All No. 17 Washington could do on Saturday was play spoiler in the Pac-12 North—and it did, in spectacular fashion.
The 2017 Apple Cup was a one-sided affair. The Huskies went up 24–0 at halftime and won, 41–14, in a game that was reminiscent of those in recent years. No. 13 Washington State, despite its upswing under coach Mike Leach, hasn’t won the rivalry game since 2012, and in the five years since, Washington has had an average margin of victory of 23.6 points.
With the loss, the Cougars eliminated themselves from the Pac-12 championship game; a win would have put them atop the Pac-12 North. Washington, due to its loss two weeks ago at Stanford, was already eliminated from contention in the division going into the game, and both teams’ playoff odds have been effectively nil since early November. And that’s how Stanford clinched a conference title-game berth as it defeated Notre Dame 800 miles south of Husky Stadium.
That game, set to kick off Friday at 5 p.m. PT, will feature No. 21 Stanford against No. 11 USC and will be the only conference championship matchup that won’t have any playoff implications. After getting Washington into the playoff last year and Oregon into the final four in 2014, the Pac-12 will for the second time since the system’s implementation in 2014 almost certainly be shut out. In 2017, the conference cannibalized itself. Washington lost to Stanford and Arizona State. Washington State, before the Apple Cup loss, had fallen to Cal and Arizona. Stanford lost to USC and Washington State. And in the south, USC was edged by Washington State. Nonconference losses to Notre Dame (by USC) and San Diego State (Stanford) didn’t help the Pac-12’s destruction.
Saturday marked the end of the college career of Washington State quarterback Luke Falk. Falk, who threw three interceptions Saturday night, will end his career without beating his in-state rival. After passing for more than 4,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, the senior was inconsistent in 2017, passing for 3,593 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season. Falk is considered a mid-round NFL draft pick. Washington’s Jake Browning, a junior, will likely remain under center for Chris Petersen’s team next season, and in rainy conditions Saturday he played well, passing for 93 yards and completing 64.7% of his passes while the Huskies running game powered the team’s offense.
The most notable thing about Saturday’s game was Washington State’s inability to put together any kind of threat. Since 2015, Leach’s team has been on the upswing, winning nine games that year and eight in 2016. It’s climbed from an also-ran to the top of the Pac-12, and when it beat USC in September, it looked like a turning point for a program that had struggled in games against ranked opponents. A trip to the conference title game would have marked another step forward, but instead, the Cougars were unable to establish any running game at all, finishing with -24 yards in a one-sided offensive effort. Washington, meanwhile, rushed for 328 yards in a game that was as good as over by halftime. For Washington’s two very good football teams, 2017 will go down as a promising but ultimately disappointing season.