Saturday night’s game between the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies finds two teams trending in different directions. Even more, it’s a rivalry game that could signal a changing of the guard in the Pac-12.
Oregon heads into Saturday night’s rivalry game against Washington in an unfamiliar position: favored to lose and facing a fourth consecutive defeat.
Historically, this matchup has been a bitter border clash that had a clear contrast: Washington had the upper hand. They were the team from the Pacific Northwest that won Rose Bowls, regularly played for conference titles, and competed for national titles.
But for the last twelve years, Oregon has faced Washington with the vengeance of a little brother who finally got stronger than an older brother who bullied him one too many times. Each year, the Ducks have handed the Huskies crushing defeats, never letting up. Ten of the twelve victories have been by twenty points or more. It seemed as though each time around, the Ducks wanted every score to land like a revenge punch for all the years Oregon sat in Washington’s shadow in the most geographically isolated corner of the college football landscape.
Oregon’s streak of 12 in a row against Washington has coincided with the greatest era of football in Ducks history. From 2007-2015, Oregon never won fewer than nine games. They won the Pac-12 four times, appeared in the national title game twice, had a player win the Heisman trophy, and were mainstays in the top 10. Washington never did any of those things once in that period.
But this year has been different. The Ducks have lost three in a row – two to teams that were unranked at the time. For the first time since 2009, the Ducks fell out of the top 25. Coach Mark Helfrich’s job could be in jeopardy if he loses his fourth straight. If the Ducks do end up firing Helfrich, it will be the first time since 1976 that Oregon has fired a football coach.
Avoiding a loss this Saturday will prove to be quite the challenge for Oregon, as Washington is coming in at its highest ranking since 1992, sitting at No. 5. Washington quarterback Jake Browning is second in the FBS in passing efficiency at 196.3, and third in touchdown passes at 17. Washington leads the conference in scoring at 45.4 points per game. On the other side of the ball, Washington’s defense also leads the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 12.8 points per game. Washington is one of only four schools in the FBS that ranks among the top 10 in scoring offense and defense.
If Washington finally can break the dozen-year streak this Saturday, it will truly represent a changing of the guard in the Pacific Northwest and Pac-12 North. The symbolism and hierarchy would be clear: Oregon crashing fast and undoing a decade of dominance. Washington surging like a rocket, putting up numbers we haven’t seen from the program since the early 90s.
Washington’s athletic department has a catchy slogan for the football team this year: Let Purple Reign Again. Saturday night will be the real test of whether or not that comes to fruition.