FACTS & STATS: Site: LaVell Edwards Stadium (65,000) -- Provo, Utah. Television: CBSCSN. Home Record: Washington 0-0, BYU 0-0. Away Record: Washington 0-0, BYU 0-0. Neutral Record: Washington 0-0, BYU 0-0. Conference Record: Washington 0-0, BYU 0-0. Series Record: Washington leads, 4-3.
Steve Sarkisian stepped in as the head coach last season and injected some new life into a fading Washington program. The Huskies went from 0-12 in 2008 to 5-7 in '09, upsetting the likes of USC, Arizona and California in Sarkisian's inaugural campaign. With a new winning attitude, a veteran and talented squad, Washington should have what it takes this season to return to the postseason for the first time since '02.
As for the Cougars, they are expected to be in more of a rebuilding year after losing a significant amount of players on both sides of the ball from last season's 11-2 squad. While BYU may not duplicate last year's terrific run, which included a thrashing of Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl, it still has enough returning talent to make things interesting. The Cougars also have a terrific head coach in Bronco Mendenhall, who has churned out consistent winning teams and is 49-15 in five years at BYU.
With respect to the all-time series, Washington owns a slight 4-3 edge over BYU. The Cougars though, took the last meeting in 2008, 28-27, courtesy of a blocked PAT attempt with two seconds remaining.
Washington's offense took a nice step in the right direction last season and could be among the best around this year with the return of several talented players. No player will garner as much recognition as quarterback Jake Locker, who passed up the NFL for his senior campaign. A physically gifted quarterback, Locker is a Heisman Trophy candidate that threw for 2,800 yards and 21 scores, while adding 388 yards and seven more touchdowns on the ground last season.
What will make Locker even more dangerous is the trio of receivers he has at his disposal, including junior Jermaine Kearse. A legitimate deep-threat, Kearse turned in 50 catches for 866 yards and eight scores to lead all Washington receivers in '09.
Another weapon for Locker and company is tailback Chris Polk, who became the first freshman to run for a 1,000 yards at Washington, totaling 1,113 yards and five scores last season.
The concern for the Huskies is their defense, which lacked consistency and allowed 389.5 total ypg in '09. The front seven is unsettled with only two starters welcomed back, so Washington will need some fresh faces to make an immediate impact.
Alameda Ta'amu is the best returning player up front for Washington, but other than him the team is riddled with inexperience and question marks.
The linebacking corps is also short on experience, although the lone returning starter is probably this unit's best player. In a follow up to a stout '08 campaign, Mason Foster finished last season with 85 tackles, three picks and a team-high six forced fumbles. He can obviously do it all and will be the heart-and-soul of this unit in 2010.
The secondary is the most experienced group of the defense, and sophomore corner Desmond Trufant is an emerging talent that posted 47 stops and two picks in his rookie campaign.
BYU's first order of business this offseason was to find a replacement for quarterback Max Hall, who threw for 3,560 yards and 33 scores last year. Coach Mendenhall decided that no one player was worthy of the starting job and instead announced a two-quarterback rotation between junior Riley Nelson and freshman Jake Heaps. Nelson backed up Hall in seven games last season and posted four total touchdowns (three rushing), while Heaps came to BYU after being one of the most sought after recruits in the nation.
O'Neill Chambers is the team's top returning option in the pass game, as he ranked second on the club with 32 catches last season. Bryan Kariya carried the ball 55 times for 199 yards last season and he takes over the starting tailback job for the departed Harvey Unga, who was a three time 1,000-yard rusher.
The defense is also in a bit of shambles, especially up front, where the Cougars must replace Jan Jorgensen, the Mountain West's all-time sack leader. There are no proven pass rushers on the squad, so don't expect a whole lot of pressure to be generated from the line.
The linebacking crew has the same issues as the front line, as three of four starters must be replaced. The lone returnee is Jordan Pendleton, who registered 52 stops and three sacks last season.
The Cougars are rebuilding, but have always been dangerous at home, so don't count them out completely. The Huskies though, have high expectations and lots of talent all around. Expect Locker to showcase his talent and pick apart the BYU defense for the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Washington 31, BYU 23