SEATTLE – With all eyes on “The Game” in Columbus this weekend, “The Other Game” that threatens to shake up the college football playoff picture kicks off Friday in the most remote outpost of the Pac-12 Conference.
The most consequential Apple Cup since 1981 is also the biggest game in the country this week not being played in Columbus.
And if No. 23 Washington State upsets No. 5 Washington in Pullman, Wash., it assures a two-loss team makes the playoff field for the first time – possibly setting the stage for a scrum that could send a second, who-knows-who, two-loss team into the four-team field.
“We’re just really excited to play for something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” Washington junior safety Budda Baker said of the first Apple Cup in 35 years with a conference title at stake for both teams.
Even if it’s happening in the sizable shadow of Saturday’s Michigan-Ohio State game – not to mention the middle-of-nowhere Palouse.
“We like that,” Baker said. “It’s cool to be in the spotlight and all that type of stuff. But we like to lay low, do our thing, and hopefully that all comes later.”
The Huskies have done an exceptional job of lying low in the more than two decades since they contended for national titles in Don James’ final three seasons (1990-92).
Under third-year coach Chris Petersen, this is Washington’s first 10-win season since 2000. They’ve had a winless season since their last conference title.
“There’s some good ball played over here,” UW linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “I don’t know if everybody’s tuning in for it. But I’ve got some fantastic teammates. If you don’t know about [receiver] John Ross yet, I don’t know where you’re at.”
Ross owns three school kick return records, and his 15 receiving touchdowns this season are three short of the UW record.
“Wazzu’s having a good year, but it all starts with us,” Washington receiver Chico McClatcher said. “We’re not really worried about if we’re overlooked or the best team in the country. We just want to play our best, and then they’ll say all that stuff after the season.
“It was a hyped season for us at the beginning of the year, and we just have to prove it.”