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Apple Cup 2018: Gardner Minshew II will be the key to beating the UW Huskies

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

Alexander Pope

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From Mississippi to Alabama, back to Mississippi, to North Carolina to eastern Washington State.

One of these things is not like the other one.

No, there has been nothing regular about Gardner Minshew II’s journey through the ranks of college football but, then again, there’s nothing really regular about Gardner Minshew II. His persona on and off the field this year fits better in a late 1990s, early 2000s coming-of-age teen comedy script that it does in real life. He caught a throw away pass with one hand on the sidelines. He wears only aviators and a jockstrap in the locker room. He pasted a mustache on his head coach in a postgame interview.

For God’s sake, his facial hair is arguably better known than any other player on his own team. My time on this earth as a person and college football fan is shorter than many but, with apologies to being a prisoner of the moment, I’ve never seen a player like him.

We’ve examined this season and this team top to bottom countless times. The conclusion you would likely come to if you’ve done the same is to believe that this squad had no business being in this position. But maybe all the pieces were there all along; all these players and coaches needed was someone who wasn’t afraid to grab the ship’s wheel and guide it through the storm.

That is who Gardner Minshew II is: a man who saw his own football mortality but got one last chance. One more shot at playing, one more shot at the thrill, one more shot at the agony, one more shot and throwin’ a football over them there mountains.

The adversity this team faced in the offseason has been brought up ad nauseum but it bears repeating. A head coach nearly running for eastern Tennessee, virtually every assistant coach defecting, multiple talented wide receivers leaving. All that would ordinarily be enough for a group of more than 100 young men to throw up their hands and pack it in.

Then, one of the people they were closest to took his own life.

The outpouring of sadness and love and support in the intervening days after Tyler Hilinski’s death helped bind this community in a way I have never seen. We all leaned on one another, offered help where we could, and his parents continue to do incredible work with an organization named for him aimed at suicide prevention and mental health awareness. But as far as a team who will still be playing 12 games in the fall, those things only get you so far. What they needed was a jolt from someone brave enough to grab that aforementioned wheel and point them in the right direction.

It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a graduate transfer quarterback who is, still, a college student. But Minshew seems unaffected by it at all, willing to burden it for everyone else and remain affable and charismatic. He has truly been the leader of this football team, players and coaches included. Everyone is feeding off his energy and charisma; the sheer, unadulterated joy with which he is playing this season he wasn’t supposed to have.

Eleven weeks later, we’ve come full circle. Gardner Minshew II was then, and is now, the most important person the Washington State Cougars have on their football team. He’s a player unconcerned with years of rear-end kickings placed on Wazzu by Chris Petersen and company; a player unaffected by the weight of the moment or by the possibility that he could fail. He is, to put it lightly, the perfect quarterback to run the Air Raid.

I generally don’t believe in the common colloquialism from coaches and players that goes something like “oh, we don’t think about what Game X means”. It’s practically impossible not to because, once again, the road to the Pac-12 Championship game runs through the Apple Cup. The game would be important enough without those stakes but what’s left of Washington’s preseason expectations are on the line while the Cougs could, inexplicability, vault their way into a Rose Bowl with two more wins.

For the first time ever though, I would believe it if Minshew told me. He seems unbothered by just about anything when he’s on the field, the perfect leader for a group of players who desperately needed it.

I would ordinarily try to be a bit more elequent, but taking a cue from Uncle Rico, I’ll just cut to the chase: this is a big ass football game on Friday. And there’s no one I’d rather have at quarterback than Gardner Minshew II.

To borrow a phrase from the first time I wrote about him: Just be yourself on Friday, Gardner and everything else will fall into place.

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And we’re gonna be alright / Dry your tears and hold tight / Can’t you tell I got news for you / Sun is shining and so are you.

Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso

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Gardner Minshew II, the most important person against Washington.

Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone.

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