Bragging rights are only a small part of the story entering the 106th Apple Cup. This year, there’s more.
For the first time since 2002, the Huskies and Cougars each enter the Apple Cup with winning records. They enter with bowl eligibility, with momentum and with hope — real hope — of something more, something better in the future.
In their regular-season finale, Washington (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) and Washington State (6-5, 4-4) are each fighting to finish above .500 in conference games. Only one of them will.
Kickoff at Husky Stadium is Friday at 12:30 p.m. for a national broadcast on Fox (Ch. 13).
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“I think it’s great,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “That’s what these types of rivalries are about and that’s what makes the Apple Cup so special. The better the two teams are performing, the better the environment for the game, and I’m hoping in the near future this game is deciding who is playing for the Pac-12 championship. I think our fans — theirs and ours — deserve that.”
The Cougars are slightly ahead of projections in Year 2 of the Mike Leach era. A second straight Apple Cup win would assure the Cougars of their first bowl game since 2003.
Leach traced the Cougars’ success this season to their stunning rally from an 18-point, fourth-quarter deficit against the Huskies last season. WSU wound up winning in overtime, 31-28.
“I think it started to reveal some of the potential our team had,” Leach said. “I think that’s the thing we’ve got to continue to do — we’ve got to continue to unfold what our potential is. … I don’t think we’ve reached that point, where we’ve realized what we can do.”
The Huskies, coming off one their most dominating performances of Sarkisian’s tenure — a 69-27 win at Oregon State last Saturday — enter the Apple Cup as a 16-point favorite. The sting from their shocking loss in Pullman last season hung with the Huskies all offseason — literally, in fact. A sign with the score from that game is still hanging in the UW locker room, a constant reminder of the biggest collapse in Apple Cup history.
“It’s huge motivation,” said UW senior quarterback Keith Price, who had two turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime in Pullman last year. “It was one of my main motivations this offseason and in training, not making mistakes.”
It’s unclear if Price will be available to make his third straight Apple Cup start. He injured his throwing shoulder in UW’s loss at UCLA two weeks ago, and redshirt freshman Cyler Miles was efficient in his first start in the victory over Oregon State.
Just like the Oregon State game, the public won’t know who starts at quarterback for UW until just before kickoff. Price said this week that he isn’t 100 percent healthy, but added that he would be “very disappointed” if he doesn’t get the start.
“I feel good about either one of them,” Sarkisian said about his quarterbacks.
An eighth win would certainly feel good for Sarkisian and the Huskies, after three straight 7-6 seasons. UW hasn’t had eight wins since 2001.
“I might have been 9 or 10 years old (then). That’s crazy,” Price said.
Sarkisian said that eighth victory is an important stepping stone for the program.
“I can tell you, today we’re a better football team than we were a year ago at this time,” Sarkisian said. “But a win Friday, I think for so many people justifies, ‘OK, they are better.’ And maybe for our players, quite honestly.”
For UW, it’s also about redemption.
Senior kicker Travis Coons, after a poor snap, missed a 35-yard field goal on the final play of regulation last season that would have given UW the victory.
“I would love to do that again,” Coons said this week. “Hopefully we do better than that, but if it comes down to it, I’m ready.”
|The Huskies’ and Cougars’ records going into the Apple Cup the past 12 years:|
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @a_jude.