BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 11/24/2016

Apple Cup: Train wreck to classic in eight years

Only eight years ago, the Apple Cup featured 0-10 Washington vs. 1-10 Washington State. Now, the two schools are nationally ranked, rare in Apple Cup history.

Myles Gaskin and Jake Browninh  shared a moment in last year’s Apple Cup win at Husky Stadium./ Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The 101st Apple Cup, foisted upon the public eight years ago this week, wasn’t so much a rivalry game as it was contest to determine which of the participants was the least horrible. Oddsmakers favored Washington by six, which normally would have prompted Washington State to file a formal complaint since the Huskies were 0-10 and hadn’t won in more than a year. Except . . . at 1-10, the Cougars hardly had reason to preen.

The question as kickoff neared: What would happen when two offenses, both ranked among the bottom 10 in the nation, faced two defenses both ranked among the bottom 10 in the country? Not an easy thing to figure.

Washington stood 110th in total offense among 119 teams. Washington State ranked 118th. The Huskies ranked 110th in total defense and 116th in scoring defense. The Cougars were 112th in total defense and 118th in scoring defense.

In the 17 team stat categories then maintained by the NCAA, Washington ranked 106th or lower in 15. WSU ranked 104th or lower in 14. It made for such epic badness that one Spokane wag suggested both programs deserved the death penalty.

Another thing: The Huskies and Cougars had been outscored by a combined 776-224.

Pressed during a pre-game press gaggle on the lameness of the 101st Apple Cup, Washington coach Tyrone Willingham had little to say, hardly a surprise since Willingham never really said anything even when he had something to say. But on Monday of game week he conjured up this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “When a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michaelangelo painted.”

Reporters unanimously wondered: WTF?

First-year WSU head coach Paul Wulff didn’t take Willingham’s philosophical route.

“Dogs bark, Cougars hunt and kill,” Wulff opined in the da Vinci moment of his time in Pullman.

Oddsmakers looked good at halftime, certainly better than Huskies and Cougars. With a 10-0 edge, Washington led for the first time in the 2008 season. But UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch couldn’t extend the good fortune. The Cougars rallied to force overtime, then forced a second one, and won 16-13 on a 37-yard field goal by Nico Grasu, who has yet to be inducted in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.

So Washington managed only 13 points — and needed two overtimes to do it — against the first defense in college football history to allow more than 60 points four times in a season (66 to Cal, 63 to Oregon, 66 to Oregon State, 69 to USC).

Then, by losing to California 48-7 two weeks later, the Huskies finished 0-12, their first winless year since 1890. The Cougars failed to sustain their Apple Cup momentum, such as it was, dropping their finale to Hawaii 24-10 to finish 2-11.

Both programs seemed to have been swallowed by an inescapable black hole.

But no. Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Willingham, launched a faster-than-expected rebuild. When Sarkisian finally got the Huskies to nine wins in 2013, he cashed out and went to USC, setting up the Chris Petersen era. WSU stuck with Wulff for three more forgettable seasons before replacing him with Mike Leach, a perfect move for Pullman.

As the 109th Apple Cup nears (Friday, 12:30 PT, FOX), it is illuminating to view the arc the two schools have taken since that throwdown between uglies in 2008.

Washington from then to now

Year Coach Record Skinny
2008 T. Willingham 0-12 Huskies outscored 463-159; Willingham fired
2009 Steve Sarkisian 5-7 Biggest win: 16-13 over Southern Cal in Seattle
2010 Steve Sarkisian 7-6 Shocked No. 18 Nebraska in Holiday Bowl 19-7
2011 Steve Sarkisian 7-6 Allowed record 467 points, lost Alamo Bowl 67-56
2012 Steve Sarkisian 7-6 Beat ranked teams No. 8 Stanford, No. 7 Ore. St.
2013 Steve Sarkisian 9-4 Won Apple Cup, beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl
2014 Chris Petersen 8-6 Won Apple Cup, lost to Okla. St. in Cactus Bowl
2015 Chris Petersen 7-6 Won Apple Cup, won Heart of Dallas Bowl
2016 Chris Petersen 10-1 Peterson 2-0 vs. Mike Leach in Apple Cup

After a 5-7 first year in 2009, when UW fans began the chant, “Bark For Sark!” Sarkisian needed only two seasons to get the Huskies into a bowl game. No NCAA school ever went from 0-12 to a bowl game faster. Petersen, like Don James four decades earlier, needed three years to produce a nationally elite program.

