It’s almost Apple Cup time! The annual college football rivalry game between the University of Washington and Washington State takes place in Pullman the day after Thanksgiving.
And knkx sports commentator Art Thiel told 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick there’s a lot more at stake than just bragging rights this year.
Thiel said it's been a while since there's been this much excitement and attention surrounding the Apple Cup.
"Normally, one team is either mediocre or bad — or both teams can be mediocre or bad," he joked. "And the interest has been, typically, regional, local.
"It really is the one, big annual event that grasps the whole state. There's nothing else on the calendar quite like it.
"It is a lot of fun, but it's more fun when there's meaning attached to it," Thiel continued.
"This season, going into the weekend's play, the Cougars are 8-2, the Huskies are 9-1. They're both nationally-ranked. The Huskies are sixth. The Cougars are 20th.
"They both have very dynamic, exciting offenses. So, there's a lot to look forward to in a game that typically is done for rivalry reasons. This time, it has national implications."
Coaching Makes The Difference
Thiel said University of Washington coach Chris Petersen and Washington State coach Mike Leach have turned things around at both schools.
"Eight years ago, these teams met in an Apple Cup in which the Cougars were 1-10 and the Huskies were 0-11. I think the nickname for it was the 'Crapple Cup,'" he joked. "It was a terrible game and a terrible situation for both schools.
"Coaching changes were made. And, eight years later, the two guys, Petersen and Leach, have brought both teams back to the pinnacle - at the expense of University of Oregon, UCLA, USC. It's really been a dramatic turnaround.
"Petersen is a very close-to-the-vest, sort of conservative guy who doesn't go for much in the way of public histrionics.
"Leach is his polar opposite. He's a very gregarious guy who says off-beat things. He's willing to challenge authority, even his own school president, the Pullman Police Department.
"It just shows you that different methodologies can work if the coach is knowledgeable about the game and he's honest and open with the recruits and getting young men to buy into his system. And both of them have succeeded in different ways."
Close Game But Huskies By Three
Thiel said it's going to be an exciting game to watch.
"I think it's really going to be a dead-even matchup. And there's still a week of play in which injuries could occur that might affect the outcome.
"I think the Huskies have a slight edge because they're just a little bit better on both sides - offense and defense. But the Cougars are so explosive and so balanced this year. They can run the ball.
"And, of course, the Cougars have a little bit more incentive to win than usual simply because Washington is still in the national college football playoff hunt. They're ranked sixth. They take four to the championship semifinals. That field will be decided Dec. 4.
"The Cougars have a great opportunity to spoil the Huskies' fun by beating them. The Huskies won't be eliminated with a second loss but they will have a much harder road to make that playoff field.
"And if the Cougars can't go to the national championship, they still could go to the Rose Bowl and spoil the Huskies' postseason party.
"I think there's a lot of incentive on the Pullman side. It wouldn't surprise me with a win but I'm still going to say the Huskies by a field goal."
Pac-12 North Champion Crowned
Thiel said the game will decide the Pac-12 North champion.
"One of them will represent the North in the Pac-12 Championship Game, which is the first time in four years that's happened. Because this has only begun since the Pac-10 expanded to 12 teams with the addition of Utah and Colorado.
"This will be a new thing on the calendar. One of them will be in the championship so it should be cool for state football fans."