SEATTLE — With the way the University of Washington football team has been playing in recent weeks, it would take quite a sad sack opponent to be a huge underdog to the 3-7 Huskies.
The Washington State Cougars are just that team.
The early line on Saturday’s Apple Cup has UW, losers of six of its past seven games, as a 26-point favorite.
The role of heavy favorite is an unfamiliar one for the Huskies, who have a 4-19 record since the start of the 2008 season and have lost two consecutive Apple Cups.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian has a pretty simple message to his players, just in case they were thinking that the Cougars were an easy opponent.
“I just tell them that (the Cougars) are probably looking at us and saying the same thing,” he said Monday.
The Huskies lost four consecutive games before the weekend bye, and they’ve won only once since the Sept. 19 upset of USC.
When a national reporter asked Sarkisian on Monday whether there could be a chance that UW overlooks the Cougars, the first-year coach said: “Not a chance. Not a chance at all.”
Sarkisian and his players were careful not to fuel the Cougars’ fire on Monday — most them, anyway.
Huskies tight end Kavario Middleton told Q13 television that he doesn’t pay attention to pointspreads but added: “We plan on scoring at least 50. So we’re ready to go.”
As far as the pointspread goes for this year’s Apple Cup, Sarkisian isn’t taking anything for granted — not even the Cougars’ 1-10 record that includes eight consecutive losses by an average of nearly 31 points per game.
“The bottom line is that football’s shaped a certain way for a reason,” he said Monday. “You don’t always know which way it’s going to bounce. You don’t always know how a guy might get the ball popped out and stripped, a dropped pass, a tipped interception.
“It’s a crazy game. And that’s the beauty of it.”
Still a hater, but not as fervent
WSU coach Paul Wulff said during a Monday conference call that he had “a high dislike” of the Huskies when he was playing for the Cougars in the late 1980s.
But Wulff was unwilling to admit that he’s still filled with Husky hatred.
“As you get older, you realize where you’re at and the state of mind at that age,” he said Monday. “Even now, I’m a born-and-bred Cougar. And whenever there is a rivalry game, and it happens to be (against) Washington, I want to see the Cougars do really well.”
Wulff told he’ll be back
Wulff told Seattle-area reporters during a Monday conference call that he has been told he’ll be back at WSU next season, despite a 3-20 record in two-plus seasons as head coach.
“(Athletic director) Jim Sterk has come in and talked to our staff and is very reassuring about what we’re doing and very excited about how much work we’ve done and moving forward,” Wulff said. “It’s been outstanding.
“As we move into next year, you’re going to see a hugely-improved team, one of the most improved teams around. We’ve got all the ingredients to take a giant step as a team.”
Sarkisian said that two defensive starters still have not been cleared to play Saturday.
Defensive tackle Cameron Elisara continues to be limited by neck stingers that might keep him off the field for a third consecutive game. Linebacker E.J. Savannah is still trying to come back from a broken thumb.
Sarkisian added that freshman safety Nate Fellner, who has a partially-torn biceps, is likely to be available Saturday.
But the Huskies’ injury bug has nothing on WSU’s. The Cougars’ defense has been so ravaged by injuries that Wulff said this week he has just “11 or 12” players at his disposal on that side of the ball. He already moved junior receiver Easton Johnson to defense last week and said he could use receiver Colin Huemmer at safety Saturday.
The Cougars have yet to decide if freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel will be available for Saturday’s game. If he can’t play, Wulff said, Kevin Lopina would get the start.
Oak Harbor product Marshall Lobbestael, a sophomore, could see some action if Tuel is unavailable.
The Huskies have an all-time record of 64-31-6 in the UW-WSU rivalry, although the Cougars have a 4-1 record since 2004 and have a two-game winning streak. … The Huskies’ coaching staff includes a former Cougar in defensive line coach Johnny Nansen. “He’s been a part of this series, and I’m sure he’ll get plenty of razzing from the entire football team throughout the week,” Sarkisian said of his assistant.