Each week I highlight a few Pac-12 games to watch that have an impact on the Utah Utes’ season. With Utah clinching the Pac-12 South last week with their win over the Colorado Buffaloes and the Arizona State Sun Devils’ loss to the Oregon Ducks, the only game that matters this week is the 111th Apple Cup.
The No. 8 Washington State Cougars host the No. 16 Washington Huskies today with a ton on the line. The winner of the game wins the Pac-12 North and faces Utah for the Pac-12 Championship on Nov. 30 in Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The last time the Apple Cup decided the Pac-12 North was in 2016 when the Huskies beat the Cougars 45-17 also in Pullman, Wash. Washington would go on to win the Pac-12 by defeating Colorado in the Championship Game and played in the College Football Playoff, losing to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Chick Fil A Peach Bowl. This year it is the Cougars that have a shot (albeit quite long) to make the College Football Playoff. The Cougars have yet to beat the Huskies with Chris Petersen as head coach (their last win came in comeback fashion in 2012 in a game that went into overtime). When Mike Leach’s Cougars have taken on Petersen’s Huskies, the games have not been competitive. The closest game came in Petersen’s first year at Washington with the Huskies winning 31-13 in 2014. It was the only time in their four meetings that the Cougars held the Huskies under 40 points. The Cougars have scored 17 points or less in every game against Petersen. This will be the third year in a row when both teams are ranked in the Apple Cup, and the first time in that stretch that the Cougars are ranked higher than the Huskies.
For Utah fans, it is easy to make an argument to root for either team. I grew up in Western Washington as a Huskies fan, so I cannot cheer for the Cougars unless the Utes or Huskies need them to win (kind of like I was forced to cheer for Oregon against Arizona State for Utah to win the South). I would prefer to see the Huskies against the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship game. I do think this would be the better matchup for Utah. Utah is playing a lot better now than they were when the Huskies came to Rice-Eccles Stadium back in September. I also think the Huskies are not playing as well now as they were then. Utah has struggled against both teams under their current head coaches (only beating Leach and Petersen once each), but I do think the style of football that UW plays is a better matchup for Utah than WSU’s air raid offense and fast, undersized defensive line. UW is more physical, and Utah usually fares well against teams like that. I can see the argument for Wazzu though. Utah only lost to them by four on the road (compared to a 14-point home loss to UW), and there were multiple “questionable” calls that went against Utah. However, I think Washington State and quarterback Gardner Minshew are playing much better now than they were in September. I will be rooting for UW today, but I can definitely understand why some Utah fans will cheer for WSU. While I laid out why I think UW is the better matchup for Utah, I do think there are reasonable cases that can be made why Utah would want to play either team, and either would offer an opportunity for revenge.