No. 14 Washington State is rested and ready for the Apple Cup after returning from a very late bye week.
Washington State faces archrival No. 15 Washington in Seattle on Saturday with a berth in the Pac-12 title game on the line for the Cougars.
A victory would give Washington State the Pac-12 North title. If the Huskies win, Stanford claims the Pac-12 North and advances to the league championship game against Southern California.
Coach Mike Leach said Monday that he was worried about his team maintaining focus on the Apple Cup during last week’s bye week, which came after 11 consecutive games to open the season. But he said the Cougars (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) have responded well since practices resumed over the weekend.
“Coaches get paranoid about off weeks,” Leach said. “You always wonder about that.”
Leach said he has watched film of the dramatic last-minute victory by the Huskies (9-2, 6-2) over Utah last weekend. He said that game was similar to the Cougars’ own game against the Utes.
“It was an in-the-trenches game,” Leach said. “Not one of those splattered all over the field games. It was a real slugfest at the line.”
Leach said the Apple Cup is “a great opportunity to play a great game against a great opponent.”
But he declined to attach a lot of extra significance to rivalry games. Leach said he expected his players to give their all in every contest.
“There is not some extra private reserve in the cellar of the bank we are able to draw from because all of a sudden this game gets a lot of attention around here,” Leach said. “There is no special extra stuff.”
The coach was also critical of the four-team College Football Playoff system, saying it was not really a playoff because so many teams were excluded.
Leach believes the playoffs should be expanded to 16, 32 or even 64 teams, to better identify the true national champion.
He said the Pac-12 is at a disadvantage in competing for a national title because it plays nine conference games, when other major leagues play just eight. Late game times on the West Coast also hurt the league’s visibility in other parts of the country, Leach said.