Two years ago, the Huskies traveled to Pullman, Wash., and claimed the Pac-12 North title away from the Cougars in a 45-17 victory. Washington would win its first Pac-12 championship in 16 years and secure its first College Football Playoff berth.
The 111th Apple Cup has the same scenario, except Washington State (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) is playing for its first conference title in 16 years and its first trip to the College Football Playoff.
The Huskies (8-3, 6-2) are playing for their sixth consecutive victory over the Cougars while also trying to keep alive their Pac-12 title hopes. The winner will face Pac-12 South champ Utah in the conference title game Nov. 30 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Washington State started as a three-point favorite in Las Vegas. It is the first time since 2006 that the Cougars have been favored in the Apple Cup.
“All we worry about is right now,” Washington senior cornerback Jordan Miller told the Seattle Times. “We can control what we can control. That’s what we want to do: Beat the Cougs and win the Pac-12. That’s our idea of success right now.”
Both teams are coming off big wins.
Washington State disposed of Arizona 69-28 in Pullman (behind a school-record seven touchdown passes by Heisman candidate Gardner Minshew II) while Washington dispatched Oregon State 42-23 at Seattle.
“It’s a great feeling (to be in this position), but we’re going to approach it like every week,” Washington State cornerback Marcus Strong said. “We’ve got to go out there and dominate.”
Led by Minshew, Washington State has the Pac-12’s top scoring offense, averaging 40.5 points per game. To counter that, Washington has the conference’s top scoring defense, allowing only 16.6 points a game.
In Washington coach Chris Petersen’s four-game winning streak over Washington State’s Mike Leach, the Cougars’ Air Raid offense has not scored more than 17 points in any of those games.
Washington’s defense also welcomed back recently a host of players from injuries, including defensive back Jordan Miller, linebacker D.J. Beavers and defensive end Shane Bowman. The lineup looks like the one Pac-12 media overwhelmingly voted to win the conference back in July.
“It’s a short week. That’s a big deal for us.” Petersen said. “On offense we are always trying to scheme and dream and taking a day away is tough. (Washington State’s) is a unique offense obviously, it kind of changes everything we do on defense just because of their stuff.
Despite Washington’s dominance in the series, including an average winning margin of 23.8 points in the Huskies’ 4-0 mark over Washington State under Petersen, Leach has a healthy relationship with his adversary in this rivalry.
“He’s just a great guy,” Leach said of Petersen during his Monday news conference. “He’s a good guy, he’s the guy that the teachers probably always liked and got to school early, got his homework done early. And your parents would occasionally say, ‘Why can’t you be more like the Petersen boy.”
Washington State’s seniors, led by linebacker Peyton Pelluer, will try one last time to come out on top in the series in their last home game at Martin Stadium.
Pelluer, whose uncle Steve excelled at quarterback at Washington, set a school record last week by appearing in his 52nd career game. He made five tackles, increasing his career total to 330, sixth most in school history. He also had half of a tackle for loss. His career total is 32 tackles for loss, which is the eighth most in school history.
“I feel old, but it’s a blessing,” said Pelluer, who was granted a sixth-year of eligibility heading into this season after missing the last 10 games last year with an injury. “I’m just glad I came back for this year and had the opportunity.”