BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 11/24/2017

Leach rips CFP ahead of Saturday’s Apple Cup

Saturday will mark only the eighth time since 1936 that UW and WSU will face each other as AP-ranked foes. Also: Mike Leach this week delivered an epic rant against the CFP.

Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe delivered one of the signature performances in Apple Cup history in 1992 when he led the Cougars to a 42-23 win in a Pullman blizzard. / David Eskenazi Collection

Since the Associated Press introduced college football rankings in 1936, Washington and Washington State have faced each other 79 times (they did not meet in the war years of 1943 and 1944). The Huskies have won 51, including the past four in a row (the teams tied twice). Of the 79, only eight rivalry games have had both teams ranked by AP as they are this year.

It happened in 1936, the first year, and it happened in 2016. It also will happen Saturday when the No. 14 Cougars face the No. 15 Huskies. The Cougars have the same record (9-2, 6-2) as Washington, beat South Division champion USC, which UW didn’t play, and also toppled Stanford, which UW could not do. And yet, WSU is a 10-point underdog.

“Washington is a good team, a real good team,” WSU Coach Mike Leach said this week. “They’ve had a good defense for a while. They’re good against the pass and good against the run. They’ve got some skill guys that are real fast.  They’re real athletic and run to the ball well.”

If the Cougars win, they advance to the Pac-12 title game opposite the Trojans. No matter the championship outcome, the conference won’t get a berth in the four-team national playoffs as determined by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Both are too far behind in the CFP rankings – USC is 11th, WSU 13th – to make it to the final four.

That topic sent Leach off on a colorful, mocking rant against the system.

“What hurts our conference is the mind-numbingly, short-sighted notion that four teams in a playoff somehow establishes something, and that it’s a very clever approach,” Leach began.

“It’s such a brilliant approach, that’s why everybody does it that way. I mean, really, nobody does it that way. I mean, if we’re so smart, wouldn’t all the other sports say, ‘You know what? Let’s have a committee. You know, ’cause why not? We’re America and we love committees. Let’s get us a committee. Well, who should be on the committee? Well, I don’t know. This guy’s a good guy. Let’s have him on the committee.’”

“Look, there are people on the committee that don’t have the remotest association with football, nor do they know anything about football other than being a fan (he didn’t mention former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, by name anyway).

“But you know what, let’s have them on a committee. Why not? It would be fun. We’d go to a resort. We could talk, we could hang out at dinner. And then we’ll decide which four teams could go. ‘Cause you know why? We don’t need to solve this on the field. ‘Cause we’re the ones that know.

“If we’re going to do it that way, we should just ask the committee at the beginning of the season to go ahead and vote on it then. Why even have the games? To me, that’s not a playoff. There’s nothing playoff about it. How can you call it a playoff when there are four teams, and conference champions don’t even necessarily make the playoffs.

“And you know why? Because the committee knows better. We ought to have an extended playoff system just like everybody else. This isn’t re-inventing the wheel.

“We could copy the NFL. We could copy Division II. We could copy 1-AA, or whatever that division is because they changed all the initials so they could confuse everybody. But now we’ve got a committee because we don’t have anything better to do than have a committee. We could copy a lot of things. But, no, screw it, let’s just have a committee.

“If I were running it, we’d have 64 teams in the playoffs. But you have to have at least 16 to have any credibility. Even if we made the playoff, I would still think the same thing.”

Leach has a point about expansion increasing the field’s legitimacy, but the FBS has 130 members. Putting half in the playoffs means cutting regular season games, or stretching the season from mid-August to mid-January. And it probably would put out of business a number of second- and third-tier bowl games, which no one would miss except university presidents who use bowl trips to make nice with donors.

Meanwhile, back at the game, Leach beat the Huskies in his first year (2012) at WSU, but hasn’t won since. The losing streak doesn’t seem to weigh on him.

“I look at this one the same way I do all of them,” Leach said the Apple Cup. “It’s a great opportunity to play a great game against a great opponent. They’ve been good every year I’ve been here.  We’ve played a lot of challenging teams this year and Washington is another one.”

These are the eight games with both teams ranked. Washington won five.

