Oregon at Washington isn’t just an interesting game with title implications and bowl ramifications: It’s probably the Pacific 10 Conference’s nastiest annual encounter.
UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, who absorbed the rivalry’s wrath while he was coaching in Washington, calls it “an open wound.”
UCLA hates USC, Arizona State angers Arizona, Stanford wants to give Cal the ax, but Oregon-Washington is something worse.
Some trace it to 1948, when Washington voted with California schools to send Cal to the Rose Bowl instead of an Oregon squad led by quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.
In the 1960s, Oregon fans accused Washington of trying to hurt Ducks star Mel Renfro and the animosity intensified when Don James’ Washington teams dominated the series, winning all but three times from 1975 to 1992.
Oregon has always seen Washington as highbrow, while Washington looks down on Oregon -- even on a map.
The series took another ugly turn in 1999, when Neuheisel arrived in Seattle from Colorado -- with a history. Ask Oregon fans about the fake punt Colorado, with a lead, ran against Oregon in the 1996 Cotton Bowl. Then, two seasons later, after Colorado beat Oregon in the Aloha Bowl, Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti said the better team lost.
Neuheisel’s response: Scoreboard, baby.
Some thought Washington Athletic Director Barbara Hedges hired Neuheisel with Oregon in mind.
“There’s no love lost,” Neuheisel said Tuesday on the Pac-10’s weekly football coaches’ conference call.
After years of suffering, Oregon has won five in a row and is favored to make it six in Seattle on Saturday.
“They relish the fact they’ve sort of flipped the switch in the rivalry,” Neuheisel said of Oregon’s view of things.
The twist is that both programs are breaking in first-year coaches. Oregon’s Chip Kelly, a transplant from New Hampshire, got a sense of the series as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator for two years.
Kelly knew the Civil War against Oregon State was huge, but quickly found out the Washington game mattered at least as much.
“I think some people would be excited if you finished the season 2-9 if you beat Washington and beat Oregon State,” Kelly said. " . . . It’s the unique thing that makes college football such a special game because you’ve got these unique matchups.”
First-year Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian, as a longtime USC assistant, had an outsider’s view of the rivalry. He was quickly brought up to speed.
“Once I took the job, and you start to get around all the great Huskies and what’s gone on here, this game means a lot to a lot of people,” he said.
* One surprise this week was Arizona (4-2) debuting at No. 22 in the first Bowl Championship Series standings despite being ranked 40th in the USA Today coaches’ poll and No. 37 in Harris. The Wildcats were buoyed by a No. 14 rating by the BCS computers.
* Need a Pac-10 coach to plan your next vacation? Cal Coach Jeff Tedford is two for two this year in itineraries. The Bears won at Minnesota after Tedford decided to bring his team in a day early, and he scored his first win in Los Angeles after the team, to save money, traveled by bus last weekend to UCLA. “There was great bonding time on the bus,” Tedford said. FYI: the team took a chartered plane home to Berkeley.
* USC has won 46 of its last 47 games at the Coliseum -- Stanford in 2007 was the loss. But USC has not won in the state of Oregon since 2005. The Trojans will be heavy favorites at home this week against Oregon State, which won last year in Corvallis.
“I try to point out to our players, there’s goal posts and there’s lines, it doesn’t change,” Beavers Coach Mike Riley said. “But it does.”