This year’s Civil War football matchup between Oregon and Oregon State is unquestionably the biggest and most important game in the 115-year history of the rivalry.
Oh, there have been big Civil War games before. In 2000, Oregon was ranked No. 5 and Oregon State No. 8, and both teams had BCS dreams.
Last year, the Beavers were favored to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 43 years, only to have the rug pulled out from under them as they were annihilated by a well-rested and well-prepared Ducks team, 65-38.
But this year is bigger. For the first time ever, the winner of this game goes to the Rose Bowl. Guaranteed.
The Civil War has become the War of the Roses.
Overall, the Oregon Ducks have the upper hand in the rivalry, with a 56-46-10 record against the Beavers. This year the Ducks will have the upper hand again, with a higher BCS ranking and home field advantage.
However, if you’re the betting type, there are some very good reasons to pick the Beavers to win the biggest battle in Civil War history.
To begin with, Mike Riley is widely respected as the best coach in the Pac-10. That doesn’t always translate into 10-win seasons, because recruiting to Corvallis is harder than recruiting to Arizona or Los Angeles, but perhaps no coach in college football does a better job at improving his team from the beginning of the season until the end than Riley.
This year has been no exception. Just look at the transformation of Sean Canfield from a big question mark into an exclamation point. Just look at the improvement of an Oregon State defense that gave up an average of 28 points in its first four Pac-10 games and only 16 in its last four.
Say what you will about the roll the Ducks went on after that opening loss to Boise State; the Beavers have been on just as great a roll over the past seven weeks, going 6-1 with the only loss coming in a close game at USC. Riley has his team on track to win at least nine games for the fourth season in a row.
Meanwhile, the Ducks have been sputtering, relatively speaking. After going 5-0 and allowing only 11.6 points per game to start the Pac-10 season, in the last three games they lost at Stanford, needed double OT to beat Arizona, and have given up an average of 37.6 points.
Believe it or not, nearly half the points scored against the Ducks this season have come in just the last three games (113 points in the last three games; 137 in the previous eight).
All of this means that the Beavers are going into this game with momentum on their side. They have nothing to lose, because nobody expected them to be in this position. At the same time, they are playing better than anyone in the conference. They are exactly where Riley wants them to be: humble and hungry.
Chip Kelly, on the other hand, may be a genius as an offensive coordinator, but he’s a rookie head coach. Both teams will have 11 days to prepare for this game, and you have to think that gives Riley an advantage.
Then there's the revenge factor.
The Beavers went into last year’s Civil War with visions of the Rose Bowl dancing in their heads. Losing that game the way they did had to be the worst moment in the football careers of everyone associated with the team.
Now they have a second chance to make that Rose Bowl dream a reality, and they can do it by beating the very team that dashed their hopes a year ago. To make it even more like a fairy tale, that team also happens to be their in-state rival. For a college athlete or a coaching staff, it doesn’t get any better than that.
That’s why you can throw aside the respective records and the home field advantage and confidently pick the Oregon State Beavers to upset the Ducks and go to the Rose Bowl.
And if they don’t? Well, they are the Beavers, after all.