Over the past week ESPN's David Lombardi has been listing the top ten most compelling Pac-12 games of 2016, with the countdown currently sitting at number two. The Cougars have made Lombardi's top ten not once, not twice, but three times thus far.
The highest on the countdown that the Cougars have appeared so far is No. 4, Washington at Washington State on November 25th. Last season the Apple Cup was whatever. But this Apple Cup will be different and Lombardi knows it.
"Despite the late blowout loss to the Huskies, there's still every reason to believe Washington State is moving in the right direction as a program. If they can carry over momentum from 2015's nine-win campaign, the Cougars are set to compete for the Pac-12 North title --Falk and the supporting pieces (talented receivers and an improving defense) are there."
A year ago no one would have ever mentioned WSU and a nine-win season in the same sentence. To even hear the Cougs in the discussion for a Pac-12 title makes me wish today was a Cougar football gameday. Only 204 more anticipation filled days until kickoff...
WSU followed-up a successful 2015 season by enjoying a laid back national signing day, which was highlighted by Mike Leach and staff adding fast and physical playmakers to the team.
While WSU has been making moves, the Huskies have been on the rise as well. UW played some good football at the end of the 2015 season and had a recruiting class littered with big names. Combine that with young stars already in place on both sides of the ball, the Huskies are definitely a team that is ready to make the leap.
With both evergreen state programs simultaneously on the rise, the Apple Cup should be an awesome match-up. It could be more important than Apple Cup's of the past. Matter fact, Lombardi is pretty positive that it will.
"This would have been a blasphemous thought to utter only a few months ago, but I'm comfortable saying it now," Lombardi said. "There's a non-zero chance this game will have Pac-12 North title implications -- for one or both of the teams involved."
And he very well could be right. The Cougars have their main offensive core returning (Falk, Marks, Cracraft and the trio of running backs), minus offensive linemen Joe Dahl, who has been invited to participate in the 2016 NFL combine, and Gunnar Eklund. The defense had a strong recruiting season and I cannot wait to see what DC Alex Grinch cooks up to build off the improvements the unit made last year.
Meanwhile incumbent power houses Oregon and Stanford are going to go through major personnel changes at key positions. This opens up a door of opportunity for both UW and WSU.
If Black Friday rolls around next year and this game decides the Pac-12 North title, Martin Stadium will be an absolute madhouse. Let's hope it is.
The first two links below will take you to Lombardi's countdown, where he has the Cougars slotted at No. 9 when they travel to the blue turf to face Boise State and slotted at No. 7 when Oregon comes to Pullman hoping to get away with another pass interference.
Most compelling Pac-12 game of 2016: No. 9 - Pac-12 Blog- ESPN
Washington State's visit to Boise State should give us an early gauge of the rising Cougars' potential in 2016.
Most compelling Pac-12 game of 2016: No. 7 - Pac-12 Blog- ESPN
Luke Falk threw 74 passes in Washington State's drama-filled, double-OT win over Oregon in 2015. What more reason do you need to watch the rematch?
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