Looking ahead to The Apple Cup

THE CRAZINESS OF college football is about to descend on Washington State this week, where it appears the outcome of Saturday's Apple Cup could be about more than just bragging rights.

It shouldn't come down to this after four years of the Paul Wulff era, but I suspect it will: if the Cougars beat Washington, then Wulff returns for 2012. If the Cougars lose, then I predict he'll be gone.

A one-game referendum.

That's not how I would play it. I've been on record for weeks that Wulff has done enough in terms of Year No. 4 and program building to return in 2012. I don't believe in changing leaders every few years just for change's sake, unless the head coach appears to be in over his head.

That's not the case with Wulff. Fans can Monday morning quarterback until the afternoon, and that's their right. Certainly there are decisions Wulff would like to have back. But what coach wouldn't? The Cougars lost some games that had a play or two went in their favor, perhaps it's a win (see Utah, UCLA, maybe San Diego State).

But if progress is the barometer as to whether Wulff stays or goes, ask yourself this: are the Cougars better today than they were a year ago? I don't think there's any question there.

WSU has been competitive in nine of its 11 games this year. That wasn't the case in 2010, and definitely not the case in 2008 or 2009.

Also ask yourself this: what if Wulff had the good fortune of USC, Arizona State, Arizona, California, Stanford, Oregon State, Washington and Colorado? Those teams, for the most part, have had their starting quarterback intact from the season's outset. No Pac-12 coach had to deal with more adversity with his quarterback situation than Wulff.

If Jeff Tuel plays from the season opener to Apple Cup, the Cougars are working for bowl position Saturday, not for their coach's job.

THE COACHING SITUATION ASIDE, this year's Apple Cup is interesting turn of events. A year ago, Washington locked up a bowl berth when it beat WSU in Pullman, and then proceeded to claim all was well in Seattle after dumping Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

It appears talk of a return to greatness, or even mediocrity, was premature. Things have suddenly fallen apart at UW, as the Huskies have lost four of five headed into the Apple Cup. The most overpaid defensive coordinator in the history of college football isn't getting the job done. An offense that was regularly moving the sticks and lighting up the scoreboard has 17, 17 and 21 points the past three games.

Unlike Washington State, it's reasonable to say that the Huskies are no better today than they were a year ago. Maybe worse.

Still, it's hard to like Washington State's chances given the injury situation. And if this was week 3 or 4 and Marshall Lobbestael had some of his mojo going, it would be a different story, too. But of late, defenses seem to have figured out Lobbestael, a senior who deserves to go out on a high note.

Then again, this is the Huskies defense. If ever there were a defense that screams "confidence boost" to a quarterback, it is the Husky D. Imagine what Lobbestael and Marquess Wilson might do through the air on Saturday.

And while the UW pass defense has the most light shining on it right now, consider what Oregon State did on the ground. They came in ranked dead last nationally in rushing against FBS teams and next to last, at 119th our of 120 teams, overall this season. They came in with 32, 33 and 21 ground yards the past three games. They proceeded to rush for 145 yards against UW.

The kickoff: Washington State (4-7, 2-6) vs. Washington (6-5, 4-4) 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Century Link Field, Seattle. Television: Versus

The line: Washington is favored by 6½ points.

The series: This is the first neutral site Apple Cup (neutral in that it's not played on either campus) since 1980, when Washington beat WSU 30-23 in Spokane. Last year, the Huskies defeated Washington State 35-28 in a highly entertaining Apple Cup in Martin Stadium. The Cougars rallied from a 28-14 fourth quarter deficit to tie the game, only to have Jake Locker lead UW on an 88-yard scoring drive to win the game. The Huskies have won the past two Apple Cups, but Washington State is 4-3 against Washington since 2004. Overall, UW leads the series 66-31-6.

Familiar faces: The lone Washington coach with ties to Washington State is special teams/defensive line assistant Johnny Nansen, who played three years (1994-96) for the Cougars at linebacker. UW's coordinators have no ties to Washington State, but spent time in the area. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt served as a head coach and assistant coach at Idaho. Huskies' offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was a Vandals quarterback from 1990-94, and during his career he threw for almost 11,000 yards. Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto also played and coached at Idaho, while running backs coach Joel Thomas was a former Vandals running back. Secondary coach Jeff Mills is a former Idaho assistant coach, as is linebackers coach Mike Cox.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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