So much at stake.
For the Washington Huskies, the season comes down to the Apple Cup – and a little skirmish between Oregon and Oregon State.
Who could have predicted? Although the preseason media poll tabbed Washington to win the Pacific-10 Conference championship, that was before it was determined that wideout Chris Juergens would miss the season with a knee condition. It was before it was known that Paul Arnold’s back would plague him all season. It was before strong safety Curtis Williams would injure his spinal cord and have to have his injured vertebrae fused this week so he could be transported into a rehabilitation facility.
And it was certainly before anyone saw Washington pull off Houdinis again and again, snatching victories by coming from behind in all but one of its nine victories, five after being behind in the fourth quarter.
Hollywood studios, as they would the 2000 presidential election, would reject a script to this season for being utterly preposterous.
Yet, the Huskies are only part of the story of a riveting Pac-10 season.
Just look south to Corvallis, Ore.
It was thought that Dennis Erickson had a nice little program going, one that could sneak into a bowl game by using a pass-happy spread offense, Mike Riley’s foundation of recruits and a little luck. When the Beavers barely scratched out a win over Eastern Washington in the season opener, it looked as though they’d need more than a little luck.
Yet, SHAZAM! Say OSU beats Oregon. Say WSU pulls another in a series of upsets on Washington. Oregon State, once the Homer Simpson of college football, goes to Pasadena.
Either way, whether heart-stopping Washington or up-and-coming OSU go, it’s simply great stuff.
So who needs Hollywood?
Here’s a look at Saturday’s games.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium, Pullman.
TV, radio: FSN (cable), KOMO radio (1000 AM), KJR radio (950 AM).
Stars to watch: Washington – Quarterback Marques Tuiasospopo has been running the option to near-perfection. The Huskies picked up 349 rushing yards against UCLA last weekend. The tailbacks are hurt. Paul Arnold (back) and Willie Hurst (collarbone) are out and Rich Alexis has a sprained shoulder. He’ll play, but how effective he’ll be comes into question. Coach Rick Neuheisel said both Braxton Cleman and little-used freshman Sean Sweat figure to see action. Tight end Jerramy Stevens has 42 receptions, a school record for that position. Wideout Todd Elstrom makes difficult catches routine and routine catches difficult. On defense, nose tackle Larry Tripplett is having an all-conference year. Linebacker Derrell Daniels and strong safety Hakim Akbar have been stellar.
Washington State – Freshman quarterback Matt Kegel is making his second start ever, replacing Jason Gesser, who broke his tibia two weeks ago. Milton Wynn and Marcus Williams are fine wideouts who have 81 receptions between them. Dave Minnich and Deon Burnett have been splitting the tailback duties, although coach Mike Price said Minnich is getting the nod against Washington. Safety Billy Newman has four interceptions. Defensive end Austin Matson, a Cascade High School grad, has battled leg injuries, but still has five tackles for loss.
Breaking down the game: Washington will look to grind it out on offense and harass Kegel on defense with pressure off multiple looks. The Cougars will want to burn the Huskies with the big play, as UCLA was successful at with wideout Brian Poli-Dixon.
Bottom line: Although anything can happen in this rivalry, and has, Washington has repeatedly shown a startling ability to find a way to win. Coug fans will look at the 1982 and 1983 games as times WSU knocked the Huskies out of Rose Bowl contention, but this team has a far different makeup.
Pick: Washington, 37-34.
Oregon at Oregon State: We’d pay to see this one, but we probably couldn’t get a ticket. While the Ducks have been playing barely well enough to win, the Beavers have been the best team in the conference the past month. Not only that, but Oregon’s defense simply doesn’t play well away from blaring Autzen Stadium. It’s difficult to deduce how the defense is going to deal with the Beavers’ one-back offense, which has scored at least 30 points in eight straight games. Pick: Oregon State, 38-35.
USC at UCLA: If Paul Hackett’s fate wasn’t sealed before, it was in the Trojans’ home loss to Washington State last week. Hard to figure what they did with all that talent, but it seems to be an annual mystery. The Bruins are getting healthy and have too many weapons to show USC. The only hope for the Trojans is in their ground game, in which Sultan McCullough tests UCLA’s young front that was exposed by Washington. Pick: UCLA, 28-20.
Stanford at Cal: Toss a coin on this one, although the Cardinal is coming off an impressive win over a directionless Arizona State team. Still, Stanford played Washington and UCLA tough and seems to be finishing a disappointing season on an up note. Pick: Stanford, 24-21.
Florida at Florida State: We don’t doubt that Steve Spurrier is a great coach, but we can’t fathom why he survives his method of messing with the heads of his quarterbacks. The latest is the soap opera with senior Jesse Palmer and redshirt freshman Rex Grossman, neither of whom have nailed down the position. But it may be moot. Spurrier has never won in Tallahassee, where the Seminoles have won 51 straight. Make it 52. Pick: Florida State, 38-17.
Michigan at Ohio State: One of the nation’s great rivalries is playing for a berth in the (huh??) Florida Citrus Bowl. Oh, sure, Purdue could choke at home against Indiana and send the winner of this one to the Rose Bowl (although the Wolverines need both Purdue to lose and Northwestern to fall to Illinois). But it won’t. OSU quarterback Steve Bellisari, much improved over the year, can burn Michigan’s young secondary. Pick: Ohio State, 31-24.
UTEP at TCU: Has anyone noticed that these two have just three defeats between them? TCU already has accepted an invitation to the Mobile Alabama Bowl. The best matchup: The Miners’ offense, which averages 34 points a game, against the Horned Frogs’ defense, which gives up a nation-leading 9.4 points a game. Pick: TCU, 27-21.
South Carolina at Clemson: Coming off a disappointing defeat to Florida, the Gamecocks still are looking at a berth in the Florida Citrus Bowl. Clemson already is going to the Gator Bowl, so motivation may be lacking. Pick: South Carolina, 20-13.
Sleeper pick of the day: Syracuse 28, Miami 27.