It’s time to reboot the Apple Cup. The last tumultuous decade of post-Thanksgiving game rivalry between Washington and Washington State has got this columnist smoking.
This time can best be called the Petersen-Leach era. It all started with Mike Leach’s first Apple Cup, his only victory in the stunning overtime thriller. It ended with the remnants of UW’s coaching staff, Chris Petersen, watching the worst UW loss in rivalry history, while then-WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura reached the zenith of his position in the eyes of WSU fans by planting the Cougar flag in the center. Husky Stadium.
(De Laura’s good reputation was short-lived, but that’s another story.)
Between those two WSU wins, the Apple Cup lived in Seattle long enough to get his degree and go to law school. Some of the best teams the Cougars have ever fielded matched up with some of the best Huskies teams, and UW’s stellar defenses seemed almost purpose-built to stop the Air Raid onslaught.
This UW dominance overshadows a key aspect of the era: Those Apple Cups were big games that mattered a lot to the Pac-12 championship run and sometimes college football playoffs. Bragging rights are in order; the bowl of rights is better.
Before UW took a 28-3 lead in the first quarter, the 2016 edition was touted as one of the biggest rivalry games, with the winner heading towards the Pac-12 championship game and a potential playoff spot for the Huskies. It was much the same in 2018, with No. 7 WSU nurturing their playoff hopes before playing No. 16 UW, with each team vying for a spot in the conference championship game.
These games were the most significant Apple Cup. The Apple Cup is a serious rivalry due to school differences and alumni similarities, but more often than not, one team is just trying to play spoiler. Despite the huge success of UW, the past decade has been the golden era of the Apple Cup.
This is something that will be lost if UW is successful in its efforts to join USC and UCLA in their quest for the Big Ten. Intra-family, inter-office disdain for cross-Cascade rivalry is a big part of college football culture in this state, and it would be worse for UW fans if the Cougars were no longer around.
Saturday’s game marks the first fight of a new era – the fight between Jake Dickert and Calen DeBoer. Although Dickert was interim head coach during last year’s Apple Cup win, this is the first year for every individual as the undisputed leader of their program. There are indications that there will be many matches between the offensive-minded Deboer and Dickert’s defense.
The new coaches changed the identity of their program. Now WSU comes into play, topping the Pac-12 in defensive scoring, while the Husky has the best passing in the league. Complete inversion of the Leach-Petersen era.
Just this week, UW extended its freshman coach’s contract for two seasons and gave him a million-dollar raise in recognition of his quick program execution. Dickert, who also had no chance of winning with the Cougars in his first season, should probably be promoted and renewed in the next year or so.
The bookmakers expect an even game with a two-point advantage for UW. Let’s hope they’re right. Regardless of who wins, a close, bitter fight in which each team believes they’ve outmaneuvered the other, with both sides blaming the referees, is just what this rivalry needs as it begins its new chapter.