So, how does it feel to be bowl eligible going into Apple Cup week, folks? Its been a real load off my mind, for sure. Its been a season of wild ups and downs, but since we are coming off a decade of mostly downs, I am really savoring the strange, unfamiliar and amazing feeling of going into the Apple Cup knowing that no matter what, we will have another game to watch over the holidays. Its been forever, folks, and we deserve to enjoy it. Despite a fair amount of despair, hand wringing, ranting and raving, this season gave us more moments of triumph than we’ve had since My Space was cool and Miley Cyrus was a good girl. Thankfully Amiable was there with her camera phone to document the unprecedented levels of joy and revelry this season brought us. Lets take a moment to relive it…
First there was the stunner at USC which brought out the Heisman pose.
Then we made it home for Homecoming and a shutout of the Vandals.
After a mid-season drought and much despair we beat Arizona and there was much rejoicing.
And then we toppled the Utes and it finally happened, Bowl eligible at last!
Damn, what a ride. The 2013 Cougs still have work to do, but I am going to go ahead and declare this season a success. We are all free to kick back, enjoy the Apple Cup, and no matter the outcome, we have a Bowl game to look forward to. Still, we have to ask, is there one more surprising thrill left in the 2013 Cougs? Lets get to the picks…
Still hoping for the fairytale finish.
I’m really not sure what to think of this Apple Cup. The Huskies are at home, fresh off completely destroying the Beaver in Corvallis, still stinging from the memory of our improbable comeback win over them in Pullman last year. Watching Utah manhandle our defense for much of last weeks game with Murphy and York, all I could think was that superior talents like Sankey and Sefarian-Jenkins are going to run roughshod over our defense. But then I saw a quote from Bill Moos today, who simply stated “Make no mistake, we will go over there and beat the Huskies.” Wow, ummm, ok Bill. Sounds good to me.
Cougs 38, Dawgs 24
And around the Pac12 we go…
This year’s Civil War keeps flirting with the idea of getting interesting. At the outset of the season it was sure to be a laugher as the Beavs fell to Eastern WA and Oregon steamrolled everybody by 50 points. Then the Beavs won their way into the conversation for a Pac12 North title with 6 straight wins. But as the competition improved, the Beavs folded and suddenly we were back where we started, with a Civil War that had about as much suspense as a knock knock joke. Then the wheels came off the party bus in Eugene. After losing to Stanford, it seemed the Ducks had just suffered their lone hiccup in an otherwise dominant season and were right back in the drivers seat for the Rose Bowl in no time. Then they went to Tucson to face a team that has never played in the Rose Bowl, while declaring themselves, you know, so over playing in the Rose Bowl. The Cats beat the crap out of the Ducks and suddenly you had to wonder if a full blown implosion was imminent for the quackers, complete with a long overdue loss in the Civil War. The Beavs quickly silenced any such speculation by performing their own lay down and die act at home to the Dawgs. So where does that leave us? Does either team even want to play this game? If I have to pick one of these train wrecks to get back on the tracks, I am going to just go ahead and side with the vastly superior talent.
Ducks 55, Beavs 28
In a battle for the keys to the basement, Colorado gets the unfortunate draw of Utah at home. The Utes are a completely different team at home and after a spirited comeback effort in Pullman they have just enough left in the tank to hold off the Buffs.
Utah 35, Colorado 28
Ed Orgeron has become one of the better stories of this football season, leading the Trojans from laughing stock to contender in the same season. Beating the Bruins would be the perfect way to cap off this incredible story. Too bad Jim Mora has a different ending in mind.
Bruins 33, USC 21
Thanks to Arizona’s improbable trouncing of the Ducks, Stanford is back in the Pac-12 championship game. Now they can relax and have fun as they dismantle the Irish.
