Roses out of reach, but Civil War provides motivation
They're without quarterback Dennis Dixon, they have a two-game losing streak, their national title hopes have been dashed and there's no way they'll go to the Rose Bowl.
At least the Oregon Ducks have the Civil War.
"We've played a couple of tough games, especially on the offensive side of the ball coming into this week, but pretty much the slate is cleared. It's a rivalry game and it's at home, which is nice, and we're going to be fired up. We really have nothing else to lose," Oregon center Max Unger said.
Eighteenth-ranked Oregon (9-3, 5-3 Pacific-10) hosts Oregon State (7-4, 5-3) at Autzen Stadium in the 111th edition of the Civil War.
The Ducks are still headed to a bowl game, but they certainly aren't in the position they were two games ago, when they were ranked No. 2 and well positioned for a shot at the national championship.
Oregon's season crumbled when Dixon's knee buckled against Arizona.
Dixon, who had been a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, tore a ligament in his knee in Oregon's 35-23 victory over Arizona State. He decided to try to play out the rest of the season, but he crumpled against the Wildcats, and the Ducks lost 34-24.
Backup Brady Leaf, already playing on one bad ankle, injured the other one in Oregon's 16-0 loss to UCLA. With third-string quarterback Nate Costa already hurt, the Ducks have had to turn to redshirt freshman Cody Kempt and Justin Roper.
Along with sophomore wide receiver Andre Crenshaw, the Ducks have used five players at quarterback this season.
"They know what they're doing. They've played football before. It's not about pumping them up or getting them confident," Unger said about the youngsters.
NOT JUST A PLAYER, BUT A FAN: Besides being on the brink of setting the school record for consecutive games played, Oregon State's Roy Schuening grew up a Beaver fan in Pendleton.
The senior offensive lineman understands the gravity of the Civil War rivalry as well as any player on the Beavers' side.
So how about a win over Oregon Saturday to finish the regular season, and then a bowl game to top it off?
"It would be great," Schuening said. "It would be the perfect culmination to this season and how we turned things around."
Schuening will start his 49th consecutive game Saturday, which will move him past linebacker Richard Seigler (2000-03) into first place in Beaver history.
A right guard for most of his career, the 6-4, 320-pound Schuening switched to right tackle two games ago after lineman Tavita Thompson was suddenly declared ineligible by the NCAA.
"(Schuening) epitomizes the team attitude that we have here," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "Roy has quietly started 48 straight games, and hopefully everything goes good and he gets his 50th start, which is very unique, and very hard to do. ... To move to tackle is a big deal because it is not something that is easy to do."
The home team has won the last 10 Civil Wars, and the Beavers (7-4, 5-3) last beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium in 1993.
"Everybody wants to beat the other team on their turf," Schuening said. "That's the great thing about this rivalry; the level of competition that comes out in that game, how guys compete on both sides of the ball and just the nature of the Civil War."
BERNARD'S RETURN UNSURE: Yvenson Bernard's status for the Civil War is up in the air.
Oregon State's senior tailback, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week, hasn't been practicing, and coach Mike Riley said Bernard's progress is "maybe not as far along as we had thought it might be."
If Bernard, Oregon State's second all-time leading rusher behind Ken Simonton (1998-01), feels better Saturday but still hasn't practiced, Riley said he might play anyway.
Bernard is 10th in rushing in Pac-10 history with 3,685 yards, and with another 46 yards he could pass Ricky Bell and Anthony Davis of USC and Gaston Green of UCLA to move into seventh.
Defensive end Dorian Smith will probably return from a knee sprain, but Riley is doubtful QB Sean Canfield will be fully recuperated from his shoulder injury.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Think Oregon State's defense is salivating at the thought of going up against Cody Kempt and Justin Roper, a pair of redshirt freshmen who are likely to play at quarterback Saturday for Oregon?
Darn right, defensive end Slade Norris says. But don't think Oregon State is taking the shorthanded Ducks lightly.
"Going into any game we like to think any team going against our defense is in a heap of trouble," said Norris. "Oregon has had some injuries. That's definitely evident, but they are a very deep team."
Oregon State coach Mike Riley said that the defensive advantage can work both ways.
He points out that the noise at Oregon's 58,000-seat, bowled-in Autzen Stadium could be a problem for sophomore QB Lyle Moevao, who will make his third-straight start this week in place of the injured Sean Canfield. Riley has piped in noise at practice this week and has his team working on its "whisper count" to guard against noise foiling the snap to Moevao.
"I've got some friends on other teams and they told me it's probably the loudest place in the Pac-10," Moevao said. "Louder than USC, too."
MORE HONORS: Honors continue to roll in for Dennis Dixon, despite his season-ending injury, as his importance to the Ducks becomes more apparent.
Dixon is among five finalists for the Walter Camp Football Foundation player of the year award, joining Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, and Matt Ryan of Boston College and Tim Tebow of Florida.
The winner will be announced Dec. 6 after a vote by the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision coaches and sports information directors. The trophy will be presented Jan. 12 at the foundation's annual awards banquet in New Haven, Conn.
Dixon threw for 2,136 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games before a knee injury knocked him out for the season. The senior also rushed for 583 yards and nine touchdowns for the 18th-ranked Ducks (8-3).
EXTRA POINTS: The home team has won the Civil War for the past 10 games. ... Oregon leads the overall series 55-45-10. The Ducks are 25-23-4 against the Beavers in Eugene, and 12-6-1 at Autzen. ... Oregon has lost just one game at Autzen this season, against California. Losses to Arizona and UCLA were on the road. ... Oregon State looks to post winning records in Pac-10 play in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1996-97.