Stakes are real in Apple Cup

The "Crapple Cup" is no more. That hapless and widely ridiculed battle between Washington and Washington State in 2008 has given way to a game that has meaning Saturday for both programs.

If the Huskies win, they will become bowl eligible and enjoy the fruits of the postseason for the first time since 2002. If the Cougars win, they will announce a return to competitiveness after three seasons of being one of the worst BCS conference programs in the nation.

And they certainly would make coach Paul Wulff more secure as he tries to convince school administrators and a gaggle of frustrated boosters that he is the right guy to lead the program in 2011, which would be his fourth season.

"We know we've been in a major rebuilding mode, but we're about out of that part," Wulff said. "I think this is a bowl-quality team heading into next year."

It felt like Wulff and the Cougs broke through with a 31-14 win at Oregon State, which ended a 16-game Pac-10 losing streak. After a season of improvement and competitive losses, that was a tangible step forward in the record book. But there is a group of boosters who fell out of love with Wulff early-on in his tenure. It's hard to ignore that athletic director Bill Moos -- long thought to be in Wulff's corner -- has been silent on Wulff's status, which suggests there are machinations going on in the background, as highly respected Spokesman-Review columnist John Blanchette pointed out.

The Apple Cup might not -- shouldn't really -- decide Wulff's fate. But winning wouldn't hurt.

As for the Huskies, it's all about the bowl game. They are the Pac-10's best hope -- Oregon State also would finish 6-6 if it beat No. 1 Oregon on Saturday -- for a fourth bowl team. Most years, earning a sixth win on the season's final weekend would only garner a low-rung bowl invitation. But if Washington wins, it's going to either the Alamo Bowl -- if Arizona loses to Arizona State on Thursday -- or the Holiday Bowl. In either case, the Huskies will end up opposite a nationally ranked Big 12 team. That ain't too shabby.

Further, it would mean quarterback Jake Locker plays in his first bowl game, a nice cap for a disappointing senior season.

"It's special for him obviously, with all of the kind of ups and downs we have been through this year," coach Steve Sarkisian said.

There are a couple other issues, starting with weather. It's expected to be cold -- in the 20s -- and perhaps snowy on Saturday in Pullman. But both coaches called that a non-issue, with Wulff pointing out that it's a myth that the Cougars, with a roster made up significantly Californians, are used to playing in the snow.

Second: The Cougars haven't played since Nov. 13. That three-week layoff should produce a fresh, rested team, but it also might lack sharpness.

The Huskies are beaten up -- the latest casualty, offensive tackle Senio Kelemete, is decidedly questionable with a high ankle sprain -- but they should be sharp after winning two in a row to get to the cusp of bowl eligibility.

Neither team should lack for motivation.

The 2010 Apple Cup is about progress. For the Huskies, that means earning a bowl berth. For the Cougars, it means suggesting they will be contenders for one in 2011.

"To have the opportunity to go play in a bowl game symbolizes progress, no doubt," Sarkisian said. "Whether completely internally, it has that perception externally."

Oh, there's also this: It's a rivalry game and these two programs don't like each other. Don't want to forget that.