By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Steve Sarkisian wasn’t taking any of the bait on Monday afternoon.
Apple Cup jokes?
No, he hasn’t really heard any.
Washington State’s struggles in the first year under head coach Mike Leach?
“They’re in a transition year,” the University of Washington football coach said with a shrug. “I understand that.”
Well, what about the obvious discrepancy in the way these two teams are playing heading into Friday’s Apple Cup game in Pullman?
“The records don’t matter,” Sarkisian said. “This is Washington versus Washington State. Records haven’t mattered — they won’t next year, the year after and the year after.”
Ah, yes. Rivalry week. When the only thing higher than emotions is the cliche quotient.
It’s an easy fallback this week, when the high-flying Huskies, winners of four consecutive games and on their way to a bowl game for the third year in a row, face a struggling WSU program that’s just trying to get through the season without providing the national media with any more fodder.
The Cougars (2-9 overall, 0-8 in the Pacific-12 Conference) have fallen short of expectations again while reaching new lows — things that seem to have become annual rites for WSU football. Controversy has followed Leach from his previous stop at Texas Tech. Things got so bad two weeks ago that the team’s best player, receiver Marquess Wilson, accused Leach and his assistants of physical and emotional abuse after he quit the team.
As the rivalry-week cliches will remind us all, none of that matters this week.
“We’re all pretty intense about beating the Huskies,” WSU defensive back Deonne Bucannon said during a Sunday press conference in Pullman.
The Huskies are also motivated, as they always are against their cross-state rivals. Despite a 3-0 record against WSU in his three seasons at UW, and the Cougars’ obvious struggles this season, Sarkisian expects a competitive game Friday.
And he can’t wait to be standing in Martin Stadium for the nationally-televised game.
“As you guys (in the media) well know, I love the pageantry of college football, the excitement that surrounds college football,” he said. “And any time you get these in-state rivalry games at the end of the year, that’s what college football is all about. So to be part of my fourth Apple Cup and for our guys is an honor.”
WSU’s Leach will be making his Apple Cup debut. He said during a Sunday press conference that he’s excited about the rivalry game.
“I’m kind of looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve seen it on TV for years. It’s a really impressive rivalry, and it has been for decades.”
Sarkisian said “it probably won’t take long” for Leach to realize just how big this rivalry is in the state of Washington.
“It didn’t take me long (to learn) that this is a big game,” said Sarkisian, who came to UW from USC before the 2009 season. “It’s a big game for a lot of reasons. Coach Leach has been in a lot of big games before — rivalry games at Texas Tech, when he was (an assistant) at Oklahoma and things of that nature. So I think he already knows.”