Most opponents who come to the Palouse when Washington State is good and its home stadium is packed walk into a buzzed environment where they are not welcomed.
Then there’s Oregon State, which brings the No. 14 team in the country into that setting on Saturday to face the 21st-ranked Cougars. And right now, there’s no animosity from the Cougars toward the Beavers in any way.
The events of the past couple of months have left Washington State and Oregon State as partners, bonded far deeper than being the Pacific Northwest’s land-grant schools based in true college towns.
They are the Pac-2 – at least for now – starting next year and potentially into the future. The Beavers and Cougars are united as the outsiders no other conferences wanted when the foundation of the Pac-12 crumbled this summer.
And they're moving ahead on trying to rebuild their conference with themselves as the centerpieces.
“Oregon State and Washington State belong competing at the highest level,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said. “I think there’s a proven product not just in football, but in all sports that both universities' programs have competed at the highest level, had serious success and that should continue."
Solidarity will need to be put aside for a little bit Saturday. The opener to the Pac-12 schedule for both teams is too important in the bigger picture for this season.
For the Beavers (3-0), it’s a first major test after taking down two Mountain West programs and an FCS school on their undefeated run through nonconference play. Oregon State also has next week’s home showdown with No. 11 Utah on the horizon.
For the Cougars (3-0), it’s a chance to build on the first two weeks of the season, when they thumped Colorado State on the road before returning home to upset No. 19 Wisconsin.
“I know nationally, we’re together and we’re going to be rebuilding the Pac-12 and all those things, but on the field it’s not going to be that friendly,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said. “I mean, it’s going to be aggressive, it’s going be physical. They want to win, we want to win. We know how important it is to get that 1-0 and get the conference slate of games started off the right way.”
It was last season against Washington State that Oregon State running back Damien Martinez announced his presence as a force in the Beavers offense when he rushed for 111 yards in the win over the Cougars.
Including that game, Martinez has rushed for at least 100 yards in nine straight regular-season games. This season, Martinez is averaging 8.8 yards per carry. But he’s not alone. Deshaun Fenwick is averaging nearly 6 yards every time he touches the ball.
“These two backs are phenomenal. I mean just physical and run their scheme and they’re patient,” Dickert said.
This will also be the first big road test in the Pac-12 for Oregon State QB DJ Uiagalelei, who completed just 14 of 30 passes and was intercepted twice last week against San Diego State. Uiagalelei was terrific in his first two games, but was part of a sluggish offensive performance last week.
Washington State QB Cameron Ward has been the opposite of sluggish. Ward has thrown for almost 1,000 yards, is completing 72% of his passes and has nine touchdowns with zero interceptions in three games. He threw for 327 yards and four TDs in the first half last week against Northern Colorado.
“(Ward’s) played a lot in that scheme. Can create, extend, got explosive players on the outside. It’s a challenging scheme when you got a quarterback with that type of talent,” Smith said.
Oregon State has not enjoyed its last two trips to Pullman. In 2019, the Beavers led 53-42 with 4:17 remaining in the game, but ended up losing 54-53 when Max Borghi scored on a 2-yard run with 1 second remaining in regulation.
Two years later, the Beavers were stopped on fourth-and-goal with 33 seconds left and Washington State came away with a 31-24 victory.
There are a handful of Oregon State players still around who played in both of those losses.
“I think it does help. I think they do carry it and they recognize how tough it is to win up there,” Smith said.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll