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Wednesday, November 5, 2008
A date that will live in infamy: Apple Cup 2008

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

And so it begins: The countdown to the 2008 Apple Cup on Nov. 22.

Likely winless Washington and its lame duck coach Tyrone Willingham visits woeful state rival Washington State, owners of a single victory over an FCS foe as well as the first defense in college football history to give up more than 60 points four times in a season.

Calling it a train wreck does a disservice to train wrecks.

Oh, but you know you can't turn away.

This is like a throwdown between "Plan 9 from Outer Space" vs. "Gigli".

This is like the 2003 Detroit Tigers vs. the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, if we can be allowed to mix sports mediums.

This is like, well, the 1987 "Toilet Bowl" between Kansas and Kansas State, which finished in a 17-17 tie. The Jayhawks finished the season 1-9-1, the Wildcats at 0-10-1.

This is like the less heralded but perhaps even more pathetic encore in 1988 in which Kansas beat Kansas State, providing the only win between them. Those two squads were outscored that season 944-360.

Of course, the Huskies and Cougars combined scoring deficit -- 776-224 with four games remaining -- blows that out of the water.

In fact, the Cougars likely will enter the NCAA record book in the ignominious "Most points allowed in a season" category, even before they play their 13th game at Hawaii. They have surrendered 443 points -- 49.2 per game -- and the record is a mere 566, yielded by Eastern Michigan in 2002.

Hey, we know that statistics can sometimes make a person's eyes glaze over, but consider these fun facts.

It's not unfair to say that the loser of the Apple Cup will earn mention as one of the worst teams to emerge from a major conference in the modern era, joining such squads as 1981 Northwestern, 1959 Virginia and 2000 Duke.

What is remarkable, though, is how far these programs have tumbled: Both have played in Rose Bowl's this decade.  

Washington won the 1991 national championship and finished ranked No. 3 in 2000 after winning the Rose Bowl.

Washington State won 10 games in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and finished ranked in the top-10 each of those seasons.

Both teams finished in the final top-25 AP poll in 2001.

The Apple Cup used to be meaningful annually in the Pac-10 race for at least one of the participants.

Now, for the third time in four years, the stakes are avoiding finishing last in the conference.

Reporters asked Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham this week how he keeps his team motivated. Willingham pointed to one of his favorite inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King:

"If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.'''

While it's likely not Willingham's intended meaning, we can reap wisdom from this.

The Huskies and Cougars have been called to be a national punchline this year.

So when they meet in the 2008 Apple Cup, perhaps the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say: Here played two great terrible teams who did their job well.