We’re thankful for Cougs, for Huskies. For the Apple Cup

Washington State’s Gardner Minshew has been one of the top quarterbacks in the nation this season. He will lead the Cougars into the 111th Apple Cup on Friday.
Washington State’s Gardner Minshew has been one of the top quarterbacks in the nation this season. He will lead the Cougars into the 111th Apple Cup on Friday. AP

Preparations are being made across the state. The perfect outfits are being chosen, food is being prepped, beverages are being chilled and we can hardly wait.

It’s Apple Cup time!

Did you think we were talking about Thanksgiving? Sure, we’ll spend the holiday stuffing ourselves with turkey and trimmings with family and friends. But many of us will be gearing up for a second celebration on Friday when the Cougs take on the Huskies in the annual 111th Apple Cup showdown.

For those of you completely out of the loop, we are talking college football. And we’re talking about both the Washington State Cougars and the University of Washington Huskies being nationally ranked. The Cougs are ranked seventh in the Associated Press poll and eighth in the College Football Playoff Rankings, while the Huskies are 16th and 17th.

The Cougs have a record of 10-1 and are leading the Pac-12 Conference.

Let’s just take a moment to soak that in and savor it: The Cougs are one of the top teams in the nation with an offense that put up a score against Arizona last Saturday (69-28) that was more in line with a basketball game.

Quarterback Gardner Minshew, with his now-signature mustache, and coach Mike Leach, one of the quirkiest and coolest coaches in college football, are leading a powerhouse team that many didn’t think would have much of a season.

No one could have predicted it when 2018 started with tragedy. WSU’s up-and-coming quarterback, Tyler Hilinski, used a rifle to end his own life on campus in January leaving his family, his friends and teammates reeling. His death also left a team without a leader.

But Coach Leach is always full of surprises. He quietly recruited a graduate quarterback from East Carolina who had just one season of eligibility left and whose name was unknown on the West Coast.

And the rest is history.

Well not quite, yet.

It has been a beautiful season to be a Cougar football fan. Talk of bowl games and big awards have been bandied about. A bowl game is a certainty at this point.

Qualifying to be one of the top four teams to contend for a national title is a longshot for WSU, but diehard Cougs don’t care. They like being the underdog, underestimated and ignored.

Bring it. It only makes them want it more.

But there is THE game, one game, looming, before we can truly celebrate the season.

When it comes to rivalry games that signal the end of college football season, all bets are off. The worst team in the league can beat the best one on pure adrenalin, spite and pride.

The Apple Cup in Pullman will pit two great teams against each other. It’s the third year in a row where the game will decide the winner of the Pac-12 North. That team will face Utah in a week for the Pac-12 championship and a ticket to the Rose Bowl.

But Cougar football fans never get ahead of themselves — decades of ‘Couging it’ have cured that — and the game at hand is the most important. And, for Husky fans, it’s a chance to see their team play spoiler — yet again — to Cougar dreams.

It is Apple Cup — bragging rights above all else.