Another late November rivalry game and a pair of Washington schools without any shot at postseason play.
Its become an all-too-familiar theme for the annual Apple Cup, which hasnt included a bowl contender in four years. The University of Washington and Washington State University will play the 102nd installment of the rivalry with nothing but pride on the line ... again.
I dont think the game itself, its so important that theres going to be a bowl game after it or not, said WSU coach Paul Wulff, who brings the 1-10 Cougars to Husky Stadium this Saturday. The game is what it is. Its the Apple Cup. Its a great rivalry game, and thats all that really matters.
Both programs are rebuilding, and when youre rebuilding, thats what happens; youre probably not going to bowl games.
The Cougars and Huskies have a combined record of 4-17, which marks only the third time since 1947 that the two teams have had four or fewer combined wins heading into the annual game. UWs four-game losing streak is overshadowed only slightly by WSUs eight-game slide. Since September, the two teams have a combined record of 1-12.
Despite it all, the personalities on both sides of the rivalry say there will be a lot on the line when the two schools go to battle this Saturday at Husky Stadium.
Seasons as a whole, you work toward bowl games and getting in the big bowl games. But at the same time, there are other things youre working for as a team, said Fred Wiggs, a reserve linebacker for the Huskies. Youre going to take some lumps along the way, even though you wouldnt like to.
Winning an Apple Cup is a satisfaction in itself. Its good to have that victory in your own stadium.
WSUs Wulff is confident that both programs will eventually get on track. But for now, theyre still rebuilding.
Were in a cycle, he said. It wasnt that long ago when Washington State was winning lots of games and going to bowls. And prior to that, Washington was. Its still a great game. Its a great environment, and its a lot of fun.
In September, it looked as if this might be a year of quick turnaround for the Huskies (3-7). Washington snapped a 15-game losing streak with a win over Idaho, then shocked third-ranked USC to improve to 2-1 and earn a national ranking of No. 23.
But UW went on to lose six of its next seven games, with the only victory coming on a fluke interception return touchdown to beat Arizona on Oct. 10.
No one has been more surprised with the Huskies recent fall than first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, who fully believed that UW could be a bowl contender this season.
There is no scientific formula that says this is how long it takes, Sarkisian said. You just battle and you keep fighting and when all the stars align, good things happen.
The Cougars have been stuck in the mud since the beginning of the season. Their lone win came in a double-overtime thriller in September. Since then, WSU has gone on to lose eight games by an average margin of almost 31 points.
Wulff said during last weeks Pac-10 conference call that he realized a few months after his December 2007 hiring that the Cougars might take a few lumps early on. Even though he has a 3-20 record in just under two seasons as head coach at WSU, Wulff believes the Cougars are on track for bigger things.
This hasnt surprised me at all, he said. I knew the direction we needed to take, and that was to bring in great high school kids and add bodies into the program. And weve done that. Theyre only going to get better and better as they get more playing time.
With a two-game winning streak in the annual cross-state rivalry, the Cougars might enter this week with more confidence than theyve had in awhile.
But neither program is feeling very good right about now. And thats been the story of the Apple Cup in recent Novembers.
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