Mike Hlas is an award-winning columnist with the Cedar Rapids Gazette and force behind The Hlog. Each week he will break down the biggest mismatches in college football. Considering the number of Bowl Championship Series teams tanking at this point in the season, Mike's task is more challenging than trying to get a six-pack at 4 a.m. in Salt Lake City.
This isn’t just the Game of the Weak. This is the Game of the Weak of the Year.
The tension has been growing for several weeks. Both teams have peaked for this moment in time. It’s loser-take-all. Washington State plays at Washington. The winner can go off and hide. The loser claims the bottom of the major-college heap.
They call their rivalry the Apple Cup. It’s the 101st meeting. Try to find one in the first 100 that rivals this for desperation and despair. Washington State is 1-10 overall, 0-8 in the Pacific 10 Conference. It has a win because it had the foresight to schedule a I-AA opponent it could beat, Portland State.
Because it plays at Hawaii next Saturday, WSU gets a 13th game this year. This wasn’t the best season for the Cougars to play an extra game, but at least it gets a trip to Honolulu as a reward for beating Portland State.
Washington is 0-10, 0-7 in the Pac-10. After Saturday’s game, it waits two weeks to close the dismal Tyrone Willingham era with a game at California. That means the Huskies’ season will have been extended across five months, and UW will have lost in each of them.
There are 119 Division I-A teams. Washington is 117th in total offense, Washington State 118th. Pick virtually any statistic and the results are similar. Washington is 119th in tackles for losses. Washington State is 119th in turnover margin. They’re probably 118th and 119th, respectively, in unpopped kernels in their stadium popcorn.
Neither has come closer than 20 points of winning a game since September. Seattle has a 2-8 NFL team in the Seahawks, a 101-game baseball loser in the Mariners and lost its NBA team to Oklahoma. Somehow, Washington’s two I-A football teams have managed to slither under those low standards.
These aren’t two programs that have always been lost causes. Washington was once the Pac-10’s premier program. It began this decade with an 11-1 season capped by a Rose Bowl triumph. That was the last of the Huskies’ 14 Rose Bowl appearances. Washington has 15 Pac-10 titles. It won a share of the national title in 1991 after going 12-0 and clobbering Michigan in Pasadena.
Washington State doesn’t have that kind of history, but has been to four Rose Bowls. The Cougars won 10 games in 2001, 2002 and 2003, and were in the Rose Bowl six seasons ago.
It’s tough to win in Pullman, but it has been done before. The present, however, is as gray as a typical Seattle winter day. Someone’s going to win Saturday. The only question is how.