Why this is the biggest Apple Cup in decades for Washington and Washington State
When college football fans discuss the best rivalries in the sport, most of the same games are brought up every single year. You know the ones I’m talking about. Ohio State-Michigan. Army-Navy. Auburn-Alabama.
Rarely is the Apple Cup – which pits Washington against Washington State – ever discussed in that same conversation. But as the teams get together Friday (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX), that could change, with an Apple Cup for the ages in 2016.
Just how big is this game? FOX Sports asked one of the most prominent voices in the Seattle sports media, and he didn’t hesitate in his answer.
“This is the biggest Apple Cup of my lifetime,” said Dave Mahler, host of the “Dave ‘Softy’ Mahler Show” daily from 3-6:30 p.m. PT in Seattle.
Frankly, it’s hard to argue with Mahler. Mainly because it’s hard (if not downright impossible) to find a game in the series when the stakes were as high for both teams.
Washington's narrative has been discussed at length over the past couple days.
With a victory, U-Dub would be Pac-12 North champs, setting up a showdown with Colorado or USC in the Pac-12 title game. If the Huskies win that game (which would come against a team ranked somewhere in the Top 12), it would give them one more compelling win to add to their resume, and it’d be hard to imagine a scenario in which they didn’t make the playoff. Even if it somehow missed the playoff, Washington’s consolation prize would be its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 2000.
Furthermore, winning out would prove another thing beyond a reasonable doubt: One of college football’s most historically great programs is officially “back.”
“For Husky fans like me, we’ve been waiting 16 years for something like this,” Mahler said. “There was a point in time during the Tyrone Willingham era where we thought this was gone forever. Would they ever recapture what they had in the '80s and '90s under Don James? There were some people that thought Washington would go the way of Minnesota, or go the way of SMU, or go the way of Army football and never be heard from again.”
While the stakes are astronomical for Washington, no one is discussing that they’re nearly as high for their cross-state rivals. Few have taken the time to consider that like Chris Petersen’s club, Wazzu has just one loss in league play. Win the Apple Cup, and not only would the Cougars knock their most hated rival out of the Pac-12 title and playoff mix, they would also earn the Pac-12 North title. And if they were to win next week, the Cougars would get their own trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl – something they haven’t done in over a decade themselves.
And when looking at Friday’s game through that lens, it’s hard to find a bigger Apple Cup in the history of the rivalry. Even if there have been more noteworthy games than the average fan realizes.
Mahler specifically referenced the 1981 Apple Cup, when the two teams entered the matchup ranked. Washington did enough to get a win and (thanks to other losses around them) clinch a Pac-10 title and spot in the Rose Bowl. In 1992, Drew Bledsoe led Wazzu to an upset over the defending national champion Washington in a game still known in the state as “The Snow Bowl.” And five years later Ryan Leaf beat the Huskies in a matchup of ranked clubs that resulted in the Cougars' first Rose Bowl berth in 67 years.
Still, none of those games had so much on the line for both teams in one meeting. On one side, you’ve got a shot at a Pac-12 title and potential national championship waiting. And for the other, its own conference title dreams and trip to a major bowl game for the first time in nearly two decades.
So yeah, the Apple Cup is huge. And like a lot of great rivalry games, the only thing greater than the joy of winning this game might be the agony of losing.
“For the loser to have to look at the other fan base for an entire year and have to deal with that [loss], it would be awful,” Mahler said. “Look, that’s the difference between Washington and Washington State and between like Michigan and Ohio State. We work with these people. We live with these people. Cougar and Husky fans are all in Seattle in the same town.”
He continued, raising the stakes for a game that needs no additional hype.
“So imagine having to go to work on Monday and having to look at the face of a Cougar fan rubbing it in, or a Husky fan rubbing it in,” Mahler said. “Either way for that fan base, it’s going to suck and it’s going to suck for a long-time.”