Pac-12: Jeremaine Kearse

Washington season recap

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
7:30
AM ET
Washington wasn't consistent until the end of the season, but that three-game surge was enough to earn the program's first bowl berth since 2002.

The Huskies had high hopes during the preseason, particularly after quarterback Jake Locker opted to return for his senior year. But those took an immediate hit in the opener at BYU when Locker couldn't put together a decisive drive in a 23-17 defeat. The Huskies bounced back with a win against Syracuse, but that started a pattern of alternating strong performances in wins -- USC and Oregon State -- and poor ones in defeats -- Nebraska and Arizona State.

Then came the nadir: A three-blowout losing streak. The Huskies looked to be coming apart at the seams. For the first time, there was grumbling about second-year coach Steve Sarkisian, and Locker's disappointing season had become a national story because of his falling NFL draft status. The prime reason for the struggles, however, were poor play on the offensive line and terrible play on defense.

Yet the Huskies were able to regroup after a bye and decisively beat UCLA on a Thursday night ESPN game. Two thrilling road wins followed: A victory at California on a fourth-down touchdown on the game's last play and an Apple Cup win against Washington State on a late TD pass from Locker.

Those wins earned the Huskies a Holiday Bowl invitation. And a second shot, whether they want it or not, at Nebraska.

Offensive MVP: While running back Chris Polk and receiver Jermaine Kearse are legitimate possibilities here, Locker still accounted for 22 of the Huskies 32 touchdowns -- five rushing, 17 passing. He didn't have the season most expected -- he completed only 56.6 percent of his passes and threw nine interceptions -- but the Huskies certainly wouldn't have won six games without him.

Defensive MVP: This one is easy: Linebacker Mason Foster ranked first in the Pac-10 and second in the nation with 12.6 tackles per game. He also had 11 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He's a sure first-team All-Pac-10 performer and likely early-round NFL draft pick.

Turning point: After losing by 30, 41 and 37 from Oct. 23 to Nov. 6, the Huskies season could have spun into the toilet. Of course, Arizona, Stanford and Oregon were three good teams, but the Huskies didn't even look like they belonged on the field with them -- much like they looked against Nebraska. But they regrouped during a bye week. Sarkisian kept his locker room together, some weaknesses were addressed -- or hidden -- and the Huskies played consistently well on both sides of the ball down the stretch to earn bowl eligibility.

What’s next: The Huskies lose Locker and Foster but they have a number of key players coming back, and recruiting has been good under Sarkisian, who appears positioned to land another top-25 class. The first issue in 2011 will be replacing Locker, and backup Keith Price, who was solid in one start at Oregon when Locker was hurt, is the front-runner ahead of Nick Montana. The second and third issues are getting better on the offensive line and better on defense as a whole.

Six who should be in the post-season top 25

July, 7, 2010
7/07/10
10:55
AM ET
We ranked the top-25 players in the Pac-10. We noted six who just missed. Now we've got six who are good bets to be on a post-season top 25. And some honorable mentions.
  1. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: Former defensive coordinator Nick Holt said Wright, who was academically ineligible in 2009, was the best cover corner he'd coached at USC. Wright is a good bet for first-team All-Pac-10, but he's got to get on the field and perform.
  2. Chris Owusu, WR, Stanford: Already getting preseason All-American honors as a kick returner, the speedy Owusu could break through as a deep-threat receiver this fall.
  3. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: One of the conference's best deep threats, he missed half of last season with a broken collarbone and it took a while for him to rediscover his form. Looked like he did just that during spring practices.
  4. John Boyett, S, Oregon: Stepping in when T.J. Ward went down, he became the first freshman to lead the Ducks in tackles since the defensive records were first consistently recorded in 1969. Should be an all-conference threat a sophomore.
  5. Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon: A clutch playmaker, he ranked 10th in receptions and 10th in receiving yards per game in the conference in 2009, but those numbers figure to go up as he looks like the go-to receiver for a team that might throw more in 2010.
  6. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: He was good as a redshirt freshman. He could be dominating as a sophomore. In fact, any of the four returning starters on the Cardinal line is a threat for all-conference honors.
Honorable mention: Juron Criner, WR, Arizona; Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State; Anthony Miller, TE, California; Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon; Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State; Sione Fua, DT, Stanford; Datone Jones, DE, UCLA; Allen Bradford, RB, USC; Senio Kelemete, OT, Washington; Travis Long, DE, Washington State.

Six who just missed the top 25

July, 6, 2010
7/06/10
5:48
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Surely every fan who took a look at our top-25 players in the Pac-10 had someone pop into mind as a horrible and inexcusable omission.

