Recent installments in the 119-year-old Oregon-Oregon State rivalry have been "de facto" conference championship games or preludes to BCS bowls. But with No. 13 Oregon losing two of its last three, and Oregon State carrying a four-game losing streak, Friday's edition of the Civil War is a gut-check of a different kind for both programs.
"We did a bit of introspection after [losing to Arizona]," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
Indeed, the final stretch of the 2013 regular season is about self-evaluation for both the Ducks and Beavers. Oregon entered this stretch undefeated and primed for a return to the BCS Championship. After losses at Stanford and Arizona, the Ducks could miss a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2008.
Such consistency made Oregon the Pac-12's measuring stick, and the Ducks are feeling the pressure of being chased.
"Every week, we're going to get everyone's best shot," Helfrich said. "If you're a competitor, that's exactly where you want to be."
Oregon's success includes three conference championships since 2009 and those four BCS bowl bids. Each of those teams also won at least 10 games, a feat the 2013 Ducks can match Friday with a win over Oregon State.
Going through a schedule unscathed is an exceedingly difficult feat, which Oregon has learned in late-season defeats each of the last three years. But what makes this year's losses noteworthy is that the Ducks have been uncharacteristically overwhelmed.
Stanford led 26-0 and kept Oregon's potent offense scoreless through three quarters. Arizona pounded the Ducks' defense with a persistent ground game Oregon failed to stop. The Wildcats' 26-point margin of victory is the Ducks' most lopsided loss since a 44-10 blowout at USC in October 2008.
A win Friday is important for the Ducks reestablishing their place as a conference front-runner. Fortunately for Oregon in that effort, Oregon State is reeling—both this season, and in the Civil War. The Beavers haven't won the series since 2007.
Oregon State's current woes started with a 20-12 loss to Stanford, which ended with Oregon State in the Cardinal red zone with an opportunity to force overtime. It's been a steep slide since, with losses of 17 (USC), 13 (Arizona State) and most recently, a 42-point drubbing against Washington.
"What didn’t [go wrong against Washington]? It was just a horrible deal by all of us, for sure," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
The Beavers committed four turnovers, including three interceptions from junior quarterback Sean Mannion. The erstwhile Heisman Trophy candidate's struggles of late are a microcosm of the Beavers' ills. He has just one multiple-touchdown performance in the last four outings, but three multiple-interception games.
Riley commended Mannion's perseverance in spite of his struggles.
"He’s pretty much a realist," Riley said. "He’s always the same. He spends extra time up here [at the football facility] when he has it in the afternoons. I think he’s great that way."
Reigniting the once-potent passing attack is key to the Beavers' upset bid Friday, but that's largely predicated on Oregon State establishing consistency on the ground—something Stanford and Arizona succeeded in doing against the Ducks, but which has been a yearlong problem for Oregon State.
"You’ve got to stop the run and run the ball," Riley said. "That’s what’s really come back to haunt us against these better teams we’ve faced lately."
The Beavers' rushing offense comes into the Civil War ranked No. 122 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Of course, the past miscues of this season don't matter much come game day, a point Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti summarized.