FALL IS FOOTBALL TIME: TIME FOR THE CIVIL WAR GAME!
As with many Civil War games from the past, tonight's game doesn't have major bowl implications. In the past few years the game has had big ramifications. Who got to go to the Rose Bowl? Who got to play in a Bowl Championship Series bowl game? But for many years prior, it was mostly for state bragging rights. And that's mostly what it's about tonight.
Oregon leads the series, which has been played since 1894, 60 to 46. There have been ten ties, and I personally witnessed the very worst of those ties, the infamous Toilet Bowl of 1983. Autzen Stadium was unbearably cold and wet, and none of the players were able to hang onto the ball. It ended up 0-0. Fans were booing both teams by the end of it. Thankfully, times have changed over the last 30 years for both schools' football programs.
Some more history:
Oregon continues to use Donald Duck as its mascot, and while the Ducks have succumbed pretty much to crass commercialism in recent years with their Nike University alias, Donald has been around Eugene, Oregon far longer than Nike... since 1947, as a matter of fact.
The U of O has added all kinds of unnecessary frills and fringes in the last 10-15 years, ranging from carbon football helmets to the "uniform of the week". Lots of flash, lots of fashion. And to the chagrin of Oregon State fans and others, it has also equated to an infusion of big money for spectacular, opulent facilities. This has helped draw some excellent recruits to the school's athletic programs, and Oregon's teams done very well in recent years in football, men's basketball, track and field, baseball, and softball, among others.
Oregon State, meanwhile, has changed mascots a few times during the last few decades. They've gone from the lovable, buck-toothed (and possibly low-intellect) Benny the Beaver
to an angry Beaver
to the new one I call the Space Beaver. This one appears to have been designed for better aerodynamics and possibly for interstellar travel:
I have to admit I love the new logo. It has a look of fierce determination about it. It shows the animal's whiskers for the first time, and it just looks more like a real beaver. The only thing I would change is the direction it faces... it faces to the right, which is not necessarily healthy for our society as a whole. To all OSU fans, I would urge you, "Go leftward!" This beaver looks like it's going spaceward at least, and I like that.
The Beavers had a rotten football program for years until high-profile coach Dennis Erickson came to town. OSU was gradually heading upward when Mike Riley had left OSU for an NFL job, and then Erickson built on the players Riley had recruited and also brought in some players of his own. OSU quickly became a powerhouse. It was good to see. As he usually does, Erickson wore out his welcome rather quickly and did not finish his five-year contract (he was at OSU from 1999-2002) but he gave the Beaver football program a much-needed boost. When he left and Mike Riley returned, a foundation was in place for more winning seasons. It has proven to be a foundation not as solid as the Ducks have built, but at least OSU fans can now expect football that is .500 or better every season and that usually means a bowl game. The Beavers will continue to be a team to be reckoned with, and will continue to be capable of beating any other team in the conference on any given day.
However, this season has been pretty average for OSU. They started off with a rather horrifying loss on their home field to Eastern Washington, a team from a lower division. That got them fired up, and they reeled off six straight wins before losing four in a row. To be fair, when they were 6-1 and started the losing streak, the first three losses were to teams ranked in the Top 25: 20-12 to Stanford at home, 31-14 to USC at home, and 31-17 to Arizona State on the road. The devastating loss was last week's Seniors Day debacle in Corvallis. The unranked University of Washington Huskies, who have had an up and down season, came to Corvallis and whacked the Beavers 69-27 in one of UW's best games of the year. On paper, that one looked liked it should have been closer. So, has OSU given up on the season? Coach Mike Riley assures everyone that they haven't quit, and that they will be ready for the Civil War game. A loss here would drop the Beavers to 6-6 on the season, and finishing the year with just six wins (and with five straight losses) might keep them out of a bowl.
Oregon started the season with very lofty expectations, and people were already talking about the Ducks playing Alabama for a national title after only the second or third game of the season. From my personal experience as a Ducks fan, I know setting such high expectations is never wise. While the U of O program has reached elite status in recent years, my experience has taught me to be satisfied if my team makes it to a bowl game and has a winning season. And just like last season, things came off the rails when the Ducks were beaten by Stanford. But unlike last season, when the Ducks rebounded after the Stanford loss, this season they struggled a bit to beat Utah in Eugene before getting slaughtered in Tucson by the Arizona Wildcats, 42-16. Oregon has some soft spots, for sure. They're beatable.
But that depends on who they are playing, of course, and how jacked up their opponent is.
The Beavers have an excellent passing game, although good defenses have been able to figure it out lately. OSU has shown virtually no running game this year. Their defense is sporadic but stable. The Ducks can counter with a better-than-average pass defense, a good running game, and a sporadic-but-usually-good defense.
I think it comes down to these things tonight for an Oregon win over the Beavers: 1) OSU needs to mount a running game, and whether or not they do, the Ducks need to stop the run. 2) The Ducks need to stop the Beavers on third downs and short yardage, 3) the Ducks need to get their running game going (and much of that is dependent on the health of quarterback Marcus Mariota's knees), 4) the Ducks need to force a bunch of turnovers and capitalize with points, and 5) Oregon needs to be more jacked up and better-prepared than OSU for this game. If the Beavers get a running game going, if they do well on third and short, if they can stop UO's running attack and if they don't turn the ball over... this one could be a barn-burner. But OSU will pretty much have to play a near-perfect game. Or the Ducks will have to just about completely implode.
Last year Oregon won 48-24. This year I'll predict another Oregon win, but I'll add 7 for OSU and take off 7 for Oregon, for a final score of 41-31. Oregon will have a hard time stopping the OSU passing game in the first half, and I can imagine the Beavers leading the game at halftime. But I believe the Ducks will be fired up in the second half and they'll get a comeback win.
Oregon players Josh Huff and D'Anthony Thomas said some things earlier to the effect of "We can't get too excited about playing in the Rose Bowl" and "We've been there, we want something better". Well, that sort of attitude doesn't reflect well on anyone, especially when your team doesn't even get to play in the league championship now.
A 10-2 season record, including 7-2 in the Pac-12 Conference, won't be enough to get them into the league championship game, but it should be enough to get them into a decent bowl game against a good opponent. A win there could put the Ducks back in the top 10 rankings by season's end. A loss tonight? At 9-3, UO would probably still be in the top 25, and would probably get a bowl game against another top 25 opponent... and while that's no BCS game, it's a hell of a lot better than the Toilet Bowl.
And when I look at the standings after the season (and regardless of the outcome of tonight's game), I'll know that the Ducks had the best record of the four Northwest teams... and having bragging rights for the region is always nice!
I tend to not hate on OSU like I did back in college days. I like the Beavers too, and I often root for them. I love my Ducks, and while they're my top team regardless of the sport, I actually have some love for the Beavers as well. OSU is also a great school. Like Oregon, they do the Pacific Northwest proud in lots of ways. In fact, I often root for them unless they're playing the Ducks.
But for this one day of the year, OSU is close to the bottom of the list, and those few days every year when they are playing the Ducks in whatever the sport... I have to hate them. :-)
Go Ducks! Ya gotta get this one!