Moving forward into the Big Ten is also a time to look back and remember the Pac and a lot of great times. One of the knocks that people “Back East” like to say about West Coast football is the notion that “they haven’t played anybody,” as though there are no good teams on our side of the country, or that West Coast teams don’t play intersectional games, either in bowls or the regular season, or that they don’t play anyone good.
In the first article in this series, I looked back at the past 50 years of games for the Washington Huskies to see every time they played a ranked opponent. That needs a little update, since the Huskies completed the season beating SIX ranked opponents after knocking off #3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl, though sadly they didn’t quite make it seven after they dropped the national title game. Still, 6-1 vs. ranked teams is their best season ever in terms of beating ranked foes. There’s a lot of transition going on and a ton of uncertainty, so we’ll see what happens next year.
As we’re heading to the Big Ten, though, it might be fun to look at our former Pac brethren who are making the trip as well and to see how well they’ve done over the same time period and look both at their overall success as well as the teams they’ve beaten.
NOTE: For the sake of ease and uniformity, I’ve used the AP poll at game time as the measure of “played a ranked team.” I know this can lead to some kinda weird results (like Colorado vs. Oregon last year - ranked when they played, in the toilet bowl by the end of the year), but over the course of 50 years I’m going to lean on the law of averages evening that out with teams that were unranked when we played who might have ranked up later (like this year’s Arizona squad). This is for fun, not for my dissertation, so those are the ground rules.
First up is Oregon, which this year had a winning record vs. ranked teams, going 4-2 vs. teams ranked at the time (see the first article for the ground rules on how ranked wins were calculated and why), beating Colorado, Utah, OSU, and Liberty and, of course, losing twice to UW. This was only the second season since 2014 that they had a winning record vs. ranked teams (2019 was the other, going 3-1).
This matched their 4-2 record vs. ranked teams in 2000 (losing to OSU and Wisconsin) and 2009 (Ohio St. and Boise St. in the game with the infamous LeGarrette Blount postgame punch). Only twice have the Ducks won more ranked games in a season, going 5-1 twice in 2012 (losing to Stanford) and 2014 (losing to Ohio St.), though arguably their best season vs. ranked opponents was in 2001 when they went 4-0 against ranked teams, beating UCLA, WSU, Colorado, and Wisconsin. Their worst season in the past decade in 2016 had kind of a funny quirk in that they only played 2 ranked opponents that year, losing to UW 70-21 of course, but also upsetting #11 Utah on the road in the second-to-last game of the season.
Oregon has played a lot of ranked teams over the past 50 years, sometimes when they were ranked, sometimes not. Sometimes they were ranked higher, other as the underdog. They’ve played teams in conference and out, blowing out some ranked opponents and getting blown out by others and had nail-biters go both ways.
The question for today is how UW has performed against AP-ranked opponents during those years. They’ve played a total of 174 games against ranked opponents, with a total record of 76-96-2, a 0.437 winning percentage. Considering the quality of opposition, it’s a solid record. No fattening up on Directional State U. when you’re only counting ranked games.
That total of 174 games over 50 years gives us an average of 3.5 games per season. Due to quirks of scheduling, they played only 1 ranked team each season in 1984 (UW) and 1985 (Nebraska), losing both. The highest number of ranked games ever for Oregon is 6 in 1997 (going 2-4), 2000 (4-2), 2009 (4-2), 2012 (5-1), 2014 (5-1), 2022 (3-3), and 2023 (4-2).
With all that said and done, I created a quiz to see if you can guess which teams we did the best and worst against among those ranked opponents. One caveat is that this quiz does not include teams that Oregon only played once when they were ranked (like Liberty in this year’s Fiesta Bowl). It also includes only ranked teams played in the last 50 years, so your memory might play tricks on you if you think too hard on big games played way back when. Check it out and look forward to upcoming articles on USC and UCLA soon. Go Dawgs!
P.S. - You can check out the Washington vs. Ranked Teams quiz here.