Stanford 24, Notre Dame 14
Like most of the Pac-12 rivalry games, there hasn’t been too much suspense about the Territorial Cup for most of the season. In fact, when the Cougs beat Arizona, it looked like a foregone conclusion. Then the Cats shocked Oregon (and the world) and with Arizona State already guaranteed their spot in the championship game you gotta wonder, who has more to play for here? I predict Megan Coghlan’s going to need some good friends to hold her hair in the yard after all the tequila shots she does celebrating a Wildcat upset.
Cats 41, Devils 38
Enjoy the games folks, and Go Cougs!
Happy T-Day Cougs, as we roll on towards another Apple Cup! And I couldn't agree more with my good friend Longball above, as what a long, strange trip it's been this year. The highs were fantastic (USC upset, big wins on the road vs. AZ and home vs. Utah to get those 6 wins), and the lows have been crappy (pretty much from Oregon State through Halloween). But such is the life of the college football fan, know what I mean? For we actually CHOOSE to get on this roller coaster, and for some of us we never quite seem to get off.
In thinking about this week, well, it's weird. First, I've been over this in the past but this game is always hard on me because of my family ties. For you see as a very young kid I was initially raised a UW fan (like many who had parents born and raised in the Seattle area, that's just the way it was). But I'm talking really young, as in pre-teen years. Of course I grew out of it, and by high school I was dead set on becoming a Coug. But my family didn't easily change their stripes, I mean my Mom pretty much has cheered them on as it's like cheering me on, I guess. She's always been one for the underdog anyway. And sometimes my Dad, but he's more a Gonzaga hoops fan than anything else. But that's pretty much it. Oh yeah, I married a Husky too, although she has become a pretty good Coug fan over the years as football was never a huge deal for her. And even today, we are headed to my sister's home for Thanksgiving, and they are about the biggest UW fans/donors/luxury suites/etc I have ever known! But even this week is just a little weird for all of us.
Next, I have to say that I'm beyond thankful that the kids took care of win #6 last week! I cannot fathom that on top of everything else that comes with this game on a personal level for me, the angst these last several days would have been horrible if the Cougs didn't get the job done last Saturday vs. the Utes. For you know that as this game approaches, there is nothing more than those guys in purple-n-gold would want than to 1) beat WSU in Seattle after last year, and 2) knock us out of bowl eligibility in the process!
But all that personal crap out of the way, what's weird for me anyway is that I can't quite figure this one out.
First, I look within to our Cougs. Who are these guys anyway? Are they the team that collapsed vs. OSU, got run off the field at Oregon and then laid a major egg on Halloween vs ASU? Or are they what looks like a much-improved product that we've seen the last couple of games, winning in the desert vs. AZ and then looking pretty damn good vs. Utah last week? Has Connor Halliday turned the corner? After leading the world in INT's, he's now thrown 8 TD's to just 2 INT's the last 3 games and has looked like everything is clicking into place? Or will he revert back to his "hero" ways when the going gets tough and start forcing things that just aren't there??
They call this BAD Connor
And what about the defense? They looked like they couldn't stop anyone with a pulse in that slide vs. OSU, Oregon and ASU. But they held AZ to just 17 points on the road, the same AZ that hung 42 on Oregon the week after. And even though they gave up some big plays last week vs. Utah, they did have a couple of pick-6's that really got things started in a way that couldn't really have been any better, and made Utah get away a little bit from their power running game, putting the outcome for the most part on the backup QB's shoulders. As we saw, he just didn't have quite enough juice to get it done, and the Cougs are bowl eligible*.
(*speaking of bowl eligible, a little birdie in the WSU athletic department tells us this week that if we win, it's Kraft Fight Hunger, and if we lose, it's New Mexico or Heart of Dallas bowl. So pretty much what you are reading in the media is true, Bill Moos is working it!).
Further, I look at UW and have the same kinds of questions. Are they the team that absolutely throttled Cal, Colorado and OSU? Or the team that struggled vs UCLA, ASU, Oregon, etc? What about the QB, if it is Keith Price (and rumors are it will be), how will he be able to throw and move around with his injuries? Will he be unwilling to run when the opportunity presents itself? Or will they start him but quickly go to Cyler Miles at the first sign of trouble? And how does that kid QB in Miles performing at home for the first time – in the Apple Cup, no less – handle the pressure??
