By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Still a few credits away from a degree in history, University of Washington senior Jake Locker doesn’t need any more lecture halls to remind him that he might have a place in it.
His coach, Steve Sarkisian, has made it perfectly clear what it means to be a senior quarterback in the Pacific-10 Conference.
“History tells us that when you’ve got a senior quarterback in this conference, your chances of winning a championship increase greatly,” Sarkisian told reporters before his UW football team took the field for fall camp early last month.
When it comes to recent history, Sarkisian won’t be leading any symposiums on the subject. Of the last nine teams to earn a share of the Pac-10 title, only two have been led by senior quarterbacks: USC’s John David Booty in 2007 and the Trojans’ Matt Leinart two years earlier.
But the message is nevertheless clear: the Huskies are pretty happy to have an experienced senior behind center.
“He’s in Year 2 of this system, he’s obviously got a great understanding of it, he prepares mentally and physically,” Sarkisian said earlier this week as the Huskies prepare to open his second season as head coach at UW. “His demand for excellence and perfection on the field resonates to the rest of our football team. And I think that’s the best way that (Locker’s presence) helps.”
The effect of senior quarterbacks is apparent in powerhouse programs throughout the country. Texas (Colt McCoy) and Florida (Tim Tebow) thrived under senior starters last season.
Among Sports Illustrated’s top six ranked teams, three of them — No. 1 Alabama (Greg McElroy), No. 5 TCU (Andy Dalton) and No. 6 Iowa (Ricky Stanzi) — have senior quarterbacks. Two others — No. 2 Ohio State (Terrelle Pryor) and No. 3 Boise State (Kellen Moore) have experienced juniors who are entering their third years as starters.
In this year’s Pac-10, having a senior quarterback could be as important as ever. Conference favorites Oregon and Oregon State have new quarterbacks, while perennial contender USC will have sophomore Matt Barkley behind center. Only UW and California (with Kevin Riley) are likely to start senior quarterbacks in their openers.
Any expectations that have been heaped on the 2010 Huskies crystallized on Dec. 14 of last year. That’s the date when Locker announced his intentions to return for his senior season, and with the decision UW was anointed as a favorite to snap its seven-year bowl draught and saddled with expectations as a possible Pac-10 contender.
While the lure of $50 million in guaranteed money may have been tempting for most, but Locker said the money was never really an issue.
“I really got a chance to talk to my dad (Scott), and he said: ‘Jake, make the decision that, when you’re my age, you’ll look back and you won’t have any regrets,’” Locker said this week. “When he put it like that, it was easy to make the decision to come back.”
And it was an easy decision for the Huskies to welcome him with open arms. Senior quarterbacks like Brock Huard and Marques Tuiasosopo have led UW to big seasons over the past 15 years, and this year’s Huskies are hoping that Locker can follow in their footsteps.
Sarkisian, who has won Pac-10 titles with seniors Booty, Leinart and Carson Palmer as an assistant at USC, knows as well as anyone how important a veteran quarterback can be.
“It’s that quiet confidence in the huddle,” Sarkisian said of the importance of having a senior quarterback. “It’s knowing that going into a game, or in the huddle or for a big drive or big play, that guy is seeing it, he’s been there, he’s done it. It eliminates some of the unknowns about who this guy is, and the way he might play.”
“I think there is a lot of knowing what a senior quarterback can be — and for us, what Jake Locker is and can be, not only from a coaching perspective, but from a team’s perspective.”
With returning starters at the three receiver positions, tailback and all over the offensive line, Locker is looking forward to having experience on his side in more way than one.
“Being able to come back and have another year to play college football on this football team, with this coaching staff, made my decision a lot easier,” he said. “It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to this season.”
Senior linebacker Brandon Huppert, who has been sidelined by knee problems for almost two weeks, made a surprising return to practice Thursday and will travel to BYU for Saturday’s game. Sarkisian said he’ll be available, along with cornerback Gregory Ducre (shoulder), defensive end Kalani Aldrich (knee) and wide receiver James Johnson (ankle). The latter three also practiced Thursday. … The Huskies could travel as many as 15 true freshmen, but not all of them will play against BYU. … Freshman running back Deontae Cooper is scheduled for knee surgery on Sept. 8. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during training camp. … The school released artist’s renderings of the Husky Stadium renovation project on Thursday. The images are available at the athletic department’s website: www.gohuskies.com.