Five Reasons Why the Huskies Will Win

Woodward and Sarkisian (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)

Even though recruiting has been the hottest topic for the past couple of months, there is still a season just around the corner. There are lots of reasons to believe this could be a turnaround year for the lowly Washington Huskies. Being an optimist, I believe the team will have a winning season and go to a bowl game. I have five reasons as to why that will happen.

I think the biggest reason will be the overall attitude and their expectation of winning. It all starts from the top down and the attitude at the top is the best it's been for at least a decade. We finally have a president, Mark Emmert, who cares, understands and appreciates the importance football has at this university. He once noted how football is the "front porch" of any university, because of the visibility a great program can bring, as well as the dollars behind it. Emmert took his right-hand man, Scott Woodward, and assigned him to spruce up the front porch, which meant fix the football problems.

For Emmert, the most important decisions were to replace the former athletic director, Todd Turner, and the head football coach, Tyrone Willingham. Even though he probably would've liked to pull the trigger on terminating both Turner and Willingham earlier, the move was eventually made. Now it's up to Woodward and new head coach Steve Sarkisian to clean up the mess. Emmert is firmly behind these new hires. Washington has not had this sort of 'down the line' administrative support for its football program in many years. This will allow for success simply because everyone is now on the same page.

Administrative support is critical to overall success, and it has never been better. Coach Don James had Mike Lude in his corner but not upper campus: Coach Jim Lambright had neither the department or administration in his corner; Coach Rick Neuheisel had Athletic Director Barbara Hedges in his corner for a while, but she turned her back on him when the going got tough. Keith Gilbertson had no one covering his back, and Tyrone Willingham had Turner, but not the administration.

This is the first time all three have been aligned for decades.

Woodward is clearly the most football-savvy AD Washington has had since Lude. Emmert is easily the most supportive president they have had for 30 years or so. Everything in the department has slowly changed - most importantly the attitudes.

National championships have already come in other sports under Woodward's watch. Then he went and raided the USC Trojans of one of the brightest young football minds in college football, Steve Sarkisian.

They raided USC again, hiring two strength coaches, a director of football operations, and a director of player personnel. To finish the deal, Sarkisian enticed Nick Holt to become the Huskies' defensive coordinator.

Holt brought four assistants to Montlake, meaning that Washington will be one of the few teams in the country to have five of their nine full-time assistants assigned to the defensive side of the ball; one of whom (Johnny Nansen) is also the special teams coordinator and staff recruiting coordinator.

Nansen and the Huskies hit the ground running in recruiting, salvaging a 2009 class by signing 19 prospects to a team in desperate need of some new blood.

From the top down, Washington has hired quality people, and their expectations of winning are the number one reason they will have a winning year. They have hired people from a system that thinks 12 and 0, not 0 and 12. Coach Sarkisian and his staff will be the next most important reason why this team will win games. The fact that he has great support from his bosses has allowed him the freedom to implement how that's going to get done.

Everything is now done on the run, forcing the kids to run everywhere and do it all the time: This is a bonus for conditioning, and it forces the kids to be thinking on the run. Running itself puts more people on the play, especially on defense. The overall conditioning and emphasis on running has already made this a more competitive team from the jump.

Because of their improved conditioning the Huskies will have a better chance of succeeding in the second halves, something that has been missing for years. Ivan Lewis, the new Weight and Strength Coach, has been transforming this team since the day he walked on campus, back in early December. Their bodies are changing and their work ethic is already better because of it. This team will be in better shape and that will be another reason they will win games. Football is a long haul, and your off-season work helps you get through the season and helps you overcome the nicks and bruises that accumulate.

Many people don't realize that one of the major breakdowns in Husky football has been in the weight room. When the athletic department decided to get rid of Steve Emtman and Pete Kaligis, they essentially cut the heart out of Husky football. For years the Huskies were always in better shape than their opponents. The "Whammy in Miami" is a classic example of winning a big game because you were in better shape than your opponent, who just happened to be one of the best teams in America and riding a 58-game home winning streak at the time.

Lewis and his staff are transforming bodies, and they are changing minds as well. For decades the Huskies won games in the off-season. For the past few years they have been unable to win games in the second half, and especially the fourth quarters. Conditioning has been a negative, and when you find out that few could bench press 400 pounds, it can be traced right back to the weight room where the Huskies just weren't getting it done.

That's a number of reasons right there why the Huskies will win, but we all know football games are won by players, not coaches, strength guys or administrators. Jimmy's and Joe's - not X's and O's - win football games, and that is a fundamental tenant of Sarkisian's whole system.

The real answers to winning are in the development of players and their collective belief in winning.

The most obvious reason why the Huskies will win this year is not the administrative support or the coaching staff and how they do things, but rather one particular player - Jake Locker. Locker will stay healthy this year because of one reason; he is tough. It is important to have a team full of tough guys, but when one of your toughest is at quarterback it really makes a difference. Besides, in just one set of spring practices, Jake has already improved considerably in the mechanical aspects of the position.

Jake now has two quarterback coaches at his disposal, and both are really good at handling the position. Doug Nussmier, the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator, is an ex-quarterback himself. So is Steve Sarkisian. Together they give Locker the best combination of teachers in his career to this point without a doubt. During spring his mechanics improved, his in-pocket presence improved, his short and intermediate passes improved, his passes on the run improved and his leadership has improved. He has the experience and certainly has the raw athletic ability. Jake Locker will lead this team to victories.

Locker is the best athlete Washington has ever had at the quarterback position, especially when you consider his physical dimensions - and that's saying something when compared to other great athletes like Marques Tuiasosopo and Isaiah Stanback. He is big, strong, and really fast, and this team will win because their quarterback won't let them lose.

The final reason why I think the Huskies will win is defense. With a great linebacker corps and improved depth in the secondary, not to mention Daniel Te'o-Nesheim up front, Washington is certain to have one of their best defensive efforts in years. Now that's not saying too much, but their improvement will be marked. They will attack more, they will disguise more, they will run more, they will create more turnovers and they will tackle more effectively, especially in space. These are all basic and fundamental things I know, but collectively they will make the Huskies much better on defense.

I realize they still need to go out and win games, but I really believe they left four to five games on the table last year that they could have, and should have won. They are still a little over-scheduled in their out-of-conference games, and with a little softening in the future they will be able to get those wins necessary to become bowl eligible. Regardless, there were at least three or four Pac-10 games that they also let get away and it was largely due to their second half collapses.

With a new staff bolstered by unwavering support from the school, a new conditioning regimen, a new way of playing on both offense and defense, and a strong, healthy Jake Locker, the Washington Huskies are primed to not let those games slip away again.

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