Evanson column: Don't look now, but we may have a Civil War after all
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the "Nutria Navy" is back on patrol.
For those of you unfamiliar with the somewhat creative and ever-evolving vernacular surrounding the Oregon/Oregon State rivalry, that's Beaver Nation to more than a handful of fans of the Oregon Ducks. Much like the Beavers may refer to the Ducks as the "zeros," or the "sucks," or any of the other mostly inappropriate nicknames, the Quacks have more than their share of equally condescending tags for their "little brother" to the north.
But while the vitriol between the two has been mostly dormant over the past few seasons, due primarily to Oregon State's struggles on the gridiron, there have been rumblings of late coming from the town of Corvallis — and they're getting stronger with every Beaver win.
By now, if you follow NCAA football, you know that Oregon has won eight straight since a disappointing loss to No. 12-ranked Auburn to start the year. They're ranked seventh in the both the AP and Coaches polls, eighth in ESPN's Football Power Index and are back in the discussion for the College Football Playoff after last Saturday's 56-24 road win over USC. But while the Ducks have been making noise on a national stage, the Beavers are quietly building expectations for a Civil War game that's at the very least getting more interesting by the week.
After losing three of their first four games, Oregon State has won three of their last four with an anomalous 52-7 home loss to Utah sandwiched in between. They're scoring points, piecing together enough defensive stops to stay in games, and have already exceeded preseason prognostications that had them winning two games at most. They have a capable quarterback, one of the conference's best receivers and a stable of running backs that half of college football would be happy to call their own. So with just enough ammunition to make them part of the conversation, the Beaver faithful are talking, and it's not entirely under their breath.
A winning season is part of the conversation.
Bowl games are being discussed.
And I've even read tweets from noteworthy media members — and Beaver homers — about winning-out, taking the Pac-12 North division, and in the process earning a spot in the conference championship game.
Crazy? Not entirely. After all, if they were to run the table they'd only need a single Oregon loss between now and the Civil War to make that a possibility. And while the Ducks are good, they're not good enough to defy a loss against any conference opponent if they fail to give them their utmost attention. But while an Oregon loss can't be taken off the table, the bigger hurdle might be the four remaining games for an Oregon State team hitting its stride.
Home against Washington this Friday, home against Arizona State the following Saturday and on the road against Washington State prior to a date with the Ducks. While not exactly murderer's row — remember, this is the Pac-12 — it also isn't the cake walk you'd prefer if you're a member of Dam Nation trying to shock the proverbial world.
Can the Beavers win the Pac-12? Mathematics say yes. But while the science is inarguable, the laws of probability — like the Magic Eight Ball — say "outlook not so good." A conference title may by most accounts be out of reach, and yet a competitive Civil War and the smack talk that comes with it may not. And that's good for college football, better for fans of one of the game's oldest rivalries and better yet for Nutria Naval Officers, Zeroes, Rodents and Sucks — like it or not.
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