Oregon State returns to Seattle this weekend, suffering mightily from college football ills hardly unfamiliar to this overly challenged Pac-12 program. The Beavers (2-8 league, 1-6 league) stumble into Husky Stadium as 33-point underdogs with a first-year head coach to lead them but supposedly no chance of winning. Not a prayer. No way.
Of course, old-timers hanging around Montlake will warn the smug and overconfident that there’s always the BFF factor to consider—which has had more life to it than a mid-day Andy Griffith Show TV rerun. Best Friends Forever? Nope, we’re talking about the Barney Fife Firestorm.
Thirty-three years ago, a 2-4 OSU team, coming off a 63-0 embarrassment at the hands of USC and a 34-0 drubbing by WSU, woke up, got out of bed, tried to find a way to get ahead, thank you Fab Four. The Beavers were 37-point underdogs to Washington on this day and looking anywhere for a glimmer of hope.
They found it in a snarky column written by Steve Rudman of the proud but now no longer operating Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He deputized them in print that morning. He unapologetically called Oregon State the Barney Fife of College Football. Translation: Lovable losers, bumbling fools, looney lawman. New Beavers coach Dave Kragthorpe made this piece of penalizing prose the focus of his pregame exhortation. Play-by-play broadcaster Darrell Aune indignantly read it on the air to the Oregon State listening audience back home. The team, of course, found the slight motivating.
Rudman didn’t show up for the game, but surprisingly Oregon State did—the Beavers blocked and recovered a punt for a touchdown with 1:46 remaining and won 21-20. Husky Stadium was never more shocked. The UW crowd was never more disgusted by a home-field outcome, walking out of the place in record time and in stony silence.
Coming off an Orange Bowl victory, that 1985 Husky team bore some resemblance to the current one—it was a decided underachiever that finished 7-5 and ended up in a much lesser bowl game (the no longer existent Freedom) than anticipated.
So after this trip down bad memory lane, this brings us to 10 questions surrounding this epic November encounter and Jonathan Smith welcome-home party:
- Do these Beavers have any chance of beating 17th-ranked Washington?
No. That Oregon State upset was a once-in-a-lifetime disaster. Steve Rudman recently retired from sportspressnorthwest.com, bringing a distinguished journalism career to an end; he was immortalized in a T-shirt that commemorated the upset and his journalistic foreplay. Don Knotts, that fictional TV police officer named Barney, died a dozen years ago. More to the point, these Beavs haven’t played anything resembling stout defense for two full seasons now.
- How bad has the OSU stop unit been?
In their past 22 games, the Beavers have given up 32 points or more in every outing but two. They’ve been torched for 77, 56, 52, 49 and 48 points this season alone. They should be repeatedly flagged for not having enough men on the field.
- What effect will Jonathan Smith have on this game?
Unless he lines up behind center, the first-year Beavers head coach and former UW offensive coordinator’s presence should be negligible. However, he did like coming into Husky Stadium as an opposing quarterback. In 1998, he threw for a school-record 469 yards and three scores for OSU in a 35-34 defeat and two years later he passed for 314 yards and three more TDs in a 33-30 defeat.
- What’s Smith’s biggest success as the Beavers coach?
Getting running back Jermar Jefferson’s signature on a letter of intent was monumental for the new coach. Smith signed the Los Angeles-area running back even after USC made a late scholarship offer. The shifty freshman has 254- and 238-yard rushing games, six games of 100 or more and ranks third in the Pac-12 with 1,201 yards for the season. He wears No. 22, doing his best Emmitt Smith imitation. He’s a great talent to build around.
- Will this Senior Day be any different for the UW?
Yes. This outing represents a true milestone for coach Chris Petersen, whose earliest recruits will play in Husky Stadium for the last time. He salutes five guys who became four-year starters and have been in the lineup for what seems to be forever: quarterback Jake Browning, all-time leading rusher Myles Gaskin, tight end Drew Sample, right guard Kaleb McGary and defensive lineman Greg Grimes. Who says there’s no crying in football?
- Will Trey Adams play this weekend?
The superlative offensive tackle, out all season after having back surgery, reportedly has practiced for a couple of weeks. While the senior announced on Instagram that he would return next season, Adams could play Saturday and presumably in the three possible games that might follow, and not lose any eligibility. Don’t be surprised if the big guy gets a snap or more in what won’t be his Husky Stadium farewell.
- What’s the favorable history lesson for the UW in the Oregon State series?
No longtime conference team--out of state--has been more of a punching bag for the Huskies, hence the incredulous reaction to the ’85 turn of events. The UW leads the series 64-34-4, winning 32 of the past 41 games, and six in a row.
- How many points will the Huskies score this weekend?
Browning doesn’t win all of the big games, but he does make the little guys pay. Look for the quarterback to lead the Huskies to at least six touchdowns in his Seattle finale.
- What’s the latest bowl game projection for Washington?
The national consensus is the Holiday Bowl. However, none of these pundits from Sports Illustrated, ESPN, SBNation, Bleacher Report, CBS and the other outlets can agree on the opponent. They have Washington meeting Purdue, Michigan State, Northwestern or Iowa on Dec. 31 in San Diego.
- What’s the final score?
The Beavers haven’t won in Seattle in a decade, since the winless Ty Willingham season. These Beavers look like Barney Rubble, not Barney Fife—a second wheel for sure, living in a dinosaur world. The Huskies (7-3, 5-2) should go easy on Smith, but they won’t. Washington 45, Oregon State 18.