SEATTLE — There are times, indeed, when Jake Locker looks every bit the Heisman Trophy candidate.
Like when he’s throwing a laser of a 14-yard touchdown pass to Devin Aguilar.
Or when he’s finding Jermaine Kearse for nine completions resulting in three TDs, six first downs, and 179 yards.
Or when he’s meeting with the media following a decisive 41-20 thumping of Syracuse, displaying a persona that is one part Spartacus and one part Opie.
“It’s a win for us, and that’s all that matters,” Locker said Saturday, by gosh, by gum.
And yet as Locker heads into the meat part of his senior season at the University of Washington. Nebraska will bring the beef to Husky Stadium next week, so many questions remain.
Namely, how good is he? How appropriate is the hype? How rich will be the legacy for somebody who has been hailed as the program’s savior since the day he signed 4½ years ago?
Because following Saturday’s victory, Locker is 9-21 as a Husky. He has yet to reach a bowl game. He has yet to beat Oregon or Oregon State or UCLA or ASU or any significant non-conference teams.
That is not Locker’s fault. Most of it can be laid at the feet of Tyrone Willingham, whose reign of destruction over Husky football ended following Locker’s sophomore season.
But as Locker sits in danger of becoming perhaps the most lauded quarterback to never reach a bowl game, it is impossible to accurately assess his talents.
People have tried, of course. ESPN’s Todd McShay spent most of last winter insisting that Locker would be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft if he left school one year early.
Which led Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com to quote an unnamed NFL source as saying, “McShay is clueless” and that the NFL Collegiate Advisory Committee told Locker he wasn’t a likely first-round selection.
And there are times that you can believe that.
Saturday, Locker had two passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. He lofted a wounded duck that wasn’t intercepted only because two Syracuse defenders fought each other over the gift. And he threw a ball that was caught by guard Ryan Tolar — it was legal because the pass glanced off the defender Tolar was blocking before it was caught.
And still Locker finished 22 of 33 for 289 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and no sacks, personifying the yin and yang of being a quarterback.
“It’s all part of a maturation process,” Locker said. “Especially when you’re in the second year of a system. Guys are more comfortable; there’s not as much hesitation in the huddle.”
And there will be, presumably, more victories. That’s what second-year coach Steve Sarkisian promised during training camp, when he dared to suggest the Huskies can compete for a championship.
Sure, there is a signature victory on Locker’s résumé — last year against Southern California. But aside from that his career has been marked by brilliant-yet-unfulfilled potential. By the uneasy feeling that a lack of talent around him has stifled his development.
Maybe that has changed. Maybe Jake Locker is every bit the Heisman candidate and is destined to lead Washington to a bowl game and is predisposed to guiding the Huskies to big-time victories over big-name teams.
The truth is out there somewhere.