A state college football rivalry for the ages

What? The Apple Cup? No, not quite. Look south.
What? The Apple Cup? No, not quite. Look south.

Waiting in the Porta Potty line Saturday afternoon in the gathering area known as The Zone just east of Husky Stadium there was plenty to ponder, such as:

Why just four Sani-Cans for 4,000 people?

More to the point: How come the two guys in front of me, one sporting U-Dub Dawg garb, the other dressed in Wazzu Coug vestments, were positively giddy discussing their anticipation of a 'ꀜGame for the Fricking Ages,'ꀝ as one described it? For the ages? Would sarcasm ever cease? The combined record of the University of Washington and Washington State University football programs was 4-17. Even after the Huskies crushed what genuinely looked like a high-school team, covering the gambling spread with five points to spare, the 30-0 win still left the state'ꀙs 'ꀜbig-time'ꀝ football 'ꀜpowers'ꀝ at 5-18.

My curiosity was cured a minute later when, still eavesdropping, I heard it revealed that the chaps in front of me actually were talking not about the looming Apple Cup but the Civil War.

For non-gridiron history buffs, 'ꀜCivil War'ꀝ applies to what they play either in Corvallis or, for the 'ꀙ09 edition, Eugene, Oregon, every year about this time. Indeed, the nationally televised tiff this week (a rare Thursday date for a major Pac-10 conference game) will match century-plus rivals for the right to represent the league at the 2010 Rose Bowl, that'ꀙs all.

Obviously this year'ꀙs Civil War commands the attention of Ducks, Beavers, and seemingly every other living specimen in Oregon. Those of us who hail from one of the state schools aren'ꀙt even averse to admitting it under these special circumstances. A buddy of mine from the University of Oregon who also attended Oregon State University e-mailed me that this week he'ꀙs neutral (a 'ꀜBeaduck'ꀝ) about the subject of Oregon football.

Many other observers have noted that having the Civil War decide the conference championship says much about the recent evolution of the Pac-10. Even before it expanded to 10 teams in 1978, the premier West Coast conference had an enviable symmetry, improved upon with the addition of the two major Arizona public universities. The league has existed in various forms since 1916.

Lately, even though the Pac-10 has included other schools for certain programs such as wrestling, league officials have resisted perennial demands for expansion for the core sports of football and basketball. (For comparison, it'ꀙs hard not to be amused by the idea that, since 1990, the storied 'ꀜBig-10'ꀝ has been a misnomer, what with its 11 teams.)

Many purists like the idea of the present configuration of the Pac-10: two state schools from each of four Western states plus two prime private schools (Stanford, University of Southern California), one each from the main population centers of the largest state. Many more no doubt welcome the idea of seeing power shifts within the core sports (such as, Husky men'ꀙs basketball on the ascent, Arizona'ꀙs program on the decline). Partisans at the Apple Cup obviously have been yearning for yester-decade, when Husky and Cougar football teams had the athletes it takes to compete in such an impressive (perhaps oppressive) league.

That'ꀙs why this year'ꀙs 113th edition of the Civil War game is instructive for Husky and Coug fans. The contest includes a 9-2 Oregon team that emerged as a perennial power after attending the 1995 Rose Bowl. The appearance (a loss) prompted Phil (Nike) Knight and others to step up and throw money at Duck sports programs. Oregon State, for decades the dregs of the conference'ꀙs vintage seasons, re-emerged as a major Pac-10 competitor that led to a 41-9 drubbing of Notre Dame in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. But the 8-3 Beavs haven'ꀙt played in the Rose Bowl since a loss in 1965.

The apparent Pac-10 power shift, though, is less about the Oregon programs than the one at USC. The Trojans are 8-3, just 5-3 in league play going into a season finale against a good Arizona team on Saturday. That three (including UW) and perhaps four conference competitors could better 'ꀘSC may pay great recruiting dividends for the nine non-Trojan programs as prized high-school kids and prospective small-college transfer students choose Pac-10 teams.

What remains clear as far as partisans of the talent-poor Washington State program are concerned: The only way forward is to get better. The Huskies, already improved with a possible (albeit, not probable) 5-7 record after their home game against Cal this Saturday, should contend for bowl eligibility next year.

The Cougs? Considering that they never led in regulation time this season even though they eked out an overtime victory, perhaps it suffices to say that their fortunes even next season could be fodder for conversation most appropriate for idling in Porta Potty lines.


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