See, that's what is weird – while a UW fan is sick to their stomach for even bringing this up, I can't help but look at WSU and UW and think that they are actually pretty similar in the way 2013 has gone if you want to know the truth. Both teams have handled their business against opponents similar to them, kind of in that middle-to-lower tier in the conference, while both teams have struggled to beat the best of the best (I don't know if this deserves an asterisk, because WSU did win at USC and UW did almost beat Stanford at Stanford, and in fact many UW fans are still convinced they won that game. So I guess that kind of counts as their one "good" game against a conference superpower??). But both teams are bowl-eligible, and both 1-3 vs. top 25 teams this year, and both teams have kind of turned things around by winning 2 of their last 3 to get to this point!
But the bottom line is that right now, UW's win over Oregon State is the only thing that really separates these two teams, looking at record alone at this point.
One thing that I have learned over the years in looking at this game is to not put TOO much stock in what happened the prior week when trying to make the pick! That picture I put above is from the 2006 Apple Cup. The Cougs were 6-5 coming in to that game, while UW limped in on a 6-game losing streak, without their starting QB and had just lost to Stanford in Seattle the week before by scoring only 3 points! This was before Harbaugh, and Stanford was widely considered one of the 10 worst teams in Pac-10 history that year per a few national pundits. The Cougs were beat up, having lost Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus to injures and looked like a team running out of steam. But surely they would handle UW in Pullman, what with UW having just lost to a terrible Stanford team in the midst of the losing streak and playing a backup QB! But UW would shock everyone by winning with a bunch of explosive plays, and the Cougs would stay home for the holidays at 6-6.
But you can go back to just last year as an example. UW came in to the Apple Cup on a 4-game winning streak, fresh off a 38-3 spanking of CU in Boulder. And we know what happened next, as the Cougs came back to win it in OT.
But it goes the other way as well. In 2011, UW started hot by going 6-2, but then fell on hard times and came in to the Apple Cup riding a 3-game LOSING streak, with all 3 games as double-digit losses, before rallying to crush the Cougs 38-21.
There are other examples too, even back to 2003. UW was absolutely humiliated at CAL the week before the Apple Cup, 54-7, to fall to 5-6. Meanwhile the Cougs rolled in to Seattle as a 9-2 team with legit Rose Bowl hopes still alive and ranked #14, yet UW would win 27-19.
So you just never want to put too much stock into what happened the prior week, because one thing you can be sure of is that no matter what has happened up to that point, when the game kicks off the players and coaches seem to forget about the past and focus on what's in front of them, even if we as fans just can't quite do that!
Anyway, this game has me thinking it will be on the shootout side of the ledger. I think both teams are going to move the ball, as I think UW is clicking with the running game and have a lot of emerging weapons in the passing game. Meanwhile the Coug O has looked pretty efficient the last few games and you can see the confidence swelling, from the QB to the running backs to the deep group of WR's, to a much-improved offensive line getting the job done up front. So to me, it's going to come down to which DEFENSE makes the key plays when it matters the most.
And that's where I'm most concerned from a WSU POV. It's not that I think the UW D is some kind of badass outfit, but they are statistically a pretty decent team, especially against the pass (216 yards per game, 3rd in the conference). They've only lost 1 game at home this year, and that was against Oregon when the Ducks had a healthy Marcus Mariota who was absolutely killing it at the time. But otherwise they've been stout on D at home, where the most they've given up outside of the Oregon game was 17 to Cal in a blowout win (6 vs. Boise St, 13 vs. AZ, 7 vs. CU and 0 vs. ID State).
