No. 7 Washington vs. No. 17 Oregon has all the makings of a midseason Pac-12 North championship game.
Not since 2000 has the Washington-Oregon rivalry game carried this much significance.
At stake for the No. 7 Huskies is, well, first there’s some old-fashioned Northwest pride on the line against No. 17 Oregon. (Let’s pause and give an overdue shoutout here to Rick Neuheisel, whose genius (genius?) creation of the “Northwest Championship” has long strummed the emotional strings of fans’ hearts from all parts of the region, from Ashland to Zillah, from the Puget Sound to the Willamette Valley, from the Palouse to Corvallis. Thank you, Rick.)
More to The Point within the context of this season, the 111th meeting between Washington and Oregon on Saturday in Eugene (12:30 p.m., Ch. 4) has all the makings of a midseason Pac-12 North championship game.
The Huskies have the conference’s No. 1 scoring defense for the fourth consecutive season. The Ducks once again have the Pac-12’s most dangerous offense.
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Lose to Washington, and the Ducks (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) would fall 2.5 games back of the Huskies (5-1, 3-0) in the divisional race.
Lose to Oregon, and the Huskies would not only be eliminated from the College Football Playoff chase (more on that in a moment) but they would give their biggest rival the upper hand in any potential tiebreaker scenarios at the end of the regular season.
A complicated tiebreaker did come into play in the then-Pac-10 championship picture in 2000, the last time the UW-Oregon game ended up having any real significance for both sides.
The No. 6 Huskies suffered their only loss that season in Eugene, 23-16, in late September. Washington defeated Oregon State, 33-30, the following week in Seattle; and Oregon State beat the Ducks, 23-13, in Corvallis in November. All three teams finished in a three-way tie for conference title with a 7-1 record. Based on its 3-0 record in nonconference play, Washington was then awarded the conference’s bid to the Rose Bowl (where Marques Tuiasosopo and the Huskies knocked off Drew Brees and Purdue).
For now, the Huskies remain the Pac-12’s best hope of getting back to the College Football Playoff. To do that, the Huskies almost certainly have to win out, and that scenario doesn’t get any easier next week when No. 19 Colorado (5-0) comes to Husky Stadium.
But Washington does potentially have the best resume — the strongest schedule — for the Pac-12 to sell to the playoff committee, with a close loss to a Top-25 Auburn team in its backyard, plus a win over what was a ranked Brigham Young team.
A playoff push would still be an uphill climb for Washington because the national perception of the Pac-12 remains poor. And any playoff scenario for the Huskies of course requires a victory in Eugene on Saturday, and as much as anything else at the moment this game is all about Northwest supremacy.