The most important rivalry in the Pac-12 is on display this week, before the traditional intra-state affairs that dominate the final fortnight of the regular season.
The Oregon-Washington game isn’t the most historic or hate-filled rivalry. It doesn’t generate the level of pure venom we see in other affairs across the West. For national impact, it’s a relative newcomer.
It hasn’t been particularly competitive, either.
“It has done a flip-flop since my days,” former Oregon coach Rich Brooks said this week during a deep dive into the rivalry on ‘Canzano and Wilner: The Podcast.’
“We were the have-nots, and Washington was part of the haves. (Former UW coach) Don James had everything going his way up there. And now the Huskies are seeing the other side.”
The Huskies have seen that side in 15 of the past 17 meetings, with many of those Oregon victories coming by double digits.
But blowouts aside, let’s make no mistake: In the next chapter of Pac-12 football, the Washington-Oregon rivalry stands as perhaps the most significant chess piece on the board.
No conference game will carry more value, generate more eyeballs on a regular basis or shape the course of the season and the playoff race quite like the showdown of bitter enemies along the I-5 corridor.
The Huskies and Ducks are already key players in Pac-12 football. Once USC and UCLA depart in the summer of 2024, the balance of power will shift forcefully to the upper left corner of the conference footprint.
And as the Pac-12 attempts to extract the greatest media value from its remaining schools, the Oregon-Washington rivalry game stands as the top property available — the only annual matchup the networks can count on for 2.5 million (or more) viewers.
The conference needs to maximize it.
Turn the game into an event beyond the usual weekly pomp and circumstance.
Why not schedule the game for the same Saturday each year.
Why not give the teams a bye the weekend before, to make sure they are fresh the way the SEC does with Alabama and LSU.
Give it a name. Give it a trophy.
Let it anchor a Pac-12 sports weekend, with premier men’s and women’s basketball games on the campus hosting the rivalry.
Before the L.A. schools announced their departure, the Pac-12 was gearing up for media rights negotiations and plotting ways to maximize the value of its teams and success.
That’s one reason it created the baseball and softball tournaments — to sell those events to ESPN or a streaming service.
Once USC departs, no regular-season competition will carry more media value than the Washington-Oregon football game.
It’s not like anything else. In the Pac-12’s new world order, it deserves special treatment.
To the picks …
Last week: 3-3
Five-star special: 6-4
Spreads taken from BetMGM
Game totals in parenthesis
All times Pacific
Colorado at USC (Friday)
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. on FS1
Line: USC -34.5 (total: 66)
Comment: The Trojans built a comfortable lead last week, then relaxed and allowed Cal to cover via the back door with a 21-point fourth quarter. We envision USC snoozing at some point Friday night — could be early, maybe it’s late — and the Buffaloes coming in under that huge number. Pick: Colorado
ASU at Washington State
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Washington State -7.5 (total: 60.5)
Comment: The Cougars are playing for a bowl berth and should have conditions on their side with highs in the mid-30s at kickoff. Also, WSU’s defense will be more disruptive, by a factor of five, than anything Arizona State quarterback Trenton Bourguet has faced in his limited playing time. Pick: Washington State
Washington at Oregon
Kickoff: 4 p.m. on Fox
Line: Oregon -13.5 (total: 72.5)
Comment: UW will have opportunities for plays big and small against a Ducks defense that is less than dominant. But unless Oregon quarterback Bo Nix looks at Washington purple, sees Georgia red and reverts to Bad Bo, the Ducks will move the ball at will on a flawed Husky defense. Reasonably close early, not-so-close late. Pick: Oregon
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Cal at Oregon State
Kickoff: 6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Line: Oregon State -13.5 (total: 49)
Comment: The Beavers are 4-0 against the spread at home this season, but Cal coach Justin Wilcox is superb as a double-digit underdog. Both teams are limited in their aerial games and well-drilled on defense. We like the Bears, but we love the Under — yes, even at that low total. Pick: Cal
Stanford at Utah
Kickoff: 7 p.m. on ESPN
Line: Utah -24 (total: 53.5)
Comment: The Cardinal hasn’t scored more than 16 points since early October and hasn’t had a week off since the middle of September. Its only hope is for the Utes to get caught up in the emotions of Senior Day or peeking ahead to Oregon next week. But those distractions won’t stick. Close for 30 minutes, not close after 45. Pick: Utah
Arizona at UCLA
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on Fox
Line: UCLA -19.5 (total: 77.5)
Comment: We keep waiting for a clunker from the Bruins against teams they should handle, yet their consistency defies prior trends. Only a spate of turnovers will prevent the high-powered offense from scoring on every possession against one of the worst defenses in the country. But the Wildcats have enough playmakers, and highly-motivated L.A. kids, to sneak in under that number.Pick: Arizona
Straight-up winners: USC, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon, Utah and UCLA
Five-star special: Oregon. Sure, 13.5 is a load of points against a ranked rival. And the Hotline would love to see the game in doubt in the final minute. But the Ducks will stop UW far more often than UW stops the Ducks.
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