The last time an Apple Cup featured two teams with winning records, the respective coaches were Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price.
Within subsequent months, both were out of work.
So, if we’re to learn from grim history, perhaps we should remind Steve Sarkisian to avoid NCAA basketball tournament pools, and Mike Leach to steer clear of gentlemen’s clubs in Pensacola, Fla.
The year was 2002, and in the 11 intervening seasons, Washington and Washington State have struggled enough to be on their third replacement coaches.
Friday, though, will be the first Apple Cup at the new Husky Stadium, featuring 7-4 Washington playing host to the 6-5 Cougars.
Both teams are bowl eligible. Woo-hoo. Apples on the house.
“I think it’s great for our state,” UW coach Sarkisian said, kicking off his fifth Apple Cup week with a Monday press conference. “I think it’s great for Northwest football that both programs are moving in the right direction. There’s tremendous fans here in the Northwest, particularly in our state.”
Sarkisian reiterated the appeal of the game in terms of divided loyalties and civil discord.
“That’s what college football and these types of rivalries are all about, and that’s what makes the Apple Cup so special,” Sarkisian said.
More special because of decent records this time around. The low point came in 2008, when the only win between the two teams heading into the rivalry game was Washington State’s over Portland State — a lower division team. UW’s season would infamously end at 0-12.
WSU’s Leach sampled the redemptive qualities of a rivalry win last year, when the 2-9 Cougars overcame an 18-point deficit to kidney punch the Huskies with a 31-28 overtime win.
“It still leaves a bad taste in all of our mouths, I can tell you that,” Sarkisian said.
He recounted eight penalties in the fourth quarter, seven on defense, and all of them major infractions.
“It was almost really a comedy of errors,” Sarkisian said.
Surely this was one of those times in the middle of an answer where the wrong idiom pops in your head and you realize it only after the words have taken wing. There were a ton of errors, but there was nothing comedic about it.
Using transitive properties to predict football games rarely works, but particularly in rivalry games. We may note that the Huskies just clobbered Oregon State 69-27; the Beavs being a team that spanked the Cougs 52-24.
The Cougars are second in the conference in passing, the Huskies No 3 in rushing. Both are 4-4 in Pac-12 play.
Which should give Friday’s game interest to viewers beyond merely those waiting for a reason to taunt the person in the neighboring cubicle at work.
“The better the two teams are performing, the better the environment,” Sarkisian said. “I’m hoping in the near future this game is deciding who’s playing for the Pac-12 championship. I think our fans — theirs and ours — deserve this. This is my fifth one now, and they’ve all been really good games, and they’ll all probably continue to be.”
“Good” is relative, there, coach. There’s been some stinkers in there.
That fourth-quarter flag-fest last year, for instance, or maybe that 30-0 Huskies whitewash in ’09.
But he’s right that they’ve mostly been interesting, and the past 10 seasons, as both teams have struggled, they’ve struggled somewhat equally, each winning five times.
On Friday, the Huskies will unleash a running back who threatens to be the best they’ve ever had — Bishop Sankey, fourth in the nation, averaging 143 yards a game (1,575 total).
And the Cougars feature a passing attack, led by quarterback Connor Halliday, that averages 58 pass attempts a game.
Maybe the quality of the rivalry is more important than the quality of the teams.
That ’02 game with the good teams? It ended in a 29-26 triple-overtime win for the Huskies.
The ’08 game between the two lousy teams? It ended in a 16-13 double-overtime win for the Cougars.
Either way, they were two of the most exciting ever.