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Checkin' on the Pac: Washington

With Pac-10 media day now in the books, it's time to start looking toward training camp and the actual 2010 season, which will likely be one of the more wide-open races in the recent history of the conference. We certainly know a lot of the ins-and-outs of the USC roster, but how much do we know about our Pac-10 counterparts? To shore up any gaps in our knowledge, we'll be running a 9-part interview series with many of the best team-specific Pac-10 blogs on the web. For part four, here's a Q&A with John Berkowitz of SB Nation's UW Dawg Pound for some info on the Washington Huskies:

Q: Jake Locker has surely been getting a lot of attention this offseason, especially after Mel Kiper Jr. called him his top prospect for the class of 2011. What are realistic expectations for Locker this season?

A: Coach Sarkisian thinks he will complete 65 to 68% of his passes and have a 3-1 TD to interception ratio. If he approaches numbers like that it will make his feet all the more dangerous. I think to win a Heisman the Huskies need to win at least nine games and that is going to be tough order no matter how good Jake is.

Q: I think the hype around Locker has largely overshadowed the play of RB Chris Polk, who actually rushed for 1,113 yards as a freshman last season. Do you anticipate Polk to shoulder the load again in 2011, while continuing his ascent to the top of the list of best Pac-10 running backs?

A: The Pac 10 has some great running backs this season but Polk is easily among the top three or four. Washington is pretty deep at running back so the plan is for Chris to get more help this year to keep him fresher and healthier. We have a couple of true frosh that are destined to be stars. Deontae Cooper and Jessie Callier are going to make an impact this year on specials teams and backing Polk up. Polk is an animal when it comes to yards after contact. It is very tough to bring him down.

Q: With 10 starters back, there's little doubt that the offense should be just as good or even better in 2010. However, it seems as if the defense could be a problem area. The defensive line is thin and DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and LB Donald Butler have both departed. Despite some of these question marks, how would you assess the defensive side of the ball?

A: The secondary is strong and deep at all positions so I really think those guys are going to be the anchor of the defense. At linebacker we return Mason Foster and Cort Dennison who started last season. Dennison will be
taking over for Butler in the middle. A number of players will be fighting it out for the SLB position. We have a number of young players in the depth at linebacker who need to step up and contribute right away. Cameron Elisara is stepping outside to fill the void left by Teo-Nesheim. He looked great this spring so he is probably one of the answers at DE.

Q: A year ago, the Huskies upset the Trojans in Seattle for their second win of the year, and parlayed that into a 5-win season after going 0-12 in 2008. How much did that win over USC affect the team, and what kind of impact has it had on the current state of the program?

A: You can't win championships unless you are able to beat USC (editor's note: tell that to the folks in Westwood) so the win was a great confidence builder. In addition to confidence it really helps with recruiting. We play the Trojans in the conference opener on the road so it will be interesting to see how well we do in the Coliseum.

Q: Looking at the nonconference slate, it appears as if Washington has schedule some challenging matchups yet again. Last year, they faced LSU at home and traveled to Notre Dame. This year, they open at BYU and face Nebraska at home in just the third week of the season. Would you prefer to see a lighter schedule?

A: I actually enjoy the schedule just the way it is but things will start lightening up in 2011. Washington will always play a national power each year but the days of playing two of them in one season are over. Here are some examples of UW non conference schedules the next two years. It looks like we are starting a pattern of Big Sky, WAC, and BCS.

2011- Eastern Washington, Hawaii, and @Nebraska
2012- Portland State, Nevada, and @LSU

Q: There's little doubt that the Huskies made some strides in year one of the Sarkisian era last season. However, there seems to be varying opinions on how UW will fare in 2010. Some are calling them dark horses to win the conference, while the folks in Pullman are calling them a .500 team. Where do you stand on this?

A: I think Washington will win 6-9 games and finish in the upper division of the conference. Winning the conference is a pretty tough order to fill but the Locker factor gives the Huskies a shot. The defense is a question mark but the coaches feel really confident heading into the season. They think the level of play has improved even with the losses of Teo Nesheim and Butler.