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Why the Ducks will win

If a longtime Oregon State football fan had gone into a coma in 1998 and awoke today, he would have a hard time believing the Beavers have posted a 9-1 record, a No. 8 national ranking and earned themselves a shot at their first Rose Bowl berth in 36 years.

It's one thing to end 28 straight losing seasons, as the Beavers did a year ago. It's quite another to climb several more rungs up the ladder, to be mentioned in the same breath with the Huskies, Sooners, Seminoles, Gators and Cornhuskers of the college football world.

What's next, the Cincinnati Bengals marching to the Super Bowl in 2001?

That said, the jury remains out for Saturday's Civil War. The Beavers ostensibly have an awful lot going for them: the magic of coach Dennis Erickson, the running of Ken Simonton, the passing of Jonathan Smith, an underrated defense, the friendly confines of Reser Stadium.

But beating Oregon is an impediment OSU has rarely conquered in recent years. The advantages for the Ducks include:

— — History. Let us not forget that OSU has lost five of the past six Civil War matchups, six of the past eight and 20 of the past 25.

This Beaver group has done an excellent job of burying the past the second the ball is kicked off. But in a big rivalry, history tends to repeat.

— — Big-game pressure. One could argue that every game the Beavers and Ducks have played the past month has been pressure-packed, but I'm talking about the-collar-gets-tight, the knuckles-get-white pressure.

And while there's nothing quite like the pressure of the Civil War, the pressure of a bowl game ranks right up there. The Ducks have made it to the postseason three straight years and five of the past six, with victories over Air Force (Las Vegas Bowl) and Minnesota (Sun Bowl) in 1997 and ?99, respectively. The Beavers? Prior to their 23-17 loss to Hawaii in last season's O'ahu Bowl, their last bowl appearance came in 1965, when they lost 34-7 to Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

The Beavers haven't won a bowl game since the 1962 Liberty Bowl, when Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker ran 99 yards for a touchdown in a 6-0 victory over Villanova .

— — Tight games. If Saturday's contest isn't decided until the fourth quarter or overtime, the Ducks will feel as comfortable as a cat in front of a warm fire. In the last month, Oregon has edged Arizona State in double overtime, Washington State in overtime, Arizona by four points and California by eight.

To their credit, the Beavers have beaten some of those same teams by much wider margins — Washington State and Cal — but if Saturday's contest isn't settled until the final seconds, the Ducks get the edge.

— — Coaching. This isn't an easy argument to win because Erickson has worked a veritable miracle in Corvallis. But Oregon's Mike Bellotti, recently voted by his peers as one of the two most underrated college football coaches in the nation, might be among the two or three best in the country.

Give Bellotti a Florida State or Nebraska, and he'd win the national championship more years than not.

Look what he's accomplished in his five-plus seasons at Oregon: Three straight bowl berths, wins in 70 percent of his games (47 wins, 21 losses), a 20-game win streak at Autzen Stadium and, oh yes, a 4-1 record against the boys from Benton County.

He knows the X's and O's better than most, he knows how to motivate and he's as calm as George S. Patton in the heat of battle. The television shots of Bellotti and Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder during Oregon's 56-55, double-overtime victory on Oct. 28 provided insight as to why the Ducks were able to come out on top: the cool, cerebral Bellotti versus the overly fervent, hotheaded Snyder.

Football teams are always a reflection of their head coach. If Saturday's game comes down to the final seconds, advantage Oregon.

Personally, I hope it does come down to the final seconds. All those Duck blowouts during the ?70s and ?80s were enough to put an insomniac to sleep for 20 years.

Back then, tickets weren't so hard to come by. According to a story in Tuesday's Eugene Register Guard, an Oregon State fan inadvertently left his car door unlocked with two tickets sitting on his dashboard during one of those deplorable seasons. When he returned, four tickets were present.

I could go on about how my colleague, Tim Trower, grew up in Corvallis, attended Corvallis High and later Oregon State. About how he knew the OSU fight song when he was in diapers. About how he views any Civil War matter through orange-colored glasses and thus has all the objectivity of a referee with a $100 bill hanging out his back pocket. Or the credibility of Saddam Hussain.

But he's my boss, and I won't go there.

Oregon wins on the strength of a Josh Frankel field goal in quadruple overtime.

Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail