Stakes are especially high Saturday when Oregon State and Washington meet in Corvallis, Ore.
Neither is playing for bowl eligibility like Washington State and Utah. The Beavers and Huskies already hit the necessary benchmark. The divisional crown is not at stake, as both have been eliminated from contention. Nevertheless, this is a win both teams need in order to salvage a trying season.
Oregon State and Washington are two quality Pac-12 teams lacking much in the way of quality Pac-12 wins. Washington's most noteworthy victory is 6-4 Arizona. For Oregon State, it's a rout of 5-5 Washington State. Both enter Reser Stadium stuck in a rut, losing a combined seven conference games of their last nine.
Both Oregon State and Washington have had their recent brushes with greatness. Each broke into the Top 25. The Beavers only had a cup of coffee in the polls, but Washington spent six weeks ranked.
The challenge for these coaches—who once led flourishing teams in rough patches like that which Oregon State and Washington face—is preventing losing from becoming self-perpetuating.
"You can lose...and lose hope and play worse, or you can continue to grow," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
Riley said that he has emphasized the improvements amid Oregon State's struggles to keep the team moving forward.
"They’re not quitting or anything like that. They’re competing hard, we just haven’t played well enough all the way around to win," Riley said of his team's current three-game losing skid.
The Beavers were winners of six straight before running into the three-game buzz saw of Stanford, USC and Arizona State. They were rolling along with one of the nation's most prolific passing offenses, featuring two Heisman Trophy contenders.
Oregon State has since failed to reach 20 points in three straight outings and has been plagued by an issue that killed the Beavers' North Division aspirations in 2012.
"We’ve turned it the wrong way as far as turnovers," Riley said, referring to Oregon State's nine turnovers in the last three games.
It's difficult for Heisman hopefuls to put up numbers if they don't have the ball. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is still producing. He scored a touchdown in the Stanford and USC losses and caught for 99 yards against Arizona State's stingy secondary.
However, his partner and junior quarterback Sean Mannion has hit a rough patch since starting the season with 29 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. During the losing skid, Mannion's thrown four touchdowns and seven interceptions—all of which came in the last two outings.
That's an especially worrisome trend for the Beavers given their next opponent. Oregon State suffered its first loss of 2012 against this Washington team, a game in which Mannion threw four interceptions.
Of course, Washington has its own unfortunate trend that it is trying to reverse this week. After dropping a 41-31 decision at UCLA last Friday, the Huskies are winless in Pac-12 games away from home and 7-20 in head coach Steve Sarkisian's tenure.
"I made the comparison to our team about Washington," Riley said. "[It was] doing great, then hit a lot of tough games. They kind of had a murderer’s row in there."
Washington had its own three-game losing streak last month, falling to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State in succession. It rebounded with routs of Cal and Colorado but dropped its fourth conference decision last week at UCLA.
Washington's suffered unfortunate breaks along the way to that 0-3 record in road, conference contests. At Stanford, the Huskies were driving for the tie or win late in the fourth quarter, but they lost the ball on downs after a controversial video review.
Controversy struck again last week at UCLA. A Keith Price touchdown pass to Damore'ea Stringfellow was reversed by an illegal hands to the face penalty that the conference has since recognized as incorrect.
Whatever the reason, Washington faces its final road game desperately needing the win. The Huskies are stuck on six wins. They will need two victories in their final three to surpass the seven-win hump that they've been stuck on for the past three seasons.
They must do so with Price nursing the shoulder injury that sidelined him in the second half last week. According to Gregg Bell of GoHuskies.com, Price will not throw until Thursday in an effort to speed along his recovery. In the meantime, redshirt freshman Cyler Miles is practicing as the No. 1 quarterback.
It's no wonder Sarkisian is frustrated, a point he made very clear in his weekly press conference on Monday, as reported by Gregg Bell, Washington's athletics department's director of writing, on Twitter.
Sarkisian: "Nobody's happy...we are upset about it. We are frustrated. But we know what we are capable of...We've got the leadership" #UDUB— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) November 18, 2013
Saturday is a chance for the winner to erase some of the frustration. That, in and of itself, is meaningful. And as Riley points out, there's more than that on the line.
"Both teams are fighting hard now for lots of stuff," he said. "Saving what they had is a good season, playing in a better bowl game…you can come up with a lot."