In one of the great stories of last year, Hau'oli Kikaha returned to the field after having missed 22 consecutive games to injury. And he didn't just get back on the playing surface, he made his impact felt in finishing tied for 3rd in the country in sacks with 13, and being named to the All-Pac-12 second-team. His season ended with a bang as he dominated BYU and was named the defensive MVP of the Fight Hunger Bowl.
The question that Kikaha still needs to answer is this: can he be a game changing force against the elite teams on UW's schedule? Last season he racked up 10 of his sacks against Idaho State, Cal, Washington State and BYU. In UW's losses to the top teams in the conference (Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State, and UCLA) he had just 2 total sacks. Certainly this is not abnormal; players will nearly always have their best performances against inferior competition, but what is a bit alarming about it is just how stark the contrast between the extremes was for Kikaha.
There's also another way to look at Kikaha's 2013 performance though. If you look at Kikaha's game log his performance increased substantially as the season wore on. Throwing out Idaho State -- who can be probably be written off as an anomaly due to the sheer talent deficit on their roster -- Kikaha registered just 1 sack and 3 tackles for loss in the first six games, and then over the course of the last five he kicked it into high gear with 9 sacks.
Whether Kikaha's performance was influenced primarily by the quality of UW's opponent that week or if he got healthier and more confident in his knee as the season progressed is a fair subject for debate. If it was more the former, then we'll likely see another great season from Kikaha where he's part of a very good defense that may ultimately still fall short against the tougher opponents on the schedule. If, however, it was more of the second, then we're likely looking at UW's new career sacks leader, who'll be a cornerstone of one of the elite defenses in the country that could keep UW in every game on the schedule regardless of how poorly the offense may play. The truth, as with most things, is probably somewhere in the middle.