To bowl or not to bowl...

...that is the question. It all boils down to a single game in the second year of the Steve Sarkisian era. The pre-season hype of going undefeated at home is long gone. The disappointment of losing to a terrible BYU team is firmly in the rear-view mirror. The three-game blowout loss streak is a thing of the past now.

All that matters now is the game Saturday afternoon in the chilly Palouse. A frigid 4PM kickoff in Pullman, Washington awaits the 5-6 Huskies and Cougars, who will battle for in-state bragging rights.

Washington rides a two-game winning streak into Martin Stadium while the Cougars are coming off of a huge win over Oregon State. Both teams are playing much better as of late, and both have things to prove.

WSU will be playing not only for the meaty opportunity to deny the hated Huskies a shot at their first bowl berth in too long, they will also be playing for their beleaguered coach Paul Wulff. Wulff's future has been questioned recently by sports fans both on the internet and on talk radio. He is a popular coach among his players and his team undoubtedly will want to deliver a huge win for him over the Huskies on Saturday.

The last Apple Cup in Pullman was won by WSU, which was only memorable in that it turned out to be Tyrone Willingham's final Apple Cup as the UW coach. Steve Sarkisian defeated the Cougars in grand fashion last year in Seattle, a game that will certainly be one that WSU will want to erase from the ledger.

Looking at the last two weeks, the advantage has to go to the home team Cougars. They defeated an Oregon State Beaver team that has been impressive at times in 2010. The Cougars also are coming off of a bye so they will be well rested. Washington, on the other hand while riding a two-game winning streak, did it against two terrible quarterbacks. UCLA's quarterback play was shockingly horrible, as Rick Neuheisel is once again struggling with production at that position. Then last week at California, Brock Mansion didn't make anyone forget about Kyle Boller, nor will he anytime soon. He was awful.

Washington State QB Jeff Tuel is legit. He has all of the tools to make the suddenly resurgent Husky defense take pause. If the Washington defense is unable to put pressure on Tuel, he has the moxie and arm strength to shred them. He is by far the best quarterback the Huskies will have faced since Andrew Luck, which was nearly a month ago.

The Huskies will need to counter by playing that aggressive defense they've shown in recent weeks. Cornerback Quinton Richardson has seen his confidence take a huge upturn as he has had interceptions in each of the last two weeks. Coming back from being benched earlier in the season, it has been a nice turnaround for the DB from O'Dea. All-American Linebacker Mason Foster has been a tackling machine and will need to keep being the stalwart in the middle. He has been there all season and there is no reason to believe that he won't show up with a monster game on Saturday.

The weather could be a factor. The snow has always been welcomed more by the Cougars, and by all indications it will either be snowy or at the very least, bitterly cold. How Chris Polk runs on the frozen Martin Stadium field turf remains to be seen, but he has been consistent all season. He will definitely have his sights set on this one as a good game will put him well over 1,000 yards for the second season in a row. How Jake Locker's sore ribs allow him to move in the low temperatures will tell a lot. Locker is obviously at his best on the move and it is no secret that he is far from 100% physically. How he bounces back after a hard tackle to the icy turf will be interesting.

If Locker can keep the Cougar defense at bay with his legs, Washington becomes a much more difficult team to defend. Third and longs suddenly require one less defender in coverage because Locker has to be accounted for.

So what do I think will happen on Saturday? I have heard two schools of thought so far this week. One school says that Washington has a pattern of choking in the big games, that Washington State has shown constant improvement throughout the year and are peaking right now. That same school says that the Huskies will falter on the big stage and go down to defeat.

The other school comes from an insider that says the Huskies have had their best practice of the season this week. The focus as been there, the execution has been solid, and their practices have reflected the purpose of what Saturday's Apple Cup means. Washington has won games this season on the final play of the game against USC (an Erik Folk field goal), Oregon State (a Cort Dennison deflected pass in the end zone on a two-point conversion), and last week against California (a Chris Polk 1-yard TD plunge). Those encounters should show this team that the 'choke' moniker is a misnomer, and that if the game is close in the final quarter, they have been there before and will find a way to win.

I can't believe that Jake Locker will accept defeat in what could be his final game as a Husky. I can't believe that Mason Foster will accept defeat in what could be his final game as a Husky. Those two warriors can taste a bowl game. It's in their grasp. The supporting cast is there. Jermaine Kearse will make big catches, Chris Polk will pick up big ugly yards, Jesse Callier will stretch the defense on the fly sweep, Nate Williams will come up and support the run, Desmond Trufant will come up big, and Devin Aguilar will move the chains with clutch catches.

And Steve Sarkisian will coach his team to a bowl game just two seasons removed from an 0-12 crap sandwich.

This Washington team is incapable of blowing out anyone, they just don't have that kind of fire power yet. But they are capable of beating Washington State on Saturday, say, by a 17-13 margin.

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