Washington State’s 30-27 upset of then-No. 5 USC on Friday did a lot more than derail the Trojans’ unbeaten season and potentially ruin their chance at making the College Football Playoff. It also vaulted the Cougars into the national conversation for the first time this season.
And the win reverberated throughout The Evergreen State. With both the Cougars and Washington Huskies unbeaten, the Apple Cup, which will be held Nov. 25 in Seattle, could be a de facto CFP elimination game for both squads. As noted by Bill Bender of the Sporting News, both teams have a legitimate chance to reach their annual in-state duel with a perfect record, something that has never happened in the history of the rivalry.
Friday was more about an impressive victory for Washington State with quarterback Luke Falk and coach Mike Leach. The Cougars made it through September unbeaten for the first time in the Leach era, and the schedule is friendly until November — that is, if they can take care of business at Oregon next week. Imagine if the Apple Cup were played between two 11-0 teams. We’re a long way from that, but it’s not impossible.
There have been matchups in the past where both teams were ranked at the time of their meeting, but never when both were as highly ranked as they are now — the Huskies are No. 6 in the latest AP Poll and the Cougars are No. 11.
The Cougars are undefeated through September for the first time in the Mike Leach Era. Meanwhile, the defending Pac-12 champion Huskies sit as one of the best teams in the nation. The schedule softens for both in the next few weeks. Washington State goes to Oregon next week, but the Ducks will be playing without QB Justin Herbert, who broke his collarbone in the Ducks’ win against Cal on Saturday. They then play at Cal (3-2) and host Colorado (3-2) in games where they should be the favorites.
The Huskies, meanwhile, host Cal, play at Arizona State (2-3) and then host UCLA (3-2) following a bye in the next four weekends.
The biggest challenge remaining for both may be No. 20 Utah, who is the last team both schools face before meeting in the Apple Cup. The Cougars travel to Salt Lake on Nov. 11 and then have a bye. The Huskies host Utah on Nov. 18, one week before meeting Washington State.
And while it’s no guarantee that either will not drop a game before they meet on Nov. 25, even if they do their showdown could still carry CFP ramifications — Washington proved last year that a Pac-12 team can have a loss and still make the playoff.
If both teams take care of business until then, it will set up not only the most important Apple Cup ever, but one of the biggest games of the 2017 college football season.