Jerry Brewer explains the thinking behind his columns and invites readers to express their views on the sports world.
August 28, 2008 8:13 PM
Posted by Jerry Brewer
In this episode of Q&A(rgue), we're debating The Game. The whole debate will be under a haze of purple and gold, green and yellow. Joining me today and providing an Oregon viewpoint is Ryan White of The Oregonian. You can find him daily in cyberspace on his quirky blog entitled The Tailgate. It's lots of fun. You should definitely check it out whenever you need a good laugh.
Let's hope the actual game is as fun as this conversation.
1. Do you think that major conference rivals should play season-opening games?
White: It is strange, isn't it? I'm torn here. On the one hand, whenever anyone argues against a playoff, part of the argument is about how every regular season game is important. Every game matters. The regular season is the playoff. People who believe that should love having a game like this to kickoff the season.
On the other hand, I'd never want to see Michigan-Ohio State or Auburn-Alabama any time other than in late November. Playing a conference rivalry game in August is a scheduling quirk I think you'd probably only find on the West Coast.
Regardless, it is kind of fun.
Brewer: No. I don't mind non-conference rivals, especially intrastate foes, playing in season openers, but I'd rather see games of this importance played later in the season. I don't think any conference opponents should meet in Game 1. Maybe I've grown accustomed to conventional scheduling methods. I just like to see games that, at least in theory, could factor into conference championships be played when the teams are more prepared. I like blockbuster season openers between non-conference foes, but those are different than conference games. You can lose those games and wind up better for it. You lose a Pac-10 game this early, and you're already halfway out of the BCS hunt.
That said, there's no denying the fact that the long buildup to this season opener has made it even more exciting.
2. Does the early timing of this game benefit Washington or Oregon more?
White: At the rate Oregon's been losing quarterbacks to knee injuries, the early meeting probably benefits the Ducks. Any later in the season and who knows what might happen or who might be under center.
If I'm answering honestly, I'm not sure it helps either team. (What
Brewer: I think it helps Washington, but not much. Both teams are going to be unpolished products, the game will probably be ugly at times, and that benefits the Huskies. Maybe the Ducks make some uncharacteristic mistakes. The flip side is that the Huskies are so young that a road game of this magnitude could overwhelm them. If the game were at Husky Stadium, Oregon would be in serious trouble. At Autzen? The Ducks have a security blanket for some of those first-game jitters.
So, the bottom line is the Huskies will have to play an amazing game to win. Whatever help I think they will get won't be enough.
3. How wide is the gap currently between the two schools? How long would it take for the Huskies to rise back to -- or even surpass -- Oregon's level?
White: How much money is Washington willing to spend on marketing these days?
Obviously the gap is of reasonable size. Washington hasn't beaten Oregon since 2003. They're struggling to renovate the stadium and can't find an athletic director.
Oregon, on the other hand, has won 39 games in the last five seasons. You know who else has won 39 games? Oregon State.
Oregon's won a single bowl game since the 2002 Fiesta Bowl -- last year's Sun Bowl.
But the Ducks have done a brilliant job marketing their program, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. They have silly uniforms, yes, but top-end facilities, with more on the way. They raised their profile to the point where IMG felt it a good deal to give Oregon $67 million over 10 years in a marketing rights agreement.
In terms of on-the-field results, however, they've not been any better than the Beavers, and everyone continues to chase USC. With a few good decisions and a break or two, I don't think the Huskies are that far away from the middle to upper-middle part of the conference.
Brewer: I believe that any college football program with the right resources is two good recruiting classes and a quality program for player development away from an uprising. Obviously, there are more factors to consider, but if you can do those two things, you'll be in a position to improve.
So, from that standpoint, the Huskies aren't far away from the Ducks. Oregon has a really good program. You can bank on them being at least in the lower portion of the Top 25 most seasons. UW has had four straight losing seasons, so that's quite a climb. But it can happen.
