What’s The Probability Of A UW Win?

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For WSU fans it’s been called “the only game that matters”. For UW fans it’s been the game where they remind their cross state rivals who their big brother is. We’re talking of course about the Apple Cup. While most of the nation won’t take notice of this northwest rivalry, Pat Forde at ESPN has ranked the annual meeting at number 8 in his listing of rivalries for 2009.

What’s at stake this year? For Washington it’s about respect from their instate rival who has won four of the past five – including an embarrassing loss to the Cougars in Pullman to seal their first 0-12 season. Further, first year coach Steve Sarkisian does not want to be the first Pac-10 team to lose to WSU this year. A win would give Washington their fourth win of the season – a feat that shouldn’t be overlooked for a team unable to muster a win last year.

For Washington State a loss at Husky Stadium will make them winless against NCAA division 1 football teams this year and finish at the bottom of the Pac-10. A win will give them their first 3-game winning streak in history.

So who’s going to win this year?

Historically, Washington has won 2/3 of the meetings, see figure 1. So we could say the huskies have a roughly 67% of winning while the Cougars chances are one in three. But it’s not that simple. Let’s take a closer look:

WSU has won two in a row eight times over the course of the century old rivalry. Two of those streaks have come this decade. So we can probably extrapolate and assume the cougars are unable to win three in a row. On the other hand, Washington has sported two 8-game winning streaks and a recent 6-game winning streak. You can easily identify these in figure 1. Coach Owens provided the first long winning streak to push Washington’s winning percentage over 60%. The combined score of this winning streak was 151-61. Don James was also able to win eight in a row leading to an overall winning percentage of 65%. Don’s Huskies outscored the Cougars 246-139 during these eight years. Rick Neuheisel won all four of his Apple Cups during a UW 6-game winning streak where the combined score was 173-85. Interestingly, all three of these coaches winning streaks team at the beginning of their tenure. Beginning coaches seem to have good luck against WSU – Could this be the start of Sarkisian’s winning streak?

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Figure 1

But we can’t write off the Cougars that easily. In the past two years (since November 10, 2007 to be exact) Washington State has only won two games against Div 1 opponents. Both of those wins have come in the last two Apple Cups! In the past five years WSU has managed to win four apple cups. It appears as though the Cougars have the Huskies number. Perhaps they’ll win after all?

So what’s the probability of the Cougars pulling the upset this Saturday? The all time series stands at 64-31-6 in favor of Washington. Statistically, this gives Washington a 63% of winning and the Cougars a 31% chance (67% – 33% if we ignore the tie games). But we’re not taking into account the home field advantage. If we disregard ties, the home team wins 55% of the time. WSU has only won 14 Apple Cups in Seattle while Washington has won 37. This means Washington has won 73% of the Apple Cups played in Seattle. This statistic combined with WSU playing some of the worst Pac-10 football in decades may make this game a lock for the UW.

So what does all this math mean? Absolutely nothing. In the Apple Cup, anything can happen!

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