U.W. Huskies aim higher after turnaround season

Steve Sarkisian says the goals for the Washington Huskies are more black-and-white in 2010 than a year ago, if likely much more difficult to achieve.

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“We’re here to win championships,” the UW football coach said Thursday at a news conference to kick off the season. “Last year was (to) be competitive, fight, scratch, claw. This year, (it’s) ‘let’s go play well and win a championship.’ ”

The Huskies unquestionably accomplished their 2009 goal, morphing from an 0-12 team that was routinely blown out to a 5-7 squad that finished with two strong wins and lost three other games in the final minutes.

Now, as UW gets set to begin practice Monday and prepare for the season opener Sept. 4 at BYU, Sarkisian believes the team is ready to take the next step.

“What I cared about last year was being competitive,” he said. “I was not worried about winning or losing. It feels better to win, but I wanted to make sure we battled because I think that was something that wasn’t quite there, that was something not quite in the hearts of these players. I think we achieved that.”

Sarkisian, though, stopped short of making predictions other than that he thinks UW will be better this year, saying that whether improved play “equates into wins or not, I don’t know.”

Most observers think it will. While UW was picked sixth in the Pac-10 media poll, many others had the Huskies higher, and the general consensus is for a winning season and bowl game.

The optimism is based on UW’s 16 starters returning (eight on each side of the ball), led by a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Jake Locker. That’s from a team that won its last two games, against WSU and Cal, by a combined 72-10.

Then came a recruiting class generally considered in the top 20 in the nation, and what Sarkisian said was another strong offseason conditioning program that he thinks has transformed the Huskies.

“We look like a really good football team now,” he said. “I don’t know if I could say that a year ago. But today, as I visit with our players, we are a better looking football team than we were a year ago at this time.”

Sarkisian said the conditioning emphasis was on being strong enough to pull out games in the fourth quarter. UW let games get away last year against Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame.

“What I think fans will see is a better conditioned football team,” he said. “We made it a real point this summer to condition ourselves to play in the fourth quarter on the road so that we are mentally and physically sharp on the road in the fourth quarter, and BYU is that first one to get ready for that.”