UW's Jake Browning: "Having a 10-win season is pretty cool. I don’t care what game we’re playing for, I want to win regardless.”
At some point around halftime of the Washington-Utah game Saturday night, Jake Browning looked up and saw the other result flash on the Husky Stadium scoreboard:
Final score: Stanford 17, California 14.
At that moment, Browning knew the Huskies’ hopes of winning the Pac-12 North had been wiped away. And so, no matter what happens in the Apple Cup this Saturday at Husky Stadium, the Huskies can’t repeat as the Pac-12 Conference champion.
But they can spoil Washington State’s chances at a conference crown, and that’s no small consolation.
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If the Cougars (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) win the Apple Cup, they will advance to the Dec. 1 Pac-12 championship game against USC. If the Huskies (9-2, 6-2) win the Apple Cup, Stanford (8-3, 7-2) would claim the North title based on its Nov. 10 victory over UW.
A year ago, the Apple Cup implications were as big as they’ve ever been, with the winner claiming the North title. The Huskies thumped the Cougars, 45-17, in Pullman and went on to beat Colorado a week later to win their first conference championship in 16 years.
Even without the carrot of a conference-title chase, the Huskies say there’s no shortage of motivation this week.
“Rivalry games are huge and we always want to beat WSU,” Browning said after the Huskies’ wild 33-30 victory over Utah.
“I still want to win,” he added. “Having a 10-win season is pretty cool. I don’t care what game we’re playing for, I want to win regardless.”
Kickoff between the No. 14 Cougars and No. 15 Huskies is set for 5 p.m. Saturday for a FOX national broadcast. UW has announced the game as a sellout.
This week marks the first time since the Apple Cup nickname was first conceived in 1962 that both teams enter the game ranked in the top 15. And it’s just the seventh time in the 110-year history of the rivalry that both schools are ranked in the top 25 entering the game.
The Huskies opened as a 10-point betting favorite over the Cougars — the 11th consecutive year UW has been favored in the Apple Cup.
“The Apple Cup is an electric game,” UW senior tight end Will Dissly said. “We’ve got to go to work this week and put a good gameplan together because they’re hungry. They’re fighting for a Pac-12 North title. So we’ve got to do everything we can do prepare and go out and get the ‘W’ on Saturday.”
The Huskies haven’t lost an Apple Cup at Husky Stadium since 2007.
Washington State, coming off a bye week, should be well rested.
WSU senior quarterback Luke Falk enters his final Apple Cup looking for his first win over UW. Falk is the most-decorated passer in Pac-12 history, holding conference records for passing touchdowns, yards, completions, attempts and completion percentage.
Just as important for the Cougars is a vastly improved defense that ranks second in the Pac-12 in yards allowed (303.8), trailing only a UW defense that ranks fourth nationally in yards allowed per game (271.3) and second in yards allowed per play (4.10).
Leading an offense riddled with injuries, Browning is coming off his best game of the season, in which he went 26-of-35 for 354 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the win over Utah. Browning on Saturday broke the UW record for career passing touchdowns, now at 77.
UW coach Chris Petersen is 3-0 against the Cougars, his UW teams having outscored WSU 121-40.
The Huskies, after a 6-0 start to the season, have been playing through a chaotic second half of the season, in which they’ve dealt with the loss of six regulars to major injuries, the suspension of star linebacker Azeem Victor and losses at Arizona State and Stanford.
Saturday night’s dramatic comeback against Utah, Petersen hopes, will provide the Huskies a springboard into the weekend.
“These kids work hard. They practice hard, they study hard,” he said. “I hope this gives them some swag back. They don’t have to play so tight. They don’t have to play perfect to come back and win. Just keep playing.
“November football is hard. We knew this was going to be a hard stretch. Utah is a good team. They have some players and they’ve had some injuries. They are a dangerous team, I said it earlier this week. Between them, Stanford and WSU, that’s a tough stretch. I hope this win gives the guys a bounce in their step.”