The Cougars didn’t recover nearly as fast. It required four years for the Cougars to become bowl eligible (2013) and seven to finish with a winning record (9-4, 2015). This was their slog:

Washington State from then to now

Year Coach Record Skinny
2008 Paul Wulff 2-11 Gave up 66 to Cal, 63 to Oregon, 69 to USC
2009 Paul Wulff 1-11 Allowed 40 or more 6 times, lost to Huskies 30-0
2010 Paul Wulff 2-10 Ripped 65-17 in opener (Okla. St.), lost to UW 35-28
2011 Paul Wulff 4-8 Finished 2-7 in Pac-12, lost Apple Cup 38-21
2012 Mike Leach 3-9 Won two of first three, then 8-game losing streak
2013 Mike Leach 6-7 Lost Apple Cup 27-17, botched New Mexico Bowl
2014 Mike Leach 3-9 Regressed from previous year, lost Apple Cup 31-13
2015 Mike Leach 9-4 Lost Apple Cup 45-10, beat Miami in Sun Bowl
2016 Mike Leach 8-3 Cougars assured of third bowl game under Leach

The consensus seems to be that Apple Cup 109 could be the greatest ever contested. Washington is 10-1, WSU 8-3. Both are nationally ranked, UW sixth in the Associated Press poll, fifth in the coaches, WSU 23rd in both. The winner earns a spot in the Pac-12 title game in Santa Clara, CA Dec. 2.

The Huskies are again the favorite, ironically by the same spread – six points – with which they entered that brutal game in 2008.

The Huskies and Cougars have engaged 108 times since 1900, when the rivalry launched with a 5-5 tie at Athletic Park in Seattle, but have met only 36 times with both schools featurd more wins than losses. Since the first year it happened, 1907, there have been many corkers with much riding on the outcome, such as:

  • 1942: The Cougars needed a win to clinch a share of the conference title, but the Huskies played them to a 0-0 tie, spoiling WSU’s season.
  • 1981: The Huskies and Cougars entered the Apple Cup with the Rose Bowl on the line. Washington won 23-10.
  • 1982: The Huskies needed a win to reach the Rose Bowl, but the Cougars knocked them off 24-20, sending UW to the Aloha Bowl.
  • 1983: Washington again needed a win to reach the Rose Bowl, but the Cougars stunned the Huskies 17-6 in Seattle.
  • 1997: Cougars needed a win at Husky Stadium to clinch their first Rose Bowl appearance in 67 years — and got it, 41-35.
  • 2002: Ranked No. 3 in both polls, the Cougars needed a win to clinch the Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, but the Huskies won 29-26 in triple overtime. In the post-game melee at Martin Stadium, UW athletic director Barbara Hedges nearly had her head split open by a flying bottle.

While the Huskies and Cougars have battled 36 times with both as winning teams, and while the Huskies have been ranked in many years when the Cougars were not, the schools have met only six times with both sporting national rankings (Friday is the seventh). The first occurred in 1936 when the Associated Press introduced weekly national rankings. The six games:

Year Location Matchup Result
1936 Seattle No. 6 UW (6-1-1) vs. No. 20 WSU (6-0-1) UW 40-0
1972 Spokane No. 17 UW (8-2-0) at. No. 20 WSU (6-4-0) WSU 27-10
1981 Seattle No. 14 WSU (8-1-1) at No. 17 UW (8-2-0) UW 23-10
1992 Pullman No. 5 UW (9-1-0) at No. 25 WSU WSU 42-23
1997 Seattle No. 11 WSU (9-1-0) at No. 17 UW (7-3-0) WSU 41-35
2001 Seattle No. 9 WSU (9-1-0) at No. 16 UW (7-2-0) UW 26-14
2016 Pullman No. 6 UW (10-1-0) at No. 23 WSU (8-3-0) TBD

With both teams ranked, the series is tied 3-3. And if you want a game that looks a lot like this year’s, set the Wayback Machine to Nov. 21, 1992.

Washington entered as the No. 5 team in the AP poll. This year, UW is No. 6. The Cougars entered at No. 25. This year, they’re No. 23. That’s a 20-place difference in the AP rankings in 1992 vs. an 18-place difference this year, pretty much a wash. The 1992 game was played in Pullman, site of this year’s clash.

At 9-1, the 1992 Huskies were an outside contender for a national championship. Ditto for the 2016 Huskies, fifth in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. The 1992 Cougars were coming off a loss. So are the 2016 Cougars. The 1992 Huskies entered as a seven-point pick. The 2016 Huskies are a six-point pick.

Entering the 1992 game, Washington had beaten the Cougars three consecutive times. Washington’s current winning streak against WSU: three games.

The 1992 Pullman weather forecast: Light rain, snow flurries possible. 2016: Light rain, snow flurries possible.

Of course, the game became the immortal “Snow Bowl” thanks to a near blizzard. Neither RB Napoleon Kaufman nor QB Mark Brunell of Washington could find traction on the snowy terrain. Kaufman ran for 51 yards, barely half his average, even with All-America OT Lincoln Kennedy blocking for him. Brunell completed 11 of 25 for a niggling 122 yards and had trouble locating receivers, especially TE Mark Bruener, amid the snowflakes.

But QB Drew Bledsoe (260 passing yards, two TDs), Shaumbe Wright-Fair (three TDs) and Philip Bobo found conditions ideal. Weeks away from becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft, Bledsoe made the signature play of his college career, a 44-yard rainbow to Bobo, who caught the ball and slid face-first into a snow bank behind the end zone.

Cougars 42, Huskies 23.

In case you’re wondering, Shakespeare’s The Tempest introduced the idea of past as prologue.


  • Paul Harmening

    History has a way of repeating itself. Since 2016 is almost an identical replica of 1992, well then…

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