Rancid Apple Cup evokes other rotten matchups   

Updated: November 21, 2008, 9:31 PM ET

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Every now and then we get to watch a classic college football game … and sometimes we get the Apple Cup (aka the Crapple Cup): Washington (0-10) at Washington State (1-10).

It has the potential to be one of the worst college football games in recent memory. The Huskies have lost their past six games by 34, 21, 26, 56, 20 and 20 points. Amazingly, however, they are favored to win on the road. That's because the Cougars have defeated only FCS member Portland State, and have been shut out three of their past four games.

As you can imagine, here at Page 2 we eagerly anticipate Saturday's showdown in Pullman. In fact, it got us checking the archives for some of the worst matchups we could find during the ESPN era (since 1979). Our criteria: We checked the major conferences for late-season games involving two wretched opponents. We were curious: Did the games live down to their hype? Or did they exceed expectations and produce an exciting contest?

We've given each game a Rotten Apple rating (in honor of the Apple Cup) -- five rotten apples means the game was a classic stinker; one apple means it was actually a compelling contest.

For good measure, we also tracked down the worst games from the four major pro sports.

 
Duke at Notre Dame, Nov. 17, 2007

Records entering game: Duke 1-9, Notre Dame 1-9

Final score: Notre Dame 28, Duke 7

Notable: Duke entered on a seven-game losing streak and ranked last in the nation in rushing. Notre Dame was winding down the worst season in its storied history. With the win, the Irish avoided becoming the first Notre Dame team in 74 seasons to go winless at home. Duke fired head coach Ted Roof nine days after this game with a 6-45 record at the school.

Did it live down to the hype? Almost. The game was scoreless until Notre Dame forced two fumbles which led to touchdowns late in the first half. Irish safety Tom Zbikowski, also known for his boxing abilities, entered the game at quarterback with 5:45 left and the Irish ahead 28-0. Notre Dame then committed back-to-back penalties before fumbling on the fourth play of the drive. It was that kind of game. … At least the band was great, treating fans to a sweet tribute to Super Mario Bros.

Rotten Apple rating:



  
Oregon State at Oregon, Nov. 21, 1981
Oregon at Oregon State, Nov. 27, 1982

Records entering game: 1981 -- Both teams 1-9. 1982 -- Both teams 1-8-1.

Final score: 1981 -- Oregon 47, Oregon State 17; 1982 -- Oregon 7, Oregon State 6.

Notable: The infamous 0-0 tie between these teams in 1983 gets far more attention, but the teams entered that game with a combined 6-14 record -- three times as many combined victories than each of the previous two seasons. So while '83 featured the worst game -- 16 turnovers and four failed field goal tries! -- '81 and '82 offered worse matchups. Interestingly, Rich Brooks went undefeated in his first 15 Civil War games -- going 3-0-1 as an Oregon State player from 1959-62, then 10-0-1 as Oregon coach, beginning in '77.

Did it live down to the hype? Yes and no. The '82 game was mostly uninspiring, with the Beavers clinging to a 6-0 lead in the final minutes. Then the visiting Ducks spoiled the party when Mike Jorgensen connected with Osborn Thomas on a 26-yard touchdown pass with 2:32 left to lift Oregon to victory … The '81 game featured a lot more offense but was a one-sided affair. Vince Williams and Harry Billups each rushed for two touchdowns, and Oregon cruised to a 14-0 lead and put the game out of reach with a 20-point third quarter.

Rotten Apple rating:



  
Kansas at Kansas State, Nov. 7, 1987
Kansas State at Kansas, Nov. 5, 1988

Records entering game: 1987 -- Kansas 1-7; Kansas State 0-8. 1988 -- Both teams 0-8.

Final score: 1987 -- Kansas 17, Kansas State 17; 1988 -- Kansas 30, Kansas State 12.

Notable: Here's another unfortunate home-and-home rivalry matchup. How bad were these Sunflower Showdown participants? In 1987, the teams finished a combined 1-19-2. The only victory was a 16-15 Jayhawks win over Division I-AA Southern Illinois. … In '88, the teams finished a combined 1-21, the only win coming when they played each other.

Did it live down to the hype? Yes. Each team had four turnovers in the '87 game. Kansas' Marvin Mattox blocked a last-second K-State field goal attempt to secure the tie, which turned out to be the Wildcats' only respite from defeat in a 30-game span. Said K-State coach Stan Parrish, "I didn't watch it, but I heard it. It was like one of my 4-irons hitting a tree." … In '88, The Jayhawks took a 24-0 lead and ground out the win with 344 rushing yards.

Rotten Apple rating:



  
Illinois at Indiana, Nov. 8, 2003

Records entering game: Illinois 1-9, Indiana 1-8

Final score: Indiana 17, Illinois 14

Notable: Each team's lone victory entering the game came against a Division I-AA opponent. Future fantasy-football waiver-wire pickup BenJarvus Green-Ellis, then a Hoosiers freshman, rumbled for 98 yards and a touchdown. Despite each team's dismal 2003 season, both coaches -- Indiana's Gerry DiNardo and Illinois' Ron Turner -- survived to work one more season at their respective schools.

Did it live down to the hype? No. There were only two turnovers (both by the Illini), and the game featured an exciting conclusion for the home team. Former Notre Dame quarterback Matt LoVecchio scored the decisive touchdown with 24 seconds left to help the Hoosiers end an 11-game Big Ten losing skid.

