PULLMAN, WASH. (AP) - Fair or not, the 103rd edition of the Apple Cup is to many a referendum on the career of Jake Locker at Washington.
He could be lauded as the quarterback who helped rescue Washington from the depths of the lowest moments in program history and got the Huskies back to the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade.
Or, he’ll be remembered as the talented quarterback who in consecutive years failed to get that all-important sixth win that would help return Washington to respectability.
Seems like a lot riding on a rivalry game between two teams with a combined seven victories.
“It’s awesome. Couldn’t ask for more,” Locker said. “Got one game left, and you’re playing for the opportunity to make it to a bowl game _ something for me and everybody on this team has never got to experience. It’s really cool. I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
When Washington (5-6, 4-4 Pac-10) and Washington State (2-9, 1-7) meet on what’s expected to be a below-freezing Saturday night on the Palouse, the Huskies will be playing in a season-ending game that could propel them to a bowl game for the first time since 2002.
That was the last time Washington went to a bowl, the longest drought of any team in the conference. Among BCS schools, only Baylor _ likely broken this season _ and Duke have gone longer without a bowl trip than the Huskies.
A win over the Cougars, and coach Paul Wulff, will take at least a little pain off the 0-12 season the Huskies endured just two years ago.
“To have the opportunity to go play in a bowl game symbolizes progress, no doubt,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Whether completely internally, it has that perception externally.”
For Locker, playing in the postseason could help erase the external impression that returning for his senior season was a mistake and will help validate his five years on campus.
He’ll leave Washington as the school’s career leader in combined touchdowns passing and running, and he will have helped give exposure to a program that probably didn’t deserve any after the blight of 2008.
But his NFL draft stock has already taken a hit, going from being the first quarterback mentioned when the season began, to now being shuffled behind Andrew Luck and Cam Newton in the discussion. His numbers have also dipped in nearly every statistical category, with his completion percentage, yards and touchdowns all down from last season.
Not to mention the cracked rib he’s played with for the past few weeks.
Locker maintains he wouldn’t change anything with how he planned his future.
“He came back because he wanted to finish out whatever he started here,” Washington linebacker Cort Dennison said. “He realized we have a chance to do some good things this year as a team. he just wanted to come out and help us out. That’s the definition of Jake, someone who is going to put others in front of himself.”