Year Matchup / AP Ranks Result Skinny
1936 6 UW vs. 20 WSU UW 40-0 UW then lost Rose Bowl to Pitt, 21-0
1972 17 UW vs. 20 WSU WSU 27-10 Cougars pick off Sixkiller 3 times
1981 17 UW vs. 14 WSU UW 23-10 UW earns Rose Bowl, denies WSU same
1992 5 UW vs. 25 WSU WSU 42-23 Bledsoe, Bobo win Pullman Snow Bowl
1997 17 UW vs. 11 WSU WSU 41-35 Ryan Leaf leads WSU to Rose Bowl
2001 16 UW vs. 9 WSU UW 26-14 Reggie Williams 11 catches, 203 yards
2016 6 UW vs. 23 WSU UW 45-17 Jake Browning 3 TDs in first 15 minutes
2017 15 UW vs. 14 WSU TBD WSU: No wins in Seattle since 2007

The 110th Apple Cup will also mark three significant anniversaries in a rivalry that dates to 1900: 10 years since Washington State’s last win in Seattle, 20 since the Cougars also won on Montlake to reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years, and 25 since WSU and UW played one of the more memorable games in the series, now referred to as the Snow Bowl.

Washington entered each contest as the favorite, including 1997 when the Cougars were six-point underdogs despite holding the higher AP ranking. But in each case, the Cougars pulled off the upset.

Nov. 21, 1992: WSU 42-23

Numerous Apple Cup quarterbacks have thrown for more yards than the 260 Bledsoe had against the Huskies, including Bledsoe himself. But no quarterback had a better game under such adverse conditions.

In a snowstorm at Martin Stadium that was also accompanied by swirling gusts, Bledsoe completed 18 of 30 passes including a pair of touchdown passes, and led the Cougars to victory over a Rose Bowl-bound Washington team.

Shaumbe Wright-Fair ran for 193 yards and three TDs as the Cougars shellacked the defending national champions 42-23. Said Bledsoe in 2002: “That’s still my most favorite game I’ve played in.”

Washington State finished 9-3 after defeating Utah 31-28 in the Copper Bowl in Tucson. Washington lost the Rose Bowl to Michigan 38-31 in the final game for coach Don James.

Nov. 22, 1997: WSU 41, UW 35

Washington State entered as a six-point underdog despite a 9-1 record, and beat the Huskies for the first time in three years, earning their first Rose Bowl berth in 67 years. Even better for the Cougars, they were able to celebrate the Pasadena trip at Husky Stadium.

WSU QB Ryan Leaf decimated Washington, throwing for 358 yards and a pair of long-distance touchdowns., and the Cougar defense intercepted five passes, three by freshman Lamont Thompson.

After the game, Cougar fans celebrated on the Husky Stadium turf for an hour, a party that included an emphatic tearing down the UW goalposts. Said WSU Coach Mike Price: “This football team will be remembered for a hundred years.”

Nov. 24, 2007: WSU 42, UW 35

QB Alex Brink threw for 399 yards and five touchdowns, the last a 35-yarder to WR Brandon Gibson with 31 seconds left, and Washington State (5-7, 3-6 Pac-10) came from behind to win the 100th Apple Cup.

Brink completed 27 of 40 in his 40th and final WSU start. He became the first Cougars quarterback to beat the Huskies three times, while setting a record for passing yards in an Apple Cup game. He finished his career fourth in Pac-10 history in passing yards.

Washington redshirt freshman QB Jake Locker returned from a neck injury to rush for 103 yards and two touchdowns, including a go-ahead, one-yard run that gave Washington (4-8, 2-7) a 35-28 lead with 12:18 remaining.

Under coach Tyrone Willingham, Washington finished 4-9 and failed to qualify for a bowl game for the fifth consecutive season. Washington State went 5-7 under Bill Doba and also did not play in a bowl game.


  • 3 Lions

    Leach is right. There needs to be a path from major conference championship to a 16 team playoff. The fans, players & coaches all want it. The rankings system is subjective garbage. Sports are meant to be decided on the field.

  • jafabian

    I love Coach Leach and I’m a long time Husky fan. He brings back memories of when Jim Walden coached the Cougs with some of his comments. It’ll never happen but it makes sense to me for a playoff system to be all the conference champions playing one another. It would make the conference championship games that much more meaningful and maybe teams would quit tacking on an additional game on their schedule which has been happening the past few years.