Is this the year the Cougs break through in the Apple Cup? Don't bet on it

click to enlarge Is this the year the Cougs break through in the Apple Cup? Don't bet on it
Young Kwak photo
All indications point to a Cougs win. And yet...

The Apple Cup rivalry took a weird turn this year, thanks to both UW and WSU firing their coaches midseason. Neither the Cougs' former coach Nick Rolovich nor the Huskies' Jimmy Lake ever got a chance to strut the sideline during the annual Thanksgiving weekend throwdown before being canned by their respective universities.

The duo were slated to face off with their teams as brand-new Pac-12 head coaches in 2020, but COVID scotched those plans. Then Rolovich was fired thanks to his anti-vax buffoonery, followed by Lake being fired a few weeks later for more mundane reasons like losing games and moneyed alumni support. Shoving a player on the sideline on national television didn't help.

So now football fans in Pullman, Seattle and points in between are left with two programs in some disarray. We have two interim coaches in WSU's Jake Dickert and UW's Bob Gregory (a Spokane native, and Coug alum!), and an Apple Cup Friday that isn't anything like what fans thought it would look like at season's start. And yet, you can bet the state's TVs will be focused on the game come 5 pm Friday.

That's because rivalries in sports aren't necessarily based on a history of competitive games. One need look no further than the Apple Cup for proof.

The games? Rarely competitive, at least lately. Since 2000, the Huskies have won 15 of the Apple Cups to Washington State's five. Historically, UW holds a 74-32 edge. The teams have tied six times as well, which the Cougs should probably just consider wins given how things have been going on their side of the rivalry.

The Huskies and Cougs remain true rivals, though, thanks to being the two major state-run universities. The urban/rural differences of the respective campuses are delicious to contemplate. And as any hack sports writer (ahem) will note each year when the Apple Cup comes around, "Anything can happen in a rivalry game!"

I'm not so sure that's true. I moved to Spokane in 2014, and UW has won every Apple Cup since I've been here. The games haven't been particularly close. UW has a seven-game Apple Cup winning streak, and a 10-point win in 2013 was the closest game in that run.

The only thing as consistent as the Huskies throttling the Cougs has been the feeling leading up to the game in recent years that maybe, just maybe, THIS year is when WSU flips the script. During WSU's Mike Leach era, the Cougs would often be riding high, only to be ground into dust by UW under former Husky coach Chris Peterson. Peterson was 6-0 in Apple Cups in his tenure, Leach 1-7.

Once again, circumstances are conspiring to make it seem like the Cougs might win. UW has lost to anyone decent they've played. WSU, on the other hand, has turned a poor start to the season into a solid run toward bowl eligibility and potential Pac-12 North crown under Dickert's guidance (if WSU wins and Oregon State beats Oregon Saturday).

If I were a betting man (and I totally am), I'd look seriously at taking the Cougs Friday. But then I remember I'm also a man who does his research, and that seven-game Huskies winning streak speaks volumes. So rather than throwing away money, I'll wait 'til next year, when both teams will have new coaches, and see if recent history changes course. ♦

Apple Cup 2021 will be played at 5 pm Friday, Nov. 26, on Fox Sports 1.

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...