In the long and storied history of the rivalry game between Oregon and Oregon State, it’s safe to say that there’s never been a meeting so bittersweet.
The two teams have met 127 times in the fourth-most contested rivalry in the nation. But Friday’s game at Autzen Stadium could be the last for the foreseeable future.
Sixth-ranked Oregon is departing for the Big Ten next season, and No. 15 Oregon State will stay as one of two remaining teams in the Pac-12 with Washington State.
While Washington and Washington State have agreed to continue the Apple Cup, no such deal has been struck between the Ducks and the Beavers.
The finale of the state’s longstanding rivalry simmers in the background as Oregon (10-1, 7-1, No. 6 CFP) needs a win to secure a berth in the Pac-12 championship game against No. 4 Washington.
The Huskies sealed their spot in the last conference championship (as the league currently stands) last weekend with a 22-20 victory over the Beavers. The winner of the title game on Dec. 1 could secure a spot in the playoffs for a shot at the national championship.
Oregon State (8-3, 5-3) could throw things into chaos with a victory over the Ducks. Should the Beavers prevail, Oregon is certainly out of the race for a national title, and a window would open for No. 16 Arizona to play in the conference championship — if the Wildcats (8-3, 6-2) can take care of Arizona State in the Territorial Cup in Tempe on Saturday.
“Our players understand exactly what’s at stake here for this game,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “They want to go out there and have their best performance and leave it up to them and not to something else.”
Out of the running for the conference title, Oregon State is jockeying for bowl position. The Pac-12 has agreements with six bowls. Normally the Rose Bowl is the destination for the winner of the conference, but this year it is a College Football Playoff site.
“We try to stick to a process and approach. There’s still plenty to play for,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said. “These guys will be excited to play. It’s a big-time atmosphere, national television, good opponent. I think they’ll be excited.”
Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, along with LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr.
Last week, he threw for six touchdowns in the Ducks’ 49-13 victory over Arizona State — bringing his total to 35 passing TDs with just two interceptions. He’s also run for five scores.
That’s daunting for the the Beavers, who last week had to face Penix. But they held Washington’s quarterback to 162 yards passing, his lowest output this season.
“They’re similar in ways. Those two guys, the seasons they’re having, they are the elite quarterbacks,” Smith said. “You look at Bo, his ability to get the ball out quickly. Decision making, very similar to Penix.”
Oregon State Damien Martinez keeps piling up the yards, much like last season when he was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Martinez ranks second in the Pac-12 with an average of 104.3 yards rushing per game. He’s got six games with 100-plus yards rushing, including the last three.
He’s the only Pac-12 player among 10 finalists for the Doak Walker award for the nation’s top running back.
“I feel like we play great running backs every single week. But he’s a special one,” Lanning said. “I mean, he gets the tough yards. Obviously, their system is just a little bit different. So downhill runs. But a lot of those, they’re able to stretch the defense and then find a hole and hit it vertical. And he does a really good job with that.”
The Uiagalelei family is going to be cheering for the Beavers.
And the Ducks, too.
DJ Uiagalelei is Oregon State’s starting quarterback, while younger brother Matayo Uiagalelei is a freshman defensive end for Oregon. The two are from Bellflower, California.
“I’ve never played against my brother, anything except for basketball at the house one-on-one,” DJ said. “It’s going to be something special. I know for my family it means a lot to have two boys playing in one game against each other.”
Lanning joked that his message to Matayo was “hit your brother.”
“They’re both great competitors,” Lanning said. “I think they’re probably excited to go compete against each other. And both really talented players.”