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The Apple Cup rooting guide for Buffaloes

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If Colorado defeats Utah, they play the winner of the Apple Cup, Washington or Washington State.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes just played their most important game in over a decade. In their convincing victory over then No. 22 (now No. 23) Washington State, the Buffs cemented their status as one of the best teams in college football. The rankings reflect just that, as all three major rankings have Colorado at No. 9 this week.

With that win and Oregon’s upset over Utah, the Buffs are now one win away from winning the Pac-12 South. If Colorado beats the beaten up Utes in a sold out night game at Folsom Field, they play the winner of the Apple Cup, the annual rivalry between Washington and Washington State (1:30 pm, Friday, Fox Sports).

Either outcome of the Apple Cup greatly effects the Buffs, and because neither is inherently better or worse, we’re here to help you decide your rooting interests.

The Case for Washington

The Washington Huskies are currently 10-1 and No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Washington is in great position to reach the Final Four with wins over Washington State and the South division winner (Colorado with a win, USC with a Colorado loss). They’re still dependent on one team dropping from the top four (Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson), but that shouldn’t be a problem with Ohio State and Michigan playing this weekend.

We can criticize their surprisingly lackluster resume — their best win (over Utah in Salt Lake City) is looking less impressive with every passing week — but they’re still 10-1 and have a bevy of blowout wins over solid opponents. They’re favored by six points over Washington State, even with the game in Pullman. If they win that, they would likely be favored in the Pac-12 Championship against Colorado or USC.

For Colorado, the benefit of Washington winning the Apple Cup would be a boon for their Playoff chances. As it stands, Colorado needs to win the Rumble in the Rockies and the Pac-12 Championship to get considered by the committee, and if they want to jump from No. 9 into the top four, they need the most impressive victories possible (plus some outside help). Washington would likely be No. 4 in the rankings after this week, so they may be just what the Buffs need after Utah’s ten-spot drop after their loss to Oregon.

For one, the Huskies are the more difficult opponent between them and the Cougars. They may be slightly overrated, but the Buffs would have their hands full against Jake Browning, John Ross and Myles Gaskin — and that’s just Washington’s offense; their defense might even be their best unit. If Washington won, they would likely be in the Playoff, and that would open up a spot for the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, Colorado is neck and neck with USC (No. 12 in the CFP) and lost the head-to-head back in October. A loss to Washington could see USC leapfrog them in the rankings and thus into the Rose Bowl. Colorado would then play in the Alamo Bowl against a Big 12 representative.

For another, it’s questionable as to whether or not Colorado should want to make the College Football Playoff. If they were to somehow make the Final Four, they would be all but guaranteed the four-seed and would have to play Alabama. As good as Colorado has been, it would take multiple miracles to beat the 32nd NFL team. It may be worth to it you to make the Playoff and be one-and-done, it may not be.

I propose this question: Would you rather Colorado make the CFP (something we would never forget) and get crushed by Alabama (something no one would care about), or finish outside the top four and play in the Rose Bowl against a beatable Big Ten opponent? If you pick the former, root for Washington. If you pick the latter...

The Case for Washington State

If you root for Washington State, you’re rooting for the safer pick in regards to Colorado’s chances at victory.

Like Colorado, Washington State has surprised everyone this season as they carried over last season’s breakout year to contend in the Pac-12. Washington State was undefeated in the Pac-12 until losing to Colorado, but their early season losses to FCS Eastern Washington and Boise State held them back in the rankings. The Cougars would rise considerably in the rankings if they beat Washington, but the Pac-12 Championship wouldn’t be a CFP play-in game. The committee would look favorably on Colorado for beating Washington State twice (especially if they beat Washington), but it likely wouldn’t be enough to move the Buffs into the Playoff.

It should be stated that just because Colorado has beaten Washington State doesn’t mean the rematch would be an automatic win. Colorado beat them 38-24 by dominating late — Colorado outscored them 24-7 in the second half — but the game was in Folsom Field, one of the hardest places in the country to win when the Buffs are good. CU has played excellently on the road, so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but it still counts for something. If Washington State didn’t drop three would-be touchdown passes, we could be hoping for the Alamo Bowl instead of the Playoff or Rose Bowl. Still, Colorado did beat up Washington State and looked like the better team, so they should be the heavy favorite in a rematch.

If Colorado beat Washington State in the Pac-12 Championship, the Buffs probably wouldn’t make the Playoff, but they would play in the Rose Bowl. That may be preferred after all, if you prefer Pasadena to Atlanta, or a possible win against Ohio State/Penn State/Wisconsin/Michigan to a surefire beating at the hands of Alabama. We would get to bask in the sun and maybe a win, but the Buffs would be limited to just that game. We wouldn’t have a potential miracle run through the Playoff and an impossible National Championship.

So, you can watch the Apple Cup and cheer accordingly: Root for Washington if you want to dream big (why wouldn’t you after this season?) or root for Washington State if you want the safer option but limited upside (why not end this season with a win in the Rose Bowl, of all places?).

Also, root for Michigan, Notre Dame and Oregon State. Don’t ask why, just do it. Colorado too.