The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Beavs

REMEMBER WHEN Oregon State-Washington State used to be the series of the lovable have-nots? Like 1975, when the Beavers ground out a 7-0 win over WSU to give Dee Andros the final win of his career? Or the 14-14 thriller in 1982 between two teams that combined for four wins that season?

Oregon State and Washington State have long been the Pac-10's underdog agriculture schools you patted on the back when they did well, such as the Cougars' 1998 and 2003 Rose Bowl teams, and Oregon State's magnificent 2000 squad under former WSU coach Dennis Erickson. Except on rare occasions, the interest in Cougar vs. Beaver battles has been reserved solely for fans of OSU and WSU.

(Full disclosure: I am not a Coug, but an Oregon State graduate; however, as a crusty, cynical newspaperman, I am not a fan of any team or school. OK, I admit an occasional dislike toward delusional Duck fans, but c'mon, who isn't with me there?)

The Cougar-Beaver landscape was completely altered in 2003, when both schools were forced to make a coaching change. Both picked an admired coach with roots to the school. Who knew at the time that WSU selecting Bill Doba would send the program into a historic tailspin, while Oregon State tabbing Mike Riley would turn the Beavers into a picture of bowl-going stability?

Riley is a good guy. He's genuine, open and honest. But there's plenty of toughness in Riley, because you don't have a winning percentage of .618 (60-37) since 2003 without a spine. And to those who mock Riley for taking the Beavers to nothing more than a number of Poulan Weedwhacker/Trojan Condom bowls, I say shaddup.

You didn't live with this team during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Honestly, it's hard to project where Oregon State football will head once Riley retires from coaching or decides to go elsewhere. As Washington State fans will admit, the coach doesn't mean everything, but damn near everything. But that day doesn't appear to be coming soon.

Which, until Washington State gets its football house in order, is bad news. As OSU's 42-10, 66-13 and 52-17 beatings of the Cougars the past three years can attest.

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Saturday in Corvallis. FSN Northwest will televise.

At stake: We don't need to remind you how badly Washington State needs a win. But so does Oregon State. The Beavers are 4-4, coming off a shocking 17-14 loss at UCLA. If OSU wants to get to the NCAA bowl-minimum six wins, a victory over the Cougars is a requirement, as the Beavers finish the season with games against USC, Stanford and Oregon. Oregon State's last home game was a 35-7 whipping of California, which rebounded (sort of) to beat Washington State 20-13. Expect the Beavers to be fully frothed, as it's Dad's Weekend in Corvallis, virtually assuring a packed house in Reser Stadium. Of note: Two of the Beavers' losses this season came against the two potential party crashers to the BCS championship: TCU and Boise State.

Statistically speaking: Oregon State has some warts, particularly on defense, where the Beavers rank 88th in the country. But that's a little misleading, as OSU ranked 119th just two weeks ago, and have given up just 24 points the past two games. Oregon State's defensive front has come together of late. Against UCLA, the Beavers practically lived in the Bruins' backfield, racking up 11 tackles for losses. That's not good news for WSU's wounded offensive line and injury-depleted offense. Offensively, Oregon State is still finding itself, as you might expect when starting a sophomore (Ryan Katz) at quarterback. What's puzzling, though, is a running game that includes the electric Jacquizz Rodgers, yet ranks just No. 91 in the country.

The series: This is the 87th game of the series, led by Washington State 45-38-3. Obviously, it's been one-sided of late, with Oregon State winning five of the past six. The Cougars' lone win came in 2006, a 13-6 decision in Corvallis, a game where ugly doesn't begin to describe how bad it was. Not long ago, Washington State owned this series, going 14 consecutive years without losing to the Beavers from 1979-1993.

The Jim Moore zone: In honor of everyone's favorite gambling Cougar, Oregon State opened as a 27-point favorite over the Cougars, but is now down to a mere 22. WSU has covered five of its past six games, so it's hard to say which way the line will move.

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