Which means I shared a reaction with you. Let me reveal some of my frustrated thinking. Here's the bottom three:

No. 23. Kristofer O'Dowd, C, USC
No. 24: Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
No. 25 Kai Forbath, K, UCLA

My original version had Washington receiver Jermaine Kearse at No. 23. The junior led the conference with 17.3 yards per reception and his eight TD receptions tied for second. While his overall receiving numbers weren't spectacular -- he ranked fourth in the conference in receiving yards per game -- he earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors. Not including him would mean he was the only returning member of the All-Pac-10 teams who wasn't in the top 25.

Then I thought: I can't leave O'Dowd out. Sure, he was hurt and didn't play to his high standards last year, but he may be the best center in the nation and he earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2008.

Matthews? He, too, earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 and it seemed ridiculous that no member of the Ducks defense would be on the list.

And Forbath is the best kicker in the nation.

So, as good as Kearse is, he got demoted. Fact is: The only two elite receivers in the conference last year were Oregon State's James Rodgers and USC's Damian Williams. Arizona State's Chris McGaha also was second-team All-Pac-10 and he wouldn't have made the top 25 if he was returning this season.

Yes, you have to rationalize. Go ahead and make your own top 25 and see how hard it is.

So, in the interest of getting some more guys into the mix, here are the Six Who Just Missed.
  1. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington: See above.
  2. Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk and California's Shane Vereen pushed each other out of the list. Both had good but not great numbers. How could you include one and not the other?
  3. Shane Vereen, RB, California: See Polk. Obviously, with Jahvid Best gone, Vereen will have his chance to shine.
  4. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Havili has made so many big plays in his career. But if you were picking up a team, would you pick him before Stanford's Owen Marecic? No you wouldn't, Borges.
  5. Spencer Paysinger, LB, Oregon: His numbers are as good as Matthews. Maybe better. Felt like I flipped a coin between them.
  6. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: He had eight sacks as a sophomore in 2008, but a sprained ankle ruined his 2009 season. Fell short of the "O'Dowd Rationale."

Tomorrow morning we'll look at six players who are good bets to earn spots on the post-season list.

Washington's Kearse leads Locker's deep receiving corps

April, 30, 2010
4/30/10
4:27
PM ET
Washington receiver Jermaine Kearse said he hasn't much noticed the "Jake Locker-Jake Locker-Jake Locker Syndrome" that has infected the national media.

Much of that is due to Locker himself.

[+] EnlargeJermaine Kearse
Charles Baus/Icon SMIJermaine Kearse caught 50 passes for 866 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
"You don't really notice it that much because Jake is real down-to-earth person," Kearse said. "He's not cocky. He doesn't flaunt it in any way."

Locker may be a Heisman Trophy candidate and he may be the top pick in the 2011 NFL draft, but here's a guess that his secret weapon also will gain significant exposure next fall: Perhaps the Pac-10's best receiving corps.

All of Locker's targets are back in 2010. That includes five players who caught at least 25 passes and two who ranked among the Pac-10 leaders -- Kearse and Devin Aguilar. A third, James Johnson, was the best freshman receiver in the conference.

Kearse, however, was the top Dawg. He earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors and ranked fourth in the conference with 866 receiving yards -- the seventh-best total in school history -- and his eight touchdowns tied for second. His 17.3 yards per reception ranked first.

While Kearse had two clutch receptions during the winning drive of the USC upset, the fact is, after a mediocre fall camp, he started slowly in 2009. He didn't really become productive until the fifth game at Notre Dame -- eight receptions, 94 yards and a TD -- but in the final four games he caught six touchdown passes. In the season finale, a dominant win over California, he hauled in seven passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.

That run suggests bigger things may be ahead for the 6-foot-2, 198-pound junior. It should help that secondaries won't be able to gang up on him because of the deep supporting cast around him.

While Kearse sprained his foot and won't play in the Huskies spring game tonight -- yes, it's Friday Night Lights -- he feels good about how things went this spring.

"I focused on yards-after-catch -- that's been my emphasis the whole spring," he said. "I think I got better at that."

Oh, and as for that Locker guy, he's doing OK, too.

"He's a lot more accurate," Kearse said. "His confidence is building up. He's become more of a leader. He's just getting better. Everyone knows how good he is."

Like many of his teammates, Kearse seems bored by questions about the contrast between the spring following the 2008 season -- a new coach coming aboard after a humiliating 0-12 finish -- and this spring, after they went 5-7 and lost four games by eight or fewer points and became comfortable coach Steve Sarkisian, his staff and their schemes.

"It's not that much different," he said.

Really?

What is clear, however, is that, with 20 starters back, expectations are exponentially higher. And so is the confidence.

"We expect to go to a bowl game," he said.

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