Oregon has just one more hurdle before "The Natty," as cornerback Cliff Harris calls the national championship game, and that's the Civil War.
On Saturday the top-ranked Ducks will take the 47-mile drive north to Reser Stadium to face the Oregon State Beavers in the 114th edition of the rivalry between the two Pac-10 schools.
If Oregon can defeat the Beavers on hostile turf, they'll play for the national championship on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
The Ducks (11-0, 8-0) clinched at least a share of the Pac-10 title on Friday night when they beat Arizona 48-29 at Autzen Stadium. But there was no celebration of the feat, because Oregon has been eying the bigger prize all along.
"We're looking at The Natty now, you know," Harris said. "I'm glad that we're Pac-10 champions, but I don't know how to feel yet because it's still a one game season."
Therein lies the key for the Ducks: They still have one game left. And while the Beavers are having a down season, the Oregon needs look no further than Boise State for a cautionary tale.
The Broncos were undefeated until Friday night when they lost 34-31 in overtime to conference opponent Nevada and fell six spots to No. 9 in Sunday's AP Top 25. The Ducks remained atop the AP rankings on Sunday, followed by Auburn and TCU, but the Tigers jumped ahead of Oregon in the BCS standings by a margin of .0002.
Last season the Rose Bowl was on the line for both teams when Oregon hosted Oregon State. The Ducks earned the conference title and a trip to Pasadena with a 37-33.
It was Oregon's first Rose Bowl appearance since 1995. And while the Ducks ultimately lost 26-17 to Ohio State, it decidedly whetted the team's appetite for greater achievements.
"Last year, getting (to the Rose Bowl) was something that was new to us. We've been there, we loved it there, but our goal is something bigger," Ducks running back Kenjon Barner said. "The Rose Bowl is a great bowl to be a part of, but our vision as team is something greater and that's pretty much what we're focused on."
While the Ducks are rolling, the Beavers are reeling from a 38-0 loss to No. 5 Stanford.
The Beavers, traditionally known for their late-season surges, have gone the other way this season, losing three of their last four game. Oregon State has lost three straight Pac-10 games on the road for the first time since 2003.
"Our only deal left for this team is to do everything we can to prepare for that game next week and win it," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
Oregon State (5-6, 4-4) needs a Civil War victory to become bowl eligible.
The Beavers have been to the postseason for the past four straight seasons. They've played in bowls nine of the last 11 seasons overall.
"We can pack it in, or we can come out and fight," Beavers quarterback Ryan Katz said about the final game after the deflating loss to the Cardinal.
Indeed, the Civil War has a history of unpredictability.
In 2008, the Beavers were headed to the Rose Bowl with a victory in the final game when the Ducks romped to a 65-38 win in Corvallis. The year before, the Beavers visited Autzen and won 38-31 in the second overtime.
In 2000, the No. 8 Beavers denied the fifth-ranked Ducks a trip to Pasadena with a 23-13 victory. Joey Harrington threw five interceptions in the game and cried in the aftermath.
While the Beavers have the chance to again play the spoiler, the Ducks insist they'll be ready.
"We play for a vision, to win every game and then focus on the next one. We have a vision to be great, we haven't crossed the line from good to great yet, but we have to cross that line next week and play great," Oregon safety John Boyett said. "We strive to get better, we haven't peaked yet."
- Cliff Harris
- cautionary tale
- the Rose Bowl
- running back
- the Cardinal
- Autzen Stadium
- Oregon State Beavers
- Reser Stadium