CORVALLIS — Separated by only about 45 miles, Oregon and Oregon State couldn’t be more different when it comes to football.
The flashy Ducks meet the more understated Beavers today in the 116th Civil War rivalry game, putting the spotlight on the contrasting programs.
With the help of mega-booster and Nike co-founder Phil Knight, Oregon is known for its state-of-the-art facilities and a myriad of flashy uniform combinations. The No. 5 Ducks have backed up their swagger in recent years by winning, going 44-7 under coach Chip Kelly.
On the other side is No. 16 Oregon State, nicknamed “Lunch Pail U” for the team’s hard-working blue-collar mentality — which has helped it stage a striking turnaround this season.
Beavers coach Mike Riley and his Oregon counterpart seem as opposite as their teams.
Kelly, a no-nonsense New Englander who runs his team almost like a business, closed his practices and made injuries classified information. Known for his “Chipisms,” sayings like “Every game is our Super Bowl,” sometimes his approach is regarded as obstinate.
Riley grew up in Corvallis as the son of a former Beavers assistant coach and was a star quarterback at Corvallis High. He lets reporters and boosters into practice, and he openly discusses injuries. If there’s a knock on him, it’s that he’s seen as too soft.
But there is a great deal of mutual respect among the two divergent programs.
“Oh gosh, I always think Mike Riley does a great job, I really do. It’s not lipspeak, not coachspeak, it’s not because it’s the right thing to say. I think he has a good offensive mind,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
Riley often praises Kelly and points to the up-tempo Ducks as altering the landscape of college football: “They’re talented and well-coached,” he said.
For three weeks in October, both Oregon and Oregon State were the highest ranked teams from the same state in the AP Top 25.
The Ducks (10-1, 7-1) appeared to be cruising toward a berth in the BCS championship game until a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford last weekend at Autzen Stadium.
The loss — which toppled Oregon from the top of the AP rankings — kept the Ducks from clinching the Pac-12’s northern division for a spot in the conference title game on Nov. 30. Oregon has won the last three Pac-12 championships.
To get to the league’s title game, Oregon will have to beat the Beavers (8-2, 6-2) and hope that No. 15 UCLA (9-2, 6-2) beats No. 11 Stanford (9-2, 7-1) in Los Angeles today. By virtue of their victory over the Ducks, Stanford holds the head-to-head edge if they finish with the same division record.
The Bruins have already clinched the Pac-12 South. The winner of the Pac-12 title game gets a Rose Bowl berth — unless the winner is tapped for a place in the national championship.
Oregon can still be in the mix for the BCS title game, but the Ducks need USC (7-4, 5-4) to beat top-ranked and undefeated Notre Dame today. The Trojans, who have lost three of their last four games, will start redshirt freshman Max Wittek because senior quarterback Matt Barkley is nursing a right shoulder injury.
But even if Oregon doesn’t play in the conference championship, the Ducks could be an at-large selection for one of the other BCS bowls, a scenario that seems likely if they defeat Oregon State and finish the season with just one loss.
The Beavers, meanwhile, can already count this season a major success.
They were 3-9 after last season, with some fans calling for Riley’s dismissal. The team was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North in the preseason media poll.
Oregon State opened with a 10-7 victory over No. 13 Wisconsin and rolled from there, winning its first six games for the first time since 1907, when the team only played a total of six.
Oregon State was among the first teams in the league to become bowl eligible, and the Oregonian reported that no other Pac-8/Pac-10/Pac-12 team has recovered from as bad a season to play in a bowl the next year.
The Beavers’ only losses are at Washington and Stanford. They routed California 62-14 going into the Civil War.
Win or lose today, Oregon State’s regular season isn’t over. The Beavers host Nicholls State on Dec. 1 — a game that was postponed because of the threat Hurricane Isaac posed to the school’s Thibodeaux, La., campus just before the season opened on Sept. 1.
But before the bowl bids and the league championships and even Nicholls State, there’s the Civil War. Even Oregon players, fed the mantra that no game is bigger than the next, can’t help feeling a little extra motivation.
“For fans it’s a rivalry game, for us it’s another Super Bowl Saturday,” Ducks linebacker Michael Clay said. “But you don’t want them to have bragging rights the rest of the year so we’re going to go out and try to get a W.”