HOWEVER, I do think that WSU's strength on offense is going to be a problem for UW. If UW decides to blitz and bring the house vs. Halliday and the offense, with the way they are playing right now? I say good luck with that, especially if you try to go one-on-one with the Coug WR's and how much the offense seems to be on the same page. UW's defensive front isn't huge, but it is quick off the edges. But WSU has those wide splits, and a QB who is making real strides in getting rid of the ball as the middle man in the offense more than anything else. In other words, it's tough to get to the Coug QB right now. Hell, Utah led the nation in sacks coming in to the game last week and barely laid a hand on Halliday all game! The Utes tried everything too, from blitzes and stunts up front to dropping 8 to mixing coverages from man and zone, and it still didn't matter as Halliday shredded them for 488 yards and 4 TD's!
And further, it's not like Halliday and this offense haven't seen a hostile crowd this year. Opening up at Auburn and hanging tough, and then beating USC in LA were pretty decent road tests early on, so I don't see this one as an offense that won't function because of the environment.
The problem, dear friends? The defense. IF they can look like they did vs. Arizona, where they basically kept Ka'Deem Carey in check for the most part and tried to make the QB beat them through the air? Or if they look like they did in stretches last week vs. Utah, holding the Utes to 6-for-17 on third downs even though they gave up a lot of yards (481) and points (37)? Then they have a real good shot at making this one tight. But if they look more like they did vs. Oregon State, ASU, or even back to Stanford, where there were a lot of big plays with an inability to get pressure on the QB or even slow down the run for that matter, then it could be a long tough day in Seattle.
So, time to pick it – both teams are going to move the ball, no matter who is at QB for the Huskies. UW will do most of their damage on the ground with Bishop Sankey, who will probably top 200 yards in what is likely his last home game as a Husky (seriously, if he doesn't go pro given the lifespan of running backs in the NFL and his physical style of play?? HE CRAZY!). The Cougs will get their yards and points through the air, and I think the first three quarters are going to be a lot of fun in terms of yards and points. But in the end I'm sorry to say that UW's defense will make some key stops late, while Sankey and the UW running game will grind the Coug D down the stretch. Tough as it is to say it, UW pulls it out, 47-40.
But fear not my friends. Bill Moos WILL get the 6-6 Cougs into a bowl game, and we'll have more football to talk about in 2013! And down the road a few years, after more wins and bowl games and such that are about to come our way? We will all look back to 2013 as the turning point as we say "Wow, remember when Leach got them into a bowl in just his 2nd year!?!" So enjoy the ride, for as long as it lasts, and remember this season as the turning point back to relevancy.
Other games (as if it really matters?):
Ducks 37, Beavs 20 – Talk about a letdown Civil War?? You could hear the collective THUD from the state of Oregon up here in Washington after last weekend! By the way, is this the start of a turning point for the state of Washington vs. Oregon? Is it within the realm of possibility that the Washington schools are on their way to overtaking the Oregon schools in the Pac-12 north pecking order? A couple of years ago you would have been laughed out of the room for even the very suggestion, but now? Not so much. Maybe not right away, but you might be seeing the first real shift up north if UW starts beating out Oregon for recruits with Sark and their new digs vs. Helfrich, and the Cougs with Leach and new facilities do the same vs. OSU.
CU 27, Utah 26 – I know they are trying to make this a rivalry game and all that, but the New Kids Bowl sees CU pull it out over a wounded Ute squad that while they won't quit, sure looks like they could use the offseason right about now. That's a tough, yet beat up Utah team that could use some R&R.
USC 34, UCLA 28 – The Big O keeps making the decision for SC harder and harder (and personally I hope they keep him, because I think long-term it isn't going work out. Great recruiter, great energy guy, great assistant coach…but not your long-term solution at a glamor job like SC).
Stanford 31, ND 20 – Kind of a who cares game as Stanford preps for the Pac-12 title game, and they might even lose this one with their focus not quite there. But they'll have enough to beat the Irish, even if they are looking down the road a bit.
ASU 40, AZ 30 – Should be a fun one, but I don't think AZ can stop ASU's offense in the end as the Devils prime for Stanford by taking down their rivals.