One way or the other, Washington will get what it deserves.
On Dec. 12, 2020, Oregon (3-2) was scheduled to host Washington (3-1) inside Autzen Stadium — with a division title and a Pac-12 championship game appearance awaiting the winner.
The Huskies’ season abruptly ended instead.
Because of UW’s COVID outbreak, the programs’ 113th meeting was unceremoniously canceled. Oregon replaced UW — technically, the North Division champ — in the Pac-12 title game, promptly upsetting No. 13 USC. The win came complete with a conference championship and a bid to the Fiesta Bowl (where the Ducks fell to No. 10 Iowa State, 34-17).
Meanwhile, the Huskies watched, and waited.
“I was pretty sad; I’m not going to lie,” UW defensive back Kyler Gordon said Wednesday. “I would have loved having a chance to play in the Pac-12 championship and do all that. Just to see a team we were in front of (Oregon) be able to take that (spot), it was like, ‘I don’t think you deserve that. You don’t. Let’s be real: you don’t.’ So it was sad to let that happen.”
Of course, an argument can be made that, because the Huskies couldn’t stay healthy, they also didn’t deserve a crack at a conference championship.
Regardless, this season’s Pac-12 title representatives will be settled on the field.
And at 7-1 overall (4-1 Pac-12), the Ducks could be in store for a whole lot more — ranked No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff poll Tuesday. Even so, Washington (4-4, 3-2 Pac-12) enters Saturday’s game on a two-game winning streak, just a single game back in the North Division.
If Washington wants to play its way into the Pac-12 picture — while simultaneously setting fire to its principal rival’s playoff hopes — that opportunity exists Saturday.
“ (This rivalry) means a lot, especially being able to see it grow so much from my freshman year to now and being in some of those games and contributing, and now finally having the role to be a main contributor in an Oregon game,” said Gordon, who participated against Oregon in 2018 and 2019. “I’m very excited to take that on and do something about it.”
And in a strange way, Gordon — a fourth-year junior — is suddenly one of the rivalry’s elder statesmen. He’s one of just 12 current Huskies who have participated in a pair of Oregon games.
Four of them — center Luke Wattenberg, running back Sean McGrew, punter Race Porter and outside linebacker Ryan Bowman (who’s out for the season with a shoulder/arm injury) — also played the last time UW defeated Oregon, a 38-3 beating in 2017.
But most Huskies will get their first taste of the rivalry Saturday.
And they won’t fully understand it until they’re immersed.
“I remember coming here in 2014 and you hear people talking about it, kind of mentioning what the rivalry means,” UW running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said Tuesday. “You couldn’t imagine just how passionate the rivalry was between the fans until you’re coming onto the field, as you’re getting ready for warmups, as you’re riding in on the bus.
“Over the course of time being here, you just kind of learn and you hear some of the history and how it started, some of the things people remember in the history between University of Washington and University of Oregon. I will say this: as much as people try to make it about this hate and all this other stuff, it is so cool just being a part of this rivalry as a coach, and I think it’s a cool opportunity for the players. This is really what college football is all about, man. It’s so cool.
“To have something like this on the West Coast — because you hear about the Red River (between Texas and Oklahoma), you hear about the Iron Bowl (between Alabama and Auburn) and all these different games — this is actually a really cool one to be a part of with the University of Oregon and University of Washington.”
But make no mistake: it’s cooler when you win.
And during the last two decades, UW hasn’t won much.
Though the Huskies hold a 60-47-5 overall edge in the series, they’re just 2-14 in their past 16 games — including a 12-game Oregon win streak spanning from 2004 through 2015.
Which, coincidentally, is when current Huskies Dylan Morris and Carson Bruener started following the Dawgs.
On Saturday, in their rivalry debut, they’ll receive an opportunity to flip the script.
“I was on the sideline (as a true freshman backup) for that game two years ago,” said Morris, UW’s second-year starting quarterback. “But being a Husky fan growing up, I’ve understood what the rivalry holds. So I’m definitely excited for this game, and the whole team is. We’re going to get into the history of the rivalry. The energy is just a little different at practice. So seeing one on the sidelines, and now getting ready to play in one, I’m definitely excited.”
Added Bruener, who received Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week honors following his first career start last week: “Seeing Washington kind of get whooped by Oregon every year wasn’t that great, I guess. Then finally we snapped that streak (in 2016). But I think it was after that game I was really like, ‘All right, these two teams definitely hate each other. It’s going to be a rivalry for a long time.’”
Likewise, the Huskies and Ducks have history. For UW, it’s included a six-game winning streak, a 12-game losing streak, two scoreless ties, countless NFL alums, a 58-0 loss immediately followed by a 66-0 win, a recruiting comment concerning Oregon’s absence of “academic prowess” …
And for Gordon and Co., unfinished business.
A year later, it’s time to find out what the Huskies and Ducks deserve.