Evanson column: It's Civil War week
So here we are.
After three months, 11 games and a series of ups and downs, the Civil War — pitting the University of Oregon against Oregon State University in what will be their 123rd meeting — is finally upon us.
No more Tigers, Rainbow Warriors, Huskies or Bruins. No mascots like Sparky, Ralphie or Traveller. And no more retread coaches the likes of Chip Kelly, Herm Edwards or Rich Rodriguez. This is about the Ducks and Beavers, Puddles and Benny, and two of the biggest up-and-coming coaches college football has to offer.
For one week, we don't care about the SEC. We don't care about the College Football Playoff. And we don't care about Heismans, conference championships or out-of-state matchups that — especially now — have little to do with what's going on in Eugene this Saturday at 1 p.m. This is about our schools, our state and more than a century's worth of bad blood between two schools with very little in common.
Over the last 30 years Oregon has become flash, and over the last decade a player on the national stage. But while the Ducks have been soaring on the winds of cutting-edge uniforms, elite facilities and high-level recruits, the Beavers have been drowning in a sea of — to be nice — mediocrity.
Oregon State isn't flush with cash and as a result the Beavers are forced to do things the hard way — and they seem to like it. The school is built on an agricultural foundation and decades worth of the type of blood, sweat and tears often found off the beaten path. They have to make the most of everything, do more with less and think outside the box if they want to win at a desired level. They're gritty, while Oregon is the glitter that causes true Beavers to roll their eyes.
A week ago, this game appeared as if it'd have more meaning. After all, prior to last weekend's loss at Arizona State, Oregon's hopes of a college football playoff berth was still thought to be in the balance. Since then, however, while the Ducks are faced with regrouping in the wake of what could have been, it's become the Beavers whose season now is at a crossroads.
In the wake of Oregon's stinker against the Sun Devils, Oregon State rallied to take, then ultimately give away the lead at Washington State, leaving the Beavers still a win removed from bowl eligibility.
So? If you're a true Beaver Believer or simply a fan of the game familiar with OSU's recent plight, "so" may be the furthest thing from your mind.
Oregon State is in recovery. Still wounded from the beating they took in the wake of the Gary Andersen experience (a less-than-three-year stint that saw the now-Utah State head coach walk away from the program along with the $12 million left on his contract because you could allegedly never win in Corvallis), the Beavers finished last season 2-10 and started this year's slate with losses in three of their first four games. But while nearly all seemed lost early under now-second year head coach Jonathan Smith, of late things seem to be headed in a remarkably positive direction.
Since a 31-28 loss to Stanford Sept. 28, the Beavers are 4-3, second in the Pac 12's North Division and an upset win over Oregon away from a bowl game no one saw coming.
Meanwhile, Oregon, the team that once had its sights on bigger and better things, is forced to refocus after having its hopes of a national championship opportunity thrown to the cacti in the desert of Tempe. The Ducks — who I still believe are a year or two away — are in the precarious position of having little to play for, while their opponent still has it all squarely in front of them — and that's a scary place for fans of the green and yellow to be.
Don't kid yourself, the Beavers can win this game. They've proven capable of scoring points on nearly everyone, and while porous on the defensive side of the ball, offensively they're potent — and that in itself is enough to cause the Ducks problems if they don't bring their A-game.
Who wins? My money's on Oregon; after all, they're 20 point favorites, have superior talent and are playing at home. But while on paper they're better, in Vegas they're heavily favored and in Eugene have haven't lost to OSU since 2007, something tells me this one's going to be close. It's the Civil War, but there's nothing civil about it.
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