The next step for the Huskies: 8 wins

Aug 10, 2011, 8:49 AM | Updated: 1:14 pm

By Brock Huard

I will take Steve Sarkisian at his word when he announced at his press conference that this is the “most athletic team we have had in three seasons.” I also think this is the best “team” Sarkisian has had to work with and that’s why eight wins is not unrealistic for this group.

Indeed, if the program is to get to that eight win total — the last time UW won eight or more games was 2001, though the program achieved that win total 13 times from 1980-2000 — it will be for the following reasons:

Washington quarterback Keith Price must stay healthier than his predecessor, Jake Locker. (AP)

1.The Huskies take advantage of a favorable schedule. On paper, the Dawgs should be favored in more than half of their games, and seven opponents will travel to Seattle to play. Opening the season with Eastern Washington and Hawaii will allow Keith Price the opportunity to get settled before heading to Lincoln, Neb. in Week 3. The Huskies close out the old Husky Stadium with Oregon in early November, which may provide just enough energy and emotion to knock down portions of the stadium before the bulldozers get busy.

2. The NFL talent on the roster maximizes their abilities. Mike Holmgren would always tell the media members if his teams were win championships it was because his star players performed as stars. My Dad would continually remind us that “big time players make big time plays in big time games.”

This group of Huskies has star talent, and many of them could be drafted next April: DT Alameda Ta’amu, LT Senio Kelemete, WR Jermaine Kearse, RB Chris Polk and possibly DE Everrette Thompson and CB Quinton Richardson will have a chance to make a living playing football. If they all grow and develop, play to their maximum capability and stay healthy, that group of upperclassmen can physically overwhelm the opposition. Remember, the Oregon Ducks that played in the national title game last January had just one player chosen in the NFL draft (Casey Matthews, a fourth-rounder).

3. Keith Price starts 12 games. One of the most under-appreciated stats for quarterbacks is consecutive starts — the ability to stay healthy and be under center week in and week out. Jake Locker struggled to put starting streaks together thanks to concussions, neck strains, thigh bruises, cracked ribs and a shattered thumb in five years on Montlake. Keith Price lacks about 35 pounds of Jake Locker muscle, and it will be imperative that he protects himself by getting down or getting rid of the ball to avoid excess punishment. If Price isn’t healthy, this team will struggle to get back to a bowl.

4. Close out and finish in the fourth quarter. The difference between 5-7 in 2009 and 7-6 in 2010 was the resiliency and mental toughness to finish closely contested fourth quarter games. In 2009, losses in overtime at Notre Dame and in the final minutes on the road at UCLA and ASU cost the Huskies a bowl berth. In 2010, “God’s Play” at Cal and “Sluggo” vs. WSU propelled the Huskies down the stretch.

Can the veteran leadership and a quality coaching staff be the difference in those defining moments? If so, then Steve Sarkisian will get this group to eight wins and on their way to once again talking Rose Bowl expectations and not “Any Bowl” considerations.

Others receiving votes: Freshmen flash potential, outside linebackers emerge, Erik Folk regains kicking form, trade either Kiel Rasp or Will Mahan for Asante Samuel and a draft pick.

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The next step for the Huskies: 8 wins