It seems not so long ago that Husky Nation gave out a collective wince as Jake Locker through a downfield block on a run by tailback David Freeman against Stanford in 2008. Locker had broken his thumb, and in turn had broken the Huskies's season. The Dawgs did not win a game that year, and Seattle was the laughing stock of college sports. After the departure of Tyrone Willingham, the guy who designed the play for Locker to block downfield, the Huskies played energized and mostly competitive football last year, finishing 5-7 and providing their faithful with something to look for in the future.
Montlake Jake, the focal point of all of Husky Nation's hope entering this season, made the difficult decision to turn down potential selection in the first round of the draft completed this weekend to return to school and possibly return the Huskies to greatness. But with the team still maybe a year or two away from perennial contention in the Pac-10, the entire community will focus on Jake, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he can restore the Huskies dignity by putting together a legitimate Heisman campaign.
But can Jake realistically win the Heisman on a likely mediocre squad? The last five Heisman winners have played in the national championship game. Last year, Mark Ingram beat out Toby Gerhart for the award because his team was more successful and got more national recognition. While Gerhart had better overall numbers, Stanford was 8-5 and Ingram's Crimson Tide were 14-0. Alabama was also on CBS most weekends while Stanford rarely appeared on national television.
Gerhart's case will likely be similar to Locker's. A senior playing on the west coast does not get a lot of recognition because the Pac-10 only gets one or two games a week on ABC. Locker might struggle to be nationally recognized because most of the Hesiman votes will come from places where he will not be watched on a regular basis. Becuase of his location and his status on a mediocre team, Jake Locker could struggle to gain enough national recognition to win the Heisman.
That said, Locker's case differs from Gerhart's in one major way. Rivals.com currently lists Jake as the likely number one pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Mel Kiper and Todd Mcshay had Locker near the top of their mock drafts for the 2010 draft regardless of UW's 5-7 record, before Locker decided to return to school. Toby Gerhart flew to the surface from under the radar; Jake Locker has the spotlight shining down on him already.
Unlike Gerhart, almost every sports writer and, more importantly, Heisman voter knows the name Jake Locker. They know that regardless of the fact that he quarterbacks a team with 9 wins in his three season career, Locker is potentially one of the most talented players in the country. They know that Jake at his best rivals any other quaterback in college football. They know that because of the new coaching regime of Steve Sarkisian, Locker will play more like a conventional QB. They know what Jake can be.
So two questions remain:
Can Jake thrive under the pressure and be the brilliant passer and commander he is destined to be?
And if he succeeds, will writers around the country recognize him for it?
If there was any year for him to win the Heisman, it would be this one. Not only because, as a senior, he has reached the peak of his college career, it's because of his competition. HeismanPundit.com has put together a list of who they think are the early favorites for this year's award. While Jake somehow failed to make the cut, he shouldn't be alarmed; the guys on the list are less than impressive.
Oregon's Lamichael James made the list. He is suspended for the season opener and could face additional legal action on an assault charge.
Of the eight quarterbacks on the list, only a few have the combination of a big name school and big talent like Locker does. Terrelle Pryor seems like a legitimate candidate. Ohio State is one of the most prominent college football teams in the country, and Pryor was the number one rated recruit going into his freshman year last season. But since he is not a conventional drop back passer, he will struggle to put up the huge aerial numbers needed to win the Heisman.
Ryan Mallet of Arkansas may have the right combination of exposure and talent as well, but will struggle with SEC defenses and was shaky at times last year. Other legitimate candidates are running back Evan Royster of Penn State and Kellen Moore of Boise State.
Regardless of the level of the competition, Jake needs to win the award with his own performance. He needs to have a perfect season. Not only does the team need a perfect season from their leader, the city of Seattle needs it as well. When's the last time we've won anything in this city? Shawn Alexander won the MVP in 2005. Is that honestly the last time we've won a national award?
Ok so Husky basketball won some Pac-10 titles and Brandon Roy was an all-american, but no player or team from Seattle has been called the best since Alexander the Great did it in '05. Jake already has returned for one more year of superstardom in the city that he has owned the last three autumns.
Shouldn't the guy who turned down the big money for the love of his hometown be destined for a Heisman? Jake can do it, and all of Seattle will be behind him. So on behalf of the entire city, let me be the first to cast my vote: Locker for Heisman in 2010.