Apple Cup 2012: Black Friday Blues

I hate that this game is today.  I hate that this game is being played at 12:30.  I hate that I have to work today, DVR the game, and wait until tonight to watch.

There’s no reason to be thankful for this abomination, but such is the world we live in, where television rights dictate when games are played.  If you praise the Pac-12 for all the millions it raked in with its latest TV deal, then you have to accept a few Post-Thanksgiving 12:30 games.  You sign a deal with the devil to try to get ahead in life, but there are always drawbacks.  This situation is no different.

Of course, I’m sure the players don’t care.  They just want to get out there and bust some heads.

The Huskies are essentially playing for nothing today.  They’re bowl eligible, they got their 7th win just to ensure they actually guarantee themselves a bowl, and really, they have no reason to play this game.  A win won’t move the Huskies into a better bowl; they’re either going to play in the Sun, the Vegas, or the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.  At the worst, a loss might knock them down to the New Mexico Bowl, but really what have you lost at that point?  If you’re not in one of the top 3 bowls (Rose, Alamo, Holiday), you’re really not in any kind of national spotlight.

The Cougars, on the other hand, have just about everything to play for.  They currently sit dead-last in the Pac-12, with an 0-8 conference record.  Yes, even worse than Colorado (who beat them back in September).  New head coach Mike Leach, supposedly a savior who would bring back some flash and sizzle to the Cougar program in desperate need of shaking up, has seriously underwhelmed and is already embroiled in a scandal involving a disgruntled former player.  A win in the Apple Cup could single-handedly make this year a rip-roaring success and secure Leach’s job security for at least the duration of his contract.

Obviously, the standards for Wazzu are much lower than they are at Washington, but you take what you can get if you’re a long-suffering Cougar fan.

Granted, a Cougar win wouldn’t be as satisfying as it would be if it prevented Washington from a chance at playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game, or if it prevented Washington from going to a bowl game at all, but it would still vindicate Leach’s hiring and the job he’s done this season.  A Cougar win means that Leach can say, “We struggled, but we improved as the season went on, culminating in a victory over a top-25 BCS-ranked opponent.”  Once he’s able to rid his team of the garbage left over from the Paul Wulff regime, and once he gets his type of guys in there, watch out.

The best way to prevent that from happening, the best way to keep Mike Leach from turning that program around and giving the Pac-12 fits for years to come, is for the Huskies to win this game today.  So, in that sense, there IS something to play for.  We’re playing for the future of the conference, and for the future of Washington football specifically.

Because on the flipside, what happens if Washington goes Martin Stadium today and rolls over the Cougars by 30 points?  That means the Cougs would have been blown out in 3 of their final 4 games.  That means the Cougs will end the season on a 9-game losing streak, all of them in conference to finish 0-9 in the Pac-12.  Does that mean Leach gets fired after the season?  Well, if this whole Marquess Wilson fiasco comes unhinged and they find there really was abuse by Leach and his staff (especially considering that’s how things ended for him at Texas Tech), I think that’s definitely a possibility.  How does a program recover from THAT?  Burning through two head coaches the past two years?  That might be worse than NCAA sanctions!

But, forget all that.  What are we looking at today?  Well, we’re looking at a Washington State team that averages 30 yards rushing per game.  30!  They’re 10th in the NCAA in passing yards, but they still average less than 20 points per game.  And their defense?  Forget it!  Sankey should be able to run all over this defense.  Price should be able to have an outstanding game.  They have no one to cover ASJ, so expect him to have a monster game.

Our defense, on the other hand, is quite stout.  Our passing defense, especially, is one of the best in college football.  The Cougs do have a veteran of sorts starting today in Jeff Tuel, which really is the only thing that concerns me.  He’s a senior looking for his first Apple Cup victory.  And I don’t think anyone forgets how the Cougs almost came all the way back in 2010 to narrowly lose in one of the more exciting Apple Cups in recent memory.  Tuel was a major part of that game being so close (when the Huskies were big favorites, much like today).  25 for 35, 298 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. 

Tuel has played somewhat sparingly this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s played poorly.  I would look for him to try to make a statement today.  To go out on a high note.  To show this Cougar coaching staff what they’ve missed all along by not keeping him as the starter.  Often, a college career can be defined by one dynamic game.  What better day than today, in his final college game?

I’m confident in a Husky win, but let’s just say I’m not OVERLY confident.  We’ll save that for later, when I’ve consumed sufficent liquid courage.  God Awgs!

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