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Apple Cup needs higher stakes than just pride

Apple Cup is always the most anticipated regular season game of the year. With eight losses, WSU will be playing its final game of the 2014 season on Saturday without chance of a bowl. Even if the Cougs win, the taste of victory will be bittersweet as a season full of unfinished business comes to an end.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Cougar football team will conclude its 2014 season Saturday night at 7:30 pm as they host cross-state rival Washington in the 107th edition of the Apple Cup. Unlike last season, this year's Apple Cup will be the lone opportunity for WSU to win a piece of hardware. In the trophy case of the new Football Operations Building is an empty shadow where the Apple Cup trophy should be sitting throughout the offseason. The Cougars will try to bring back that hardware after losing it last season in a 27-17 defeat to the Huskies.

So what would an Apple Cup victory mean to WSU right now?

For starters, a win would do some cosmetic repair on what has turned out to be a season thin on games in the win column. The brutal 3-8 record that the Cougars are holding right now just doesn't tell the story of the many agonizing and disappointing defeats WSU has experienced this season. A fair catch called against Rutgers and a 19-yard chip shot field goal against Cal are just two of several "what ifs" that have led to an Apple Cup without postseason implications for WSU. No matter what happens Saturday, the bottom line on the Cougars' season will not be pretty. The Apple Cup will determine whether the Cougars finish up at 3-9 or 4-8. Still, the difference between finishing with four wins versus three wins or three conference wins versus two conference wins is big.

Not only will another victory pad the record, it will be the lingering memory that fans, coaches, and players carry with them into the offseason. It was just two years ago, the last time the Apple Cup was played in Martin Stadium, that WSU finished the 2012 season with a dramatic upset victory over the Huskies 31-28 in OT. That win went a long way in helping the team overcome the controversy, discord, and disappointment of a season that only rendered three wins. While this team is well ahead of the 2012 team in terms of on the field product, a victory would go just as far in restoring confidence in the program.

As the Cougars look to climb the Pac-12 North, Saturday's game should make a statement on where the program is at heading into the offseason. The statement this team needs to make is that it is ready to turn the corner and that people shouldn't be so quick to relegate WSU to the bottom of the Pac-12 North when making preseason predictions for 2015. Saturday's game will be the last opportunity to display any progress that it has made over this season and how close the program to competing in its own division.

The Apple Cup is a great rivalry no matter what, but it really suffers when there are no postseason implications to capture national attention. Hopefully, Apple Cups with much higher stakes than a year's worth of pride and temporary possession of a trophy are not too far around the corner. My gut feeling for Saturday is that WSU plays their best game of the year building on the inspiration of a disappointing season, the loss of Connor Halliday, and the induction of Steve Gleason into the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame and comes away with a win. As much as I look forward to celebrating the win, there will be a slow creeping reality setting in that Cougar football will not be returning for another nine months. No matter how frustrating the season was, it just went too fast and left me longing to see much more of what this team can do on the field.

Apple Cup

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