I normally throw up a Seahawks preview on Fridays, but they’re playing the 49ers, we’re apparently NOT going to see the start of the Jimmy Garoppolo Era, and so I couldn’t care any less. Therefore, I’m gonna take a look at tomorrow’s Apple Cup.
So, this game is a pretty big deal! In the Pac-12 South, USC has predictably run away with it and has secured its spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. In the Pac-12 North, there are currently three teams with 2 conference losses: Stanford, Washington, and Washington State. Stanford, at 7-2, is finished with conference play, and by virtue of having beaten Washington, has effectively eliminated the Huskies from an opportunity at winning the conference.
The Cougs, however, by virtue of having beaten Stanford, only needs to win the Apple Cup this weekend to secure its spot in the conference title game.
In short: Huskies win tomorrow, Stanford moves on; Cougars win tomorrow, Cougars move on.
So, yeah, in one sense, the Huskies have nothing to play for. But, it’s still a football game, it’s the final game a lot of these players (particularly the seniors) will play at home, and while there isn’t much satisfaction to be gleaned from playing spoiler, it would still be pretty funny to dash the hopes of Cougars everywhere.
Ultimately, though, I just don’t know how much I can get up for this one. First and foremost, we’re just two weeks removed from the Cardinal ruining our season. In a hypothetical universe where the Huskies are still a 1-loss team, I have to imagine we’d be on the outside looking in on a College Football Playoffs Top 4, but we’d still be right there in the conversation. Top 7, top 8 at the worst, with various rivalry games and conference championship games left to play. In this scenario, if the Huskies win the Apple Cup, then beat a very good USC team … you never know. Anything could happen!
So, like I said, we’re just two weeks removed from Stanford taking all of that excitement away from us … and now if we beat the Cougs we’d be HELPING them to a conference title game appearance. I mean, FUCK those guys! If I’m being perfectly honest, I would RATHER have the Cougs in the Pac-12 title game than Stanford. Shit man, the more I think about how many road games I’ve attended in their crappy fucking stadium – all of them DEVASTATING losses – and the more I think about all the quality offensive linemen they’ve stolen from our backyard because they’re the “Harvard of the West Coast” or whatever bullshit moniker they’re rolling with to try to make their overrated school look better; the more I think about their obnoxious head coach (a deciple of the even MORE obnoxious Jim Harbaugh, I might add), the more I want the Huskies to tank this game tomorrow and let the Cougs stroll to a Pac-12 North championship.
It’s tough. A real catch-22. Because it’s not like I can just put my allegiances aside for three hours! The upside of a Husky defeat is we get to screw Stanford, who screwed us first, so it’s the perfect revenge. The upside of a Husky victory is, what? Continued dominance over our in-state little brother school? I get to lord our superiority over my Cougar friends? Where’s the fun in that? That’s more of a Stanford thing to do, anyway! I’d be becoming everything I hate!
Plus, I mean, come on, we’re the Washington Huskies, IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING we’re better than the Cougs! We don’t need to win one measly little Apple Cup in a meaningless season to prove that! On the flipside, if they were to beat us, just imagine how much they’ll get to crow about it. They’ll get all big for their britches, and it’ll be all the sweeter when we smack their asses down next year.
As for my prediction, I will say that while I would prefer to be in their position (having something to play for), I do like that the pressure is all on the Cougs. They’re on the road, where they’ve been significantly worse this season, and they’ve got to beat a still-very-good Husky team to get to where they want to go. But, honestly, beyond the psychological and home-field advantages, I think the edge is all in Wazzu’s favor.
Wazzu has the better quarterback; Jake Browning has not only not progressed this year, he’s actually RE-gressed. While Luke Falk has been benched a couple times, I would argue that adversity has made him a better, sharper player. Jake Browning, after winning the job as a true Freshman, has never had ANYONE nipping at his heels to steal his job, which makes me really wonder if he’s grown complacent. I think Falk will be on his game from the get-go. He’s a Senior, he’s played everywhere, and I don’t think this environment will be too big for him.
Wazzu, I would argue, also has the better defense, which is really saying something. The Cougs have been pretty remarkable on defense since Mike Leach took over, which is not something I ever would’ve expected. I remember his Texas Tech days where both teams would score 30+ points pretty regularly. At Washington State, his defenses have been pretty stout … with the exception of when playing in the Apple Cup. To wit:
- 2012 – Huskies scored 28
- 2013 – Huskies scored 27
- 2014 – Huskies scored 31
- 2015 – Huskies scored 45
- 2016 – Huskies scored 45
But, something tells me this year’s Huskies won’t be putting up points in bunches like in years past. Browning, as I noted, has regressed. The offensive line isn’t the strength we all expected it to be. None of the receivers outside of Dante Pettis have shown up to play this year. And, if the Huskies can’t get their running game going, it will be a LONG day. The Cougs also have one of the best D-Linemen in all of college football, probably the only other interior player to rival Vita Vea in sheer strength and explosiveness. The Huskies, by contrast, are supremely banged up on defense – particularly in the secondary – and have given up 30 points in back-to-back weeks to the likes of Stanford and Utah (not exactly the most overwhelming offenses in the Pac-12). Things are trending downward for this unit, and I just don’t trust them against a passing attack like Wazzu’s, who feast on quick throws. I can see the Cougs converting a ton of third/fourth downs (just like Stanford and Utah) and tiring out this Husky unit.
Sure, the Huskies have the edge in Special Teams, and probably the run game, but I think it’s easy enough to neutralize both. Kick away from Pettis; kick it out of bounds if you have to! Done. Line up Hercules Mata’afa on the interior of the D-Line and let him go to town on our over-matched guards; that should settle Myles Gaskin’s hash pretty good.
In short, do I think the Huskies can make it 5 Apple Cups in a row? No. I know Vegas loves the Huskies, and I know the analytics love the Huskies, but I just don’t see it. If you sat me down in a sportsbook right now, pointed a gun to my head, and told me to bet my family’s farm, I’d put the deed on the Cougs and I wouldn’t even ask for points.
So, good news Dawg fans! As I’m frequently wrong in my gut-assessments, this should be a no-brainer Husky victory! All I know is, I’ve watched a lot of football in my day, and I know when one team is clearly better than the other. I think, this time, the Cougs are just plain better, and they have plenty of talent (on top of motivation) to win this game pretty handily.
Come Saturday evening, I’ll either be happy because the Huskies won, or I’ll be happy because Stanford can go fuck itself. This is shaping up to be a nice little day!