Few rivalries in the Pac-12, if not all of college football, match the bitterness of Oregon-Washington. And yet, prior to 2016, the series went more than a decade with all the suspense of Wil E. Coyote vs. ACME products.
Oregon’s 12-season winning streak ended unceremoniously two years ago in a 70-21 blowout that marked the bottoming out of the four-decade Rich Brooks-Mike Bellotti-Chip Kelly-Mark Helfrich legacy. Though a Washington win was an aberration for this millennium, 70-21 and last year’s 38-3 romp continued the longstanding tradition of double-digit-point outcomes.
A marquee rivalry in the grand scheme of college football, Oregon-Washington was not.
Saturday’s 30-27 Ducks win marked the first single-digit outcome since 2000, and has similar implications. The 23-16 victory 18 years ago in Autzen Stadium ostensibly denied Washington a shot at the BCS Championship in what was the Huskies’ last conference title season until 2016.
When C.J. Verdell crossed the goal line to seal the overtime victory, Washington’s College Football Playoff hopes were dashed, barring unprecedented chaos around college football. Now sitting at 5-1, however, a valid conversation can begin about scenarios that would land the Ducks in the final four since its first edition.
It’s not an especially realistic conversation, mind you; Oregon’s dismal nonconference schedule couples with the overall sour perception of the Pac-12 held outside the conference and among influential media. But that Oregon’s even at the point it can kick itself over clock mismanagement Sept. 22 against Stanford speaks to the impressive work first-year head coach Mario Cristobal and his staff have done in restoring this burgeoning national powerhouse.
Short-term, Washington losing may be a negative for the Pac-12. Long-term is a much different story.
Saturday’s historic installment in the Oregon-Washington rivalry lived up to its hype. It’s the first overtime finish in 111 total meetings between the programs, and featured plenty of highlight-reel plays on both sides of the ball.
Concerted efforts to manufacture hype ahead of other recent matchups fell flat. When College Gameday visited Seattle in 2013, the last time both programs were ranked in the Top 25, the Ducks delivered a 21-point beatdown.
This year’s edition instead suggests a pivotal moment for the series — and believe that this is just the beginning.
Chris Petersen’s arrival at Washington ahead of the 2014 season began a steady process to build the Huskies for sustained success, akin to his tenure at Boise State when the Broncos routinely finished ranked in the Top 10.
Washington loses Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and other upperclassmen after this season, who leave with 2-2 records in the Oregon-Washington rivalry. But continuing the success on the recruiting trail that began in Steve Sarkisian’s time at UW, coupled with the all-important development of talent, positions the Huskies to hunt for the Pac-12 title every year. Salvon Ahmed, Sean McGrew, Ty Jones, Byron Murphy? Those guys ain’t going anywhere.
Cristobal is doing likewise on a more solid foundation than that which Petersen inherited. After all, redshirt seniors at Oregon this season were on the roster when the Ducks played for a national championship.
Oregon’s future is building off that base and with the added blueprint Cristobal brings from his time as an Alabama assistant. The Nick Saban influence and Cristobal’s Miami background are evident in the physically imposing style the Ducks now employ. Despite some exciting home-run plays, Saturday’s contest was not the kind of finesse football on which the Pac-12’s reputation has been (sometimes negatively) staked.
Hard-hitting, high-stakes, “big boy” football is what we can expect of the Oregon-Washington rivalry for the foreseeable future.