While a few others in the dwindling field of elite college football teams wobbled Saturday, Washington State wowed.
Piling up 407 yards and 55 points by halftime, the Cougars splattered Arizona 69-28 (box) Saturday night in Pullman — Gardner Minshew had a school-record seven touchdown passes — to set up an Apple Cup lollapalooza at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Martin (box)Stadium.
Washington did its part earlier Saturday at Husky Stadium, firing out to a 28-6 lead and cruising to a 42-23 win (box) over Oregon State. So the matchup state football fans have coveted for weeks shall come to pass:
Washington State (10-1, 7-1) vs. Washington (8-3, 6-2): Winner gets the North Division’s berth in the Pac-12 championship (standings) against Utah, the South Division champ. The loser gets the agony of a wasted opportunity, no matter how coaches frame it otherwise.
The latest Associated Press poll released Sunday morning moved WSU up one spot to seventh. UW also moved up one to 16th. Pac-12 South winner Utah moved up three to 18th after its 30-7 win at Colorado.
The weekly College Football Playoff rankings, which create the four-team field, will be released Tuesday.
Normally the perpetual undercat, the Cougars this time have even loftier stakes than their first division title ever, as well as their first Rose Bowl appearance since 2003: A place in the CFP.
Given what can happen nationally in rivalry games and conference championships, WSU’s long shot for the fourth and final spot looked a teensy more plausible after Saturday.
The AP’s top three teams, Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame, moved to 10-0. The other four one-loss teams ahead of WSU also won: N0. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 8 Ohi0 State.
But the Buckeyes’ narrow 52-51 overtime win over mediocre Maryland dropped them to 10th. The Wolverines and Sooners had some hard times in triumph, and they all have formidable games ahead.
So do the Cougs. But they can’t prep for the Huskies better than they did against the Wildcats (4-4, 5-6), who beat WSU 58-37 a year ago and had star QB Khalil Mack as close to 100 percent healthy as he’s been this season.
Arizona was coming off wins over Oregon and Colorado with some momentum, but Minshew, the graduate transfer, was unstoppable. The nation’s leading passer had five TDs in the first half and finished with 473 yards on 43-of-55 passing. He had ample time to find his many targets, 11 of which caught throws before halftime.
Tate was good, with 294 yards and four TDs on 18-of-30 passing, and Arizona gained 431 yards. But the Wildcats turned it over four times and WSU converted the turnovers into 28 points.
The Cougars can’t fix their weak non-conference schedule, which will be held against them by the CFP committee, as will their loss to an unranked USC team that isn’t yet bowl eligible. Michigan’s loss was to No. 3 Notre Dame 24-17, Georgia lost to No. 8 LSU 36-16, and Oklahoma lost to No. 19 Texas 48-45.
So all they can control is beating the Huskies for the first time in six seasons, then topping Utah in the title game, which they did at home Sept. 29, 28-24, then accept the Rose Bowl as a splendid consolation prize.
If the Cougs win out and the committee doesn’t want the best story in college football this season at its final four, it’s their loss. The can keep Nick Saban, horns, tail, pitchfork and all, while the Grandaddy gets to flash the ‘stache.