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Don't mistake NFL potential for college wins

The next time a preview of the Washington Huskies doesn't make reference to Jake Locker as the top quarterback prospect in the next NFL draft will be the first.

With three preseason magazines already on newsstands and another wave of print and online prognostications set to arrive over the next few months, Locker is being touted as the man leading the Montlake resurgence. Andrew Luck of Stanford isn't far behind in dedicated column inches. They are the faces of the Pac-10 as it reclaims its status as conference of quarterbacks.

The two will be jockeying all season long to be the No. 1 overall pick, but their talents might not mean a lot in the win column.

Don't get me wrong, Luck and Locker are more than worthy of the yearlong adulation of scouts and league executives. With rare physical tools, including the speed and power to run through and past defenders, Locker would have been a top 10 pick on athleticism alone.

The son of former Houston Oilers signal caller Oliver Luck, Andrew led the league in passing efficiency as a redshirt freshman and directed the Cardinal offense to 106 points in back-to-back upsets of Oregon and USC with his arm strength and decision making.

The problem is Washington and Stanford are being touted as potential usurpers in a wide-open Pac-10 - the only given is that Washington State will finish dead last - largely because of what Locker and Luck did last season, but failing to account for other developments.

It was Jeremiah Masoli and Sean Canfield, with negligible pro prospects between them, dueling for a trip to Pasadena in 2009 because they were part of the best teams.

That's not the case for these trendy picks this time around.

The Cardinal has a new defensive coordinator, its third in three seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh, implementing a change to a 3-4 base scheme. And some guy by the name of Toby Gerhart is gone, taking 1,871 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns with him.

Gone too is Stanford's ability to hide under the radar. After last year's breakout campaign, you don't think the Trojans or Ducks will try to hang a hundred points on the scoreboard this time around?

Steve Sarkisian's challenge with the Huskies is traversing a schedule that ranks among the nation's toughest, with visits by Nebraska and Oregon State and trips to Oregon and USC. It's not inconceivable three of those teams could end up in BCS bowls.

Depth is still an issue, especially for a defense that gave up nearly 27 points and 390 yards per game. Despite a strong core of offensive skill players, shootouts every week are not recommended, even in the traditionally high-flying, high-scoring Pac-10.

The bigger issue, however, is mistaking the college ranks some kind of developmental system. College coaches are paid to win college football games. If Sark can lead Washington to the Rose Bowl by crippling Locker's future earnings potential, that's what has got to be done.

That's exactly what Sarkisian's predecessor did, asking Locker to be a one-man team like in a Bugs Bunny short. The Tyrone Willingham era will be remembered for digging the Huskies into such a hole, the supremely gifted Locker made it to one bowl game at best, the John Elway of the 21st century.

Luck and Locker will likely never lead their team to a top-tier bowl game, but are poised to become elite NFL players.

Georgia had the first quarterback and running back selected in the same draft, but never got over the hump to win the SEC title with Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno.

Winning and drafting are not the same thing, a lesson the Huskies and Cardinal could demonstrate once again.

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