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Monday, November 30, 2009
Civil War: Big Stakes for programs with little in common

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

From the "Toilet Bowl" in 1983 to the Civil War for the Roses in 2009, the Oregon-Oregon State rivalry game has traveled a vast distance.

But that 0-0 tie played in obscurity by two bad teams in a deluge 26 years ago shares a foundation with Thursday night's showdown that determines on national television who wins the Pac-10 and goes to the Rose Bowl.

It's Ducks vs. Beavers, and for many folks that's enough.

"To a lot of people, it's more than just a football game," Oregon State linebacker Keaton Kristick said.

It's easy to draw the line in this rivalry. There are myriad contrasts between the institutions and football programs, which are separated by only 45 miles.

Start with the stereotypes, enduring if not always completely accurate.

Oregon State is the former agricultural school. Beavers are conservative. They hunt and fish. Oregon is a liberal arts school. It's got a lot of hippie-arty types. Oh, and "Animal House" was filmed there.

Then there are the football programs.

Oregon is Nike U. Sugar daddy Phil Knight has given not just millions to the athletic department -- he's given $100 million. Oregon has cutting-edge facilities, an immaculate stadium, locker rooms that are more luxurious than an exclusive country club and a quirky style of dressing its football team that annually inspires incredulous stares from across the nation.

The Ducks run a fancypants spread-option offense that is the offspring of mad-scientist head coach, Chip Kelly.

Oregon State? It's Lunchpail-U. It's facilities are practical, well-kept and functional, but not terribly flashy. The Beavers wear black and orange and white jerseys on the road.

The Beavers run a mostly conventional pro-style offense, though the presence of the Rodgers brothers, James and Jacquizz, has added some flash and dash.

Oregon isn't a recruiting powerhouse, but it annually signs at least a couple of elite, national recruits. Oregon State almost always ranks near the bottom of Pac-10 recruiting rankings, and coach Mike Riley is best known for plucking under-recruited players out of obscure places and making quality starters out of them.

Both, by the way, develop their recruits. Last spring, seven Beavers and six Ducks were picked in the NFL draft.

Oregon gets national attention. It's been ranked in the preseason three of the last four years. The Ducks are on track to finish ranked for the third time during that span, including a No. 10 ranking last year.

"We're in the spotlight a little more than they are," Ducks linebacker Casey Matthews said.

Oregon State hasn't been ranked in the preseason over the past four years. Ah, but the Beavers are on track to finish the season ranked for the fourth consecutive time.

What is it they say about where you start compared to where you finish?

The one year that Oregon State got preseason hype? They started ranked 10th in 2001 but finished 5-6.

Oregon has mostly dominated the 113-game series. It leads the overall count 56-46-10 but is 24-9-1 since 1975.

And yet: Oregon State is 6-5 since 1998.

Kelly adds another new contrast. He's an East Coast guy with no roots in the rivalry who left New Hampshire for Eugene three years ago, while Riley grew up in Corvallis while his dad, Bud, was a Beavers assistant.

They are different sorts.

Riley is probably the nicest guy in coaching. His patience with fans and reporters is legendary. Ask him a stupid question, and he almost always begins with, "That's a good question!" Asked about his job Monday, he said this: "I love the people I work with. I go to work every day with friends."

Kelly is a good dude -- everybody at Oregon speaks highly of him. But he's edgy. He doesn't suffer fools. And he clearly enjoys quibbling with reporters.

The huge stakes? His first Civil War as a head coach? None of those sorts of issues were going to inspire Kelly to romanticize the moment for reporters because that would mean deviating from his season-long message of living only in the moment and winning the day.

"We're excited no matter what's on the line," Kelly said when asked about his first Civil War. "Every game is a Super Bowl for us."

Meanwhile, Riley played along with the media, though he emphasized that the same overall message was critical for his team.

"It would totally mean a ton to win this game, but we can't go there yet," he said. "It's one of those traps that really can put you in jeopardy of not playing your best."

Finally, there's the 2008 game.

Kristick, the pride of Fountain Hills, Ariz., said he didn't hate the Ducks his first two seasons -- both Beavers wins. But in the midst of a 65-38 beatdown last November, which knocked the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl, he experienced a Civil War epiphany.

"My feelings have changed," he said. "I do not like them now."

Ah, but with such high stakes, there seems to be at least one intersection of Beavers and Ducks fans.

It's sorta fun being the center of the college football universe for one night.

"I couldn't be prouder of the two teams in our state," Riley said.