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Originally published November 27, 2009 at 8:03 PM | Page modified November 27, 2009 at 10:51 PM

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Close games are the norm in the Apple Cup

The last seven Apple Cups have been decided by 31 total points, none by more than eight.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

WSU @ UW, 3:30 p.m., FSN

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Logic and the odds dictate that the 102nd playing of the Apple Cup won't be close.

Washington is a 24 ½-point favorite for today's 3:30 p.m. kickoff at Husky Stadium against rival Washington State. And while UW is sporting just a 3-7 record, the Huskies have shown signs of life in Steve Sarkisian's first year as coach. Meanwhile, the Cougars are enduring another rough go in Paul Wulff's second season in Pullman at 1-10 and ranking statistically among the worst teams in the nation in many key statistical categories.

Still, history dictates that no one should be shocked if today's game ends up close.

The last seven Apple Cups have been decided by 31 total points, none by more than eight. Two have been decided in overtime, and all were in doubt until the final minutes.

"That's just [how it is] with any rivalry," said UW linebacker Donald Butler. "You look and it's not one team blowing out another — it's always close. When you have two schools that hate each other, that's how it is. They are out there battling and competing down after down after down."

The Huskies found that out a year ago when despite being winless, they went to Pullman as a touchdown favorite against the Cougars but lost 16-13 in double overtime.

That was not just the only Pac-10 victory in Wulff's tenure (WSU is 1-16 in conference play the last two seasons), but the only Pac-10 game the Cougs have come within 13 points of winning in that span.

Washington State's win last year put a little bit of a shine on what was an otherwise disastrous season, and Wulff thinks the Cougars can do it again.

"I'm anxious to see us go over there and give it our best shot and play extremely well, and I think we will," he said. "I think our kids are going to come out and play well."

Frankly, that would be a change from much of the rest of the season, as WSU ranks dead last in 22 of the 33 team statistical categories kept by the Pac-10 (and eighth or ninth in five others).

But the Cougars have often saved their best for the Huskies, winning the last two in the series and four of the last five. And WSU players insist that despite their season to date, it can happen again today.

"It's us and UW — that's all we are looking at," said safety Xavier Hicks. "We're not looking at the records. Although we haven't been able to pull one out in conference play, we definitely look forward to this one, pulling this one out."

The Cougars took the last two Apple Cups with big plays in the final minute either to win or force overtime, outcomes that still sting the Huskies.

"I want to beat them a lot," said UW receiver D'Andre Goodwin. "The last couple of years it has come down to the wire and we didn't win the game. We've got them in our house this Saturday, so we are looking forward to playing a good game and being able to celebrate a victory."

Several of the factors that turned last year's game toward the Cougars favor the Huskies this year, notably the quarterback situation.

This game is at Husky Stadium, where Washington has won three of five this year.

Washington played in 2008 without Jake Locker, who missed the final eight games of the season with a broken thumb. This year, it's Washington State going with a backup quarterback in senior Kevin Lopina, in place of true freshman Jeff Tuel. Lopina was the hero of last year's Apple Cup after throwing a 48-yard pass to Jared Karstetter in the final minute to set up a tying field goal.

Sarkisian, whose Huskies have lost four in a row to fall out of postseason contention, showed the expected caution all week publicly. And in practice, he and his assistants seemed as intense as any time all season.

"It's a rivalry game," Sarkisian said. "You don't know what's going to happen, You really don't."

The Washington players, though, entered the week confident, with tight end Kavario Middleton saying on Monday that the Huskies were planning on scoring 50 points.

Goodwin exuded that same feeling when asked if had any worries about leaving UW without beating the Cougars.

"That's not in my plans," the junior said. "I plan on beating them for the next few years. So I'm not graduating from here without beating them."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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