The Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars play for the Apple Cup, and the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers play the Civil War. But neither of those are the team’s most heated rivalries. The game doesn’t have a name. It’s just Washington vs. Oregon, but everyone knows the implications.
The Ducks have dominated the series recently – they’ll be going for their 10th straight win Saturday – but the Huskies own the series overall, 58-42-5. The Ducks ascension to national dominance alongside Nike has helped them reel in recruits and take the Pac-12 by storm, not excluding Washington.
Their dominance is nothing like the Huskies have ever experienced, even in the Don James glory days. However, Oregon is missing one thing that the Huskies refuse to let them forget: a national championship. That has been the goal ever since Oregon’s dynasty began, but the Ducks may be in their best place to accomplish the goal this season. They’ve scored 55 or more points in each of their first five games and haven’t allowed more than 16 points throughout that stretch.
The Ducks nine-game streak is the longest in the history of the rivalry – started in 1900 – but the Huskies did win 12 of 13 from 1974 to 1986, and 11 of 12 from 1949 to 1960.
The tide started to change with Don James’ departure after the 1992 season. Jim Lambright won the game in his first season, but lost four of his other five showdowns with the Ducks. Rick Neuheisal, and his cheating ways, saw the most recent success against the Ducks, winning three of his four games.
The two programs went in opposite directions after Neuheisal was fired. Keith Gilberson rode the success of teams before him and beat the Ducks in 2003, but as the story goes, the Huskies haven’t won since. Mike Bellotti led the Ducks to levels of success they had never experienced before. Oregon made 12 bowl games under Bellotti and won two Pac-10 championships. Oregon also began its partnership with Nike while Bellotti was at the helm.
Oregon’s dominance reached its current peak once Chip Kelly took over for Bellotti in 2009. The Ducks won or tied for the conference championship and made a BCS bowl each year under Kelly. It remains to be seen how Kelly’s former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich does now that Kelly is head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Will he simply ride Kelly’s success the first season like Gilbertson did Neuheisal’s, or can he be the first Ducks coach in history to lead them to a national championship?
This could be argued as the peak of the 113-year-old rivalry. Both teams are worthy of BCS consideration, and both are still on the rise. The late-1990s and early-2000s provided good competition between two quality teams, but neither was where they are now.
After nine straight losses in a row, most being blowouts, this has the ingredients to be one of the best games this rivalry has ever seen. And it’s taking place in the best venue the rivalry has ever seen: a newly renovated Husky Stadium.