Washington and Utah both needed an opponent.
For the Pac-12 Conference, the decision was clear.
On Sunday, the 113th Apple Cup between UW and Washington State was canceled after the Cougars could not meet the 53-man scholarship threshold because of COVID-19 concerns. Likewise, Utah’s matchup at Arizona State — which was scheduled for next Sunday — was wiped away Tuesday afternoon, as the Sun Devils’ COVID-19 outbreak forced a third consecutive cancellation.
Now, the Huskies and Utes will meet at 7:30 p.m. in Seattle on Saturday, in a game broadcast nationally on ESPN.
“The scheduling of this game is consistent with the Conference’s commitment to provide opportunities for student-athletes through maximum scheduling flexibility while still prioritizing health and safety,” read a Pac-12 statement on Tuesday evening.
A year ago, Utah defeated Washington 33-28 inside Husky Stadium — scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to steal a road win. UW leads the all-time series 12-2 and had won four straight against the Utes before falling last November.
After COVID-19 cases inside their program forced the Utes to cancel their first two games, Kyle Whittingham’s team fell 33-17 at home to No. 20 USC last Saturday. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Cameron Rising — who won the job after a competition in fall camp — was lost for the season with a shoulder injury after just 14 plays. He was replaced by South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Huskies, meanwhile, are 2-0 after toppling Arizona 44-27 at home last Saturday. Their season opener against Cal on Nov. 7 was canceled after the Golden Bears could not meet the 53-player scholarship threshold due to one positive COVID-19 test and subsequent contact tracing.
According to a source, UW also reached out to Brigham Young on Saturday about the possibility of an impromptu game, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. San Diego State was a possible nonconference opponent as well. Still, the Pac-12’s policy states that if a conference opponent is available by Thursday of game week, that team must take priority over a prospective nonconference opponent. So, given ASU’s continued COVID-19 issues, the Utes were always Washington’s most likely match.
Thus far, eight Pac-12 games have been canceled in the conference’s first three-plus weeks of play.