist. The offensive line is a work in progress, bearing little resemblance to a Pac 10 unit. The prevailing opinion is only recruiting will turn this around. UW will continue to search the JC ranks for some immediate answers in the 2010 recruiting class.
While the first string offense and defense played well on Saturday the reality is they were playing a weak second string opponent. Quality depth is a significant issue right now; expect changes between now and December as the coaches clear out room to take as many new players as they can in 2010.
Getting back to Jake Locker, the coaching change has aided his progress more than anyone else on the team. He is starting to thrive in the new offense; once his legs become part of the game again, watch out!
Jake has the ability to win games by himself with those marvelous legs. The improvements he has made passing the ball is turning him into a true dual threat. When opposing defense start respecting his arm as much as his legs it will take a lot of pressure off this team.
Offensively, the team has some tools to work with--provided the offensive line can open some holes and give Jake some time. A healthy Jake will make them look far better than they really are in 2010.
The exciting thing about this team is they simply look much better than last fall. They still have four more months before their first game; if strength coach Ivan Lewis can get as much improvement out of them as he did in the four months before spring practice began, a six-win season is not an unreasonable goal.
While six wins doesn't sound like much, after finishing 0-12 last year it would represent a quantum leap in stature. Such a step would guarantee solid pieces from California and Hawaii in the 2010 recruiting derby.
Regarding recruiting, Washington is already off to a fantastic start. Add a few more wins than expected during the season, and I see no reason why Washington won't finish inside the top ten recruiting wise in 2010.
If you look at the first three games of the season, I realistically only view one winnable game: Idaho. The Vandals are rebuilding under Robb Akey, and Washington ought to have little beating them. LSU and USC, however, have far too much talent and depth for Washington to contend. However, similarly talented Husky squads lead by former coach Tyrone Willingham came very close to beating USC both at home and on the road.
The Huskies will play Stanford on the road following the opening three games. Though the Cardinal are likely to be favored by the Vegas oddsmakers, they ought to be very beatable. Year three of the Jim Harbaugh coaching regime means there will be considerable young talent on that roster.
Notre Dame has struggled under Charlie Weis recently, but they had no problem beating Washington like a drum last season. The Huskies have never beaten the Irish and I foresee that trend continuing next season.
The Dawgs get Arizona at home following the trip to South Bend. As with Stanford, one has to mark it down as team Washington ought to play competitively, and quite possibly beat.
UW then heads on the road to play Arizona State in Tempe. The Sun Devils simply weren't very good last season and with a new QB at the helm, I am not predicting a quick turnaround in 2009. If UW can beat Idaho, Stanford and Arizona, there is no reason they can't compete with ASU. However, given this game it is on the road, the Devils have the advantage.
Up next is a home date with Oregon, minus coach-turned-Athletics Director Mike Bellotti. The Ducks will be among the top in the conference this season; unfortunately, UW simply does not have the horses to beat them up front.
Following the Ducks, the Huskies face UCLA in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins were terrible last season and I think UW would have beaten them with a healthy Jake Locker leading the Huskies. If Locker is healthy, mark this one down as a probable win.
Next up is talented Oregon State on the road. The Beavers appear to be long-past the days of rebuilding, now simply reloading. Led by bothers Jacquizz and James Rogers, I don't see UW beating the Beavs in 2009.
Up next is the Apple Cup in Husky Stadium. I predict a Husky victory over WSU. In fact, this may well be one of only two games the Huskies will be favored to win next season.
The season ends against California at home on December 5. The Bears project to be one of the top three teams in the conference next season. Playing in Seattle this late in the season will make the game interesting.
So let's tally the potential wins: Idaho, Stanford, Arizona, UCLA, and WSU, with ASU and Notre Dame as a toss-up contests on the road. Quite frankly, I foresee only two-to-four wins next season; however, one never knows how the ball will bounce until they suit up.
One thing everyone can count on is that or the first time since Rick Neuheisel departed Montlake, these kids will have a chance to get the program turned around next season. Sarkisian and Holt are going to motivate the team to play better than they really are. Jake Locker once again will make up for the shortcomings of the offensive line.
In conclusion, a healthy team attitude and four more months of Ivan Lewis gives Washington a fighting chance going in to the 2009 season.
Lot's of things still on the plate if you are a legislator in Washington State. It looks like the Governor is going to call a special season to help wrap things up. It won't be a long session with most predicting only 2-3 more days to wrap things up.
What it does mean if you are a Husky fan that there is still a small chance that SB 6116 will pass and Husky Stadium will be included. I have heard that the participation of a WSU trustee in the plane stunt has raised some eyebrows down in Olympia. Honestly the most pressing matter right now is Key Arena since there is $30 million of Clay Bennett's sitting on the table.
It is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out at the deadline. I think anytime there is an extension of the general session anything can happen at the last minute. Things have a way of slipping in when you least expect it.