What a difference a year makes! Or does it?
Last fall when Washington State and Washington matched up for the Apple Cup in Seattle, both teams were ranked in the Top 25. The Cougars just needed a win to head to the Pac-12 championship game representing the conference's North Division, while the Huskies were there to play spoiler and kill their cross-state rivals' chance to win a conference title.
Fast-forward to Apple Cup 2018 and if you have a sense of déjà vu, you're not alone. The Cougs' have a new superstar quarterback in Heisman candidate Gardner Minshew, the graduate transfer of the noteworthy mustache and welcome swagger. And they have a pack of new assistant coaches, an annual feature of head coach Mike Leach's tenure in Pullman. But once again, the Cougs find themselves simply needing a win — a home win, no less — against UW to find themselves in the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 1 in Santa Clara. A win there (and some upsets across the country) could even get the Cougs into the national championship playoffs.
On the opposite sideline, Washington finds itself — much like in 2017 — disappointed to be out of the national championship talk after a rough season (when your expectations are as high as UW's each year, an 8-3 record going into the Apple Cup is "disappointing"). If the Huskies can beat WSU, though, they'll propel themselves into the Pac-12 championship game and set themselves up for a chance to play in the Rose Bowl — not a bad consolation prize.
Let's break down the possibilities:
COUGS WIN IF...
Gardner Minshew is who we think he is — a gun-slinging, cold-blooded quarterback who's having fun on the field and isn't afraid of the big moments. As good as Minshew's predecessor was, Luke Falk never stepped up and had a huge game against UW, but the man noted for looking like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite will need to do just that to win in his only Apple Cup appearance. The Cougs are decent running the ball, but their passing game carried them all season, and it will have to do so again. On the other side of the ball, new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has been impressive in his first year and will need to hold the Huskies in check better than the Cougs have in recent years.
HUSKIES WIN IF...
The Huskies continue to own real estate in Mike Leach's head alongside his pirate fantasies and Trump talking points. As good as the Cougs have been against virtually everyone else in the conference in the Leach era, the Huskies seem to have the secret to slowing down his "Air Raid" offense. In the past five Apple Cups, WSU hasn't topped 17 points. If Huskies senior quarterback Jake Browning and senior running back Myles Gaskin have good days, and UW's defense plays the way it has the last few years against the Cougs, it could be a long night for Leach and his team.
Last year we predicted Leach and Co. would break through in Seattle, only to witness the Cougs get smoked 41-14, making it five straight Apple Cup wins for the Huskies. Oops. Leach is 1-5 in the rivalry game, while UW head coach Chris Peterson has yet to lose in his four Apple Cups. But we believe in the power of the Minshew mustache, and the power of a Thanksgiving-fattened home crowd having the energy to make a difference on a cold night in Pullman. Besides, the Cougs have to win one of these big games eventually, right?♦
Tale of the Tape: Napoleon Dynamite's Uncle Rico vs. WSU's Gardner Minshew
UNCLE RICO: Throws footballs out in the middle of a wheat field.
GARDNER MINSHEW: Ditto.
UNCLE RICO: Obviously cares about the way he looks. (Thanks Deb!)
GARDNER MINSHEW: Duh, check out the 'stache.
UNCLE RICO: Experiments unsuccessfully with time travel.
GARDNER MINSHEW: Appears to have successfully time traveled from 1975. (Again, check out the 'stache.)
UNCLE RICO: Lives a life of regret over coach not putting him in for the fourth quarter at state.
GARDNER MINSHEW: Almost got a life of regret for sitting out the big game by becoming a backup at Alabama.
UNCLE RICO: Says that back in '82 he could throw a pigskin a quarter-mile.
GARDNER MINSHEW: Has actually thrown a pigskin almost 2.5 miles (4,325 yards), farther than any other quarterback in the NCAA including (by 1,500 yards) the guy he would have backed up at Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa. Who's the Heisman favorite again?
— TED S. McGREGOR