If Willingham does enough to retain his job this season, I think the Huskies will be a top 25 team in 2009. If the Huskies go 4-8 this year and bring in a new coach with new philosophies, it will take a little longer. That's why it's so important for UW to break through now.
4. What are the best and worst traits of Husky fans? What are the best and worst traits of Ducks fans?
White: We're dead on this question. You know that, right?
Best: Let's say loyalty. Both groups are very loyal, and equally capable of wearing funny hats and there are always a couple guys who are too comfortable out in public in those zebra-patterned pants that were cool for about 10 minutes in 1991.
Worst: Loyalty. I'm reading a book right now called "Obsessive Branding Disorder" by Lucas Conley. Early on, he notes that the doctrine of one of the world's largest advertising firms is "Loyalty beyond reason." So when I write a column and include that Oregon and Oregon State have the same number of wins, I'm told I'm wrong. Or I'm missing the larger point. Or that it's not the whole story.
There's also the training room with the waterfall.
The trick here is that most fans are totally cool, fun people. I just got an email from a friend who went to Washington and at the bottom it says, "Please consider the environment before printing this email." Because he cares.
But there is also the type of fan who lacks any sense of humor, or sense of proportion, and, in a few cases, logic is tossed out the window while the car's moving at an especially high rate of speed. Washington has them. Oregon has them. And they are almost identical.
They're going to hate seeing that.
Brewer: I love the passion, the sense of history and the ownership of the program that Husky fans take. It's truly something special. Yes, those are qualities that every tradition-laden program has, but it's the way the Huskies nurture it that's different. They don't take it for granted. They treat it like it's a magical entity that only certain people can understand. As someone who grew up far from here, I dig that commitment.
Worst traits for Husky fans? There's a sense of entitlement that can be annoying. And while I love how many fans talk about Husky football in mystical terms, I don't buy the argument that an outsider can never understand. I think that's a small-town mentality, and the Husky community is too vast for that kind of thinking. The football program is a unique treasure, embedded deeply into so many hearts. But it's a football program, not the morse code. By respecting and researching the history, by having the legends school you, you can learn.
As far as the Ducks fans are concerned, I will defer to Ryan. I haven't been around them enough. I will say that, in my few dealings with those fans, I see some commonality with Husky fans, with all sports fans. I sense Oregon fans can be a little more insecure, and I didn't like how they treated Kevin Love when he returned to his home state. But I know plenty of great, well-rounded Ducks. And I like my dealings with them.
I'm happy dealing mostly with the Huskies on a daily basis, though. They challenge me. I like that.
5. Who will win Saturday? Why?
White: There is much gnashing of teeth down here about Nate Costa's knee injury. The interesting thing about that is that Justin Roper has a larger body of work to talk about than Costa. Roper was actually pretty good in the last year's Civil War and in the bowl game.
But he's not why I think Oregon wins. The offense isn't even why I expect Oregon wins. I think the defense is real good. And the game's at Autzen. At night. So the fans will in no way be loud or drunk.
However, talking to secondary coach John Neal last week, he ascribed the appropriate amount of worry to the task of preparing for Jake Locker, who he called "Clark Kent." If Oregon can maintain Locker's existence to that of a clumsy newspaper reporter wearing nerdy glasses, the Ducks will win.
This might be a good time to point out that in their final scrimmage, Roper, the slower quarterback, ran for a 25-yard touchdown.
Brewer: I'm calling the upset. Huskies, 27-21. I think new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will have the UW defense playing inspired. I think the holdover Huskies who watched Oregon score 55 points on them last season will play for pride this time. I think Jake Locker is going to have an amazing game. At times, the Ducks struggled defending him last season. Locker ran for 78 yards and threw for 257 yards and four touchdowns. He was a big-play machine in that game. If he can be more efficient this time (he only completed 12 of 31 passes against the Ducks a year ago), the Huskies will fare well.
Now, don't ask me which of those young receivers and running backs will help him out. Maybe Jordan Polk, the impressive young returner, will star on special teams and help out the offense.
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