It is time for an Apple Cup reset. The last whirlwind decade of the post-Thanksgiving rivalry games between Washington and Washington State has this columnist needing a smoke.
That time can best be thought of as the Petersen-Leach era. It kicked off with Mike Leach’s first Apple Cup – his only win in a stunning, come-from-behind, overtime thriller. It ended with the remnants of Chris Petersen’s UW coaching staff overseeing the worst UW loss in the history of the rivalry while then WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura reached the zenith of his standing in the eyes of WSU fans by planting a Cougar flag in the center of Husky Stadium.
(De Laura’s good standing was short lived, but that’s another tale.)
In between those two WSU victories, the Apple Cup lived in Seattle for long enough to get a degree and go to law school. Some of the best teams the Cougars have ever fielded coincided with some of the Huskies’ best, and the UW’s star-studded defenses seemed almost tailor-made to shut down the Air Raid offense.
That UW dominance overshadows a key aspect of the era: Those Apple Cups were big games with major implications on the Pac-12 title race and, occasionally, the college football playoffs. Bragging rights are fine; bowl rights are better.
Prior to UW jumping out to a 28-3 first-quarter lead, the 2016 edition was hyped as one of the rivalry’s biggest games with the winner headed to the Pac-12 championship game and a potential playoff berth on the line for the Huskies. In 2018, it was more of the same, with No. 7 WSU harboring its own playoff hopes ahead of the game with No. 16 UW and each team playing for a spot in the conference championship game.
These games were the Apple Cup at its most meaningful. The Apple Cup is a great rivalry because of the differences between the schools and the similarities of the alumni, but one in which more often than not one team is merely trying to play spoiler. Despite UW’s outsized success, the last decade was the Apple Cup’s golden era.
This is what will be lost if UW is successful in its reported attempts to join USC and UCLA in their flight to the Big Ten. The interfamily, interoffice disdain for the cross-Cascade rival is a big part of college football culture in this state, and UW fans would be worse off for not having the Cougars around anymore.
Saturday’s game marks the first bout of a new era – that of Jake Dickert and Kalen DeBoer. Though Dickert was interim head coach during last year’s Apple Cup win, this is each man’s first year as the undisputed leader of his program. Indications are that there will be many matchups between the offensive-minded DeBoer and Dickert’s defense.
The new coaches have flipped their program’s identities. Now it is WSU that enters the game ranked first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense while the Huskies have the league’s top passing offense. A complete inversion from the Leach-Petersen years.
Just this week, UW extended its first-year coach’s contract by two seasons and gave him a million-dollar raise in recognition for his quick turnaround of the program. Dickert, who likewise has the Cougars bowl-bound in his first season, is likely due for his own raise and extension in the next year or so.
The oddsmakers are expecting a close game, favoring UW by two points. Let’s hope they are right. Regardless of who wins, a close, highly contested affair in which each team believes it outplayed the other and both sides blame the refs is just what this rivalry needs at the start of its newest chapter.
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