There were several dominant individual performances across the college football landscape Saturday -- Ndamukong Suh's 12 tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks, Mardy Gilyard's 374 all-purpose yards and 2 TDs, CJ Spiller's 233 rushing yards and 4 TDs and Mark Ingram's 113 rushing yards and 3 TDs chief among them.
With each coming on a national stage, the efforts will almost surely earn the recognition they deserve.
With no BCS bowls on the line and only regional television coverage, few had the opportunity to watch Cal-Washington. Few outside of the Berkeley and Seattle campuses likely would have turned these games on over the Big 12 or ACC Championships anyway. Hell, I'll admit it, there were moments when I, too, thought I was crazy for not tuning in to the monster games of the day rather than recording them.
However, with the hype surrounding Locker's upcoming decision on whether to return for his senior season or leave early for the NFL increasing dramatically, I wanted to watch him in person. And so, on the biggest day of the "regular" season, I trusted the DVD players to cover the championship games and went to scout the only player I feel should warrant consideration over Suh and (potentially) Oklahoma junior DT Gerald McCoy for the NFL draft.
While I've certainly acknowledged Locker's upside in the past, I've also questioned his consistency and readiness for the NFL. One dominant performance does not prove he's either consistent or ready, his performance, however, was indeed dominant on this day...
And the NFL general managers who happened to be sitting only a few seats away from me in the Washington press box saw the same thing.
Locker is the most naturally gifted quarterback in the country. On a day when the most hyped senior quarterbacks -- Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow and Tony Pike -- threw for a collective TD to INT ratio of 4-7, Locker was spectacular. In this era of spread offenses, we've come to expect efficiency and gaudy statistics from highly touted passers. However, what made Jake Locker's 19 of 23 performance for 248 yards and 3 passing touchdowns (as well as 14 rushes for 77 yards and 2 TDs) was the variety of passes he completed. Imagine the throw and Locker made it tonight: the prototypical deep out from the opposite hash (check), the quick slant against man coverage (check), the tricky sluggo (check), hitting the tight end down the seam (check), wheel route to the outside (check), pure go-route (check).
I, and most NFL scouts I've spoken with, would like to see Locker return for his senior season. If he returns, I anticipate he'll enter next season as my highest rated prospect for the 2011 draft.
If the win over Cal was, indeed, Locker's final game for the Huskies, it was eerily similar in its efficiency and dominance as the one put forth last year by Mark Sanchez in the Rose Bowl against Penn State. That performance, of course, was key to Sanchez's dramatic rise up draft boards and ultimately to being the #5 overall choice -- similar to where I expect Locker to end up whenever he should make himself eligible for the draft.