Does the possibility exist for Wazzu to foil UW’s plans for a second straight Pac-12 North title? Absolutely.
I have a feeling that this is gonna be good.
I have a sense that the football rivalry between Washington and Washington State is about to upgrade from hopeful to legitimate.
The state could use something like that. The fan bases could, too. The Apple Cup shouldn’t just be a formality — it should be a game with two teams each viewed as formidable.
And next year, that just might be the case.
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Wednesday morning, Washington State quarterback Luke Falk announced that he will be returning to the Palouse for his senior season. The declaration came amid projections that Falk would be an early- to mid-round selection in this year’s NFL draft.
If you’re a Cougs fan, you’re disregarding the 10-degree weather and doing snow angels in the Palouse as a result. And if you’re a Dawgs fan … you might be getting a little nervous.
It’s true that the matchup between these two schools has been on par with rock vs. scissors lately. UW has beaten WSU four straight times, and has won by an average of 27 points in the past three meetings.
Even with a trip to the Pac-12 title game on the line last November, Wazzu still fell to Washington, 45-17, in a game whose climax never appeared. So why would next season be any different?
Well, for one, that 28-point defeat in Martin Stadium was a closer game than the score indicated. In addition to a first-quarter fumble that instantly shifted the momentum UW’s way, the Cougars failed to score on three separate first-and-goal opportunities.
The bagels such drives yielded made it impossible for an upset, but I’m not sure an objective observer can say the Huskies win that game 10 times out of 10.
Secondly, Falk is a legitimate Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate. USC’s Sam Darnold and Washington’s Jake Browning have the preseason edge on him for that honor, but Falk is just as valuable to his team as either one of those guys. Sure, his passer rating of 145.6 last year was lower than Darnold’s or Browning’s, but you have to remember how much the Cougars throw.
For Falk to be that on point when he’s tossing 20 more passes per game than the two aforementioned quarterbacks is impressive. For him to be that effective when everyone in attendance knows the ball is going in the air is praiseworthy.
Despite his team’s free fall at the end of the season, Falk has proved capable of shredding quality defenses at various points in his career. He has that potential to do that next year, too.
Of course, despite losing a bevy of defensive stars to the pros, the Huskies will still field a potential conference-champion roster. ESPN ranked Washington eighth in its “Way too early top 25” earlier in this week, and if star defensive tackle Vita Vea returns for his junior season (which is looking more and more likely), then the Huskies will be that much tougher.
But ESPN ranked Washington State No. 23 in that same piece, and for good reason. Yes, the Cougs lose receivers Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, but they return their top three rushers, three starters on the offensive line, and receiver Tavares Martin Jr. — who tallied 728 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches last year.
Does Washington State have a lot more to prove than Washington? Yes. The Cougs struggled against quality teams last year while the Huskies proved themselves to be among the nation’s best. But does the possibility exist for Wazzu to foil UW’s plans for a second straight Pac-12 North title? Absolutely.
It doesn’t matter if you bleed purple and gold or gray and crimson — it’s always more entertaining when both your team and your rival are at the top of the standings. Falk’s return makes that scenario all the more likely.
So be prepared for intriguing seasons from both schools and a potentially classic Apple Cup. Can’t say for sure that it’s going to be great, but man … it really could be.