Rotten Apple rating:



  
North Carolina at Duke, Nov. 25, 2006

Records entering game: North Carolina 2-9, Duke 0-11

Final score: North Carolina 45, Duke 44

Notable: John Bunting was coaching his last game with the Tar Heels. He had been fired more than a month earlier but was kept on to finish the season. The defeat extended Duke's losing streak to 20 games, the longest in the nation at the time. Just so Duke fans don't think we're picking on them, let's celebrate the last great Blue Devils team.

Did it live down to the hype? No. If you ignored the records, it was a terrific game. The Heels amassed 453 total yards of offense, and Carolina's Brandon Tate returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns. Duke's Thad Lewis threw four touchdown passes -- three to Tielor Robinson. Duke trailed 45-31 with less than five minutes left, but was poised to tie it when Patrick Bailey returned an interception for a touchdown with 2:49 remaining. Instead, Carolina's Kentwan Balmer sealed Duke's 0-12 season by blocking the extra point.

Rotten Apple rating:



College football dishonorable mention

• Nov. 17, 1979: Illinois (1-8-1) at Northwestern (1-9). Illinois won 29-13.

• Nov. 1, 1997: Rutgers (0-8) at Temple (2-6). Temple won 49-7.

• Nov. 4, 2000: Duke (0-8) at Wake Forest (0-7). Wake Forest won 28-26.

• Nov. 13, 2004: Vanderbilt (2-7) at Kentucky (1-8). Kentucky won 14-13.





MLB: Tigers at Royals, Sept. 24, 2002

Records entering game: Detroit 54-101, Kansas City 60-96

Final score: Kansas City 17, Detroit 2

Notable: Both teams would finish with 100 losses (Detroit at 55-106, Kansas City at 62-100), making this the only final-week matchup of teams that would lose 100 games during the ESPN era.

Did it live down to the hype? Absolutely. First off, the starting pitchers were the immortal Shane Loux (career ERA: 6.41) and Miguel Asencio (career ERA: 5.12). Paid attendance was 9,878, which must have included ushers, cotton-candy vendors and grounds crew members. Besides Loux, four other Tigers pitchers combined to give up 17 runs, 15 hits and five walks: Brian Powell, Matt Anderson, Eric Eckenstahler and Jeff Farnsworth. The Tigers also committed four errors. The game's highlight was Royals left fielder Chuck Knoblauch hitting the final home run of his big league career.

Rotten Apple rating:




NBA: Timberwolves at Mavericks, April 23, 1993

Records entering game: Minnesota 18-62, Dallas 9-71

Final score: Dallas 103, Minnesota 100

Notable: In the next-to-last game of the season, the Mavs needed a win to top the '73 Sixers' record low of nine wins in a season. They did, and also won their finale to finish 11-71. They finished second-to-last in scoring (99.3 points per game) and last in points allowed (114.5 per game). Minnesota finished 19-63.

Did it live down to the hype? Sort of. As The Dallas Morning News reported the next day, "In the final minutes, the arena vibrated with pounding feet and clapping hands. Screams and cheers were louder than ever. Fans danced in their seats." But the real kicker was how the game ended: Minnesota had possession, needing a 3-pointer to tie. But rookie guard Chris Smith thought his team trailed by two and drove the lane for a layup. Which he missed.

Rotten Apple rating:




NFL: Colts at Buccaneers, Dec. 22, 1991

Records entering game: Indianapolis 1-14, Tampa Bay 2-13

Final score: Tampa Bay 17, Indianapolis 3

Notable: Dubbed the "Regretta-Bowl," the Colts would finish the season with 143 points, the second-lowest ever in a 16-game season (ahead of only the '92 Seahawks). Interestingly enough, the game was not for the overall No. 1 pick: The Colts already owned Tampa's pick, having traded Chris Chandler for it. (The Colts would draft Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt with the picks -- two defensive players. Hmm.)

Did it live down to the hype? Most definitely. The teams combined for seven turnovers, with Bucs QB Vinny Testaverde throwing three interceptions. The Colts lost three fumbles in the first half but still led 3-0 until Tampa scored right before halftime. "It wasn't pretty at times, but it was a win," Bucs coach Richard Williamson said in the understatement of the year. Colts QB Jeff George helped the teams combine for 12 three-and-out series and a combined 13 punts.

Rotten Apple rating:




NHL: Whalers at Senators, April 7, 1993

Records entering game: Hartford 24-49-5, Ottawa 9-66-4

Final score: Hartford 6, Ottawa 1

Notable: The expansion Senators would finish 10-70-4, tying the 1975 Washington Capitals for most losses in a season. This was their 14th consecutive loss.

Did it live down to the hype? It was pretty ugly hockey. The Senators led 1-0 before the Whalers scored four goals in the final 10 minutes of the second period. Rookie center Michael Nylander, on his way to a hat trick, scored two of the goals. In between the goals, however, Hartford racked up 44 minutes of penalties, including a game misconduct for Jim McKenzie for fighting. McKenzie had just returned from a two-game suspension for his fourth game misconduct of the season. Ah, yes … Hartford Whalers hockey at its finest.

Rotten Apple rating:



David Schoenfield and Thomas Neumann are editors for Page 2.


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