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A Brief History of Stanford-Oregon State Football

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A quick look at the shared history between these two PAC-12 North foes.

Lester Archambeau

Welcome to a Brief History of Stanford-Oregon State. The Stanford Cardinal travel to Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers this week. To mark the occasion, I’ll be giving a general outline of this old-school series. It isn’t the flashiest matchup that Stanford has, and the two teams have never directly been in competition for the league title, but the Cardinal have been playing Oregon State since they first joined the PCC in 1919, so there is a lot to cover nonetheless.

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The Oregon Agricultural College began sponsoring a football team in 1893. Named the Aggies, the program played regional schools, mostly in-state opponents, and began their rivalry with the University of Oregon in 1894. Oregon Agricultural was a member of the Northwest Intercollegiate Association from 1902 to 1914, and in 1915 they founded the Pacific Coast Conference alongside Oregon, Washington, and Cal.

Stanford first played the Oregon Agricultural Aggies in 1919, when they first started playing football in the PCC. Stanford won the game 14-6 in Corvallis, it was their only conference win that season and both teams finished at the bottom of the standings. Stanford didn’t stay bad for long, and the Stanford team would finish in the top third of the conference for most of the 1920’s. Oregon AC didn’t have the same success. The Aggies were usually in the bottom half of the conference during that decade. The only season of note was in 1926, when Oregon AC finished 3rd in the PCC with a 4-1 league record. Stanford won the conference, and would claim a national championship for their undefeated season. The teams did not play that year as Oregon AC’s only conference loss came to 2nd place USC.

A program from the early days, and Oregon State’s first ever win over Stanford.
Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University

Stanford dominated the early part of this series. The Stanford squad won the first 11 meetings held between these teams from 1919 to 1936. Despite their rocky beginning in the PCC, Oregon AC nevertheless began to slowly develop their program. The school changed its name to Oregon State University in 1927, and renamed their team the Beavers in 1931. Oregon State finally managed to tie the Indians in 1937, a scoreless affair at Stanford Stadium, and the next year in Corvallis they beat Stanford for the first time ever. In 1941, the year after Stanford’s last undefeated season, Oregon State managed to win their first ever PCC championship and attended their first Rose Bowl. However due to the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor, the game was held in Durham, North Carolina. Oregon State beat Duke 20-16.

When both schools returned to playing football following the War, they had lost some ground to schools like USC and UCLA who had not stopped playing. Their first postwar meeting was a tie, Oregon State won the next encounter in 1947. Stanford somewhat regained their footing in the PCC in the early 1950’s, and beat the Beavers in five straight games from 1949 to 1953. The good times wouldn’t last, and the Indians fell to the middle of the pack. This coincided with Oregon State’s first real period of sustained success. Under head coach Tommy Prothro, the Beavers won the PCC in both 1956 and 1957. They lost their first Los Angeles Rose Bowl to Iowa, and weren’t allowed to play in the second because the league had a “no-repeat” rule. Instead, they stayed home as archrival Oregon, who they beat at the end of the year, went to Pasadena. Under Prothro, Oregon State beat Stanford four times in a row from 1955 to 1958, it was their longest streak ever against the Indians.

Just as the Oregon State program reached a peak, the rug was pulled out from under them. The PCC dissolved in scandal in 1958 and the Beavers were left without a home. They initially weren’t invited to join the PCC’s successor conference and had to compete as a Division I independent. In 1962, Oregon State beat Villanova in the Liberty Bowl en route to a 9-2 season. In 1964, having finally been accepted into the AAWU, Oregon State won the league in their first season and went to the Rose Bowl where they lost to Michigan 34-7.

Immediately following the 1965 Rose Bowl, Prothro left Oregon State to take the head coaching position at UCLA. He left Corvallis with a 63-37-2 record and only one losing season in ten years at the helm. His win total stood for nearly half a century before it was eclipsed by Mike Riley. Unfortunately for Oregon State, Prothro’s absence made competing in the PAC-8 a very difficult challenge. Without the resources and recruiting ability of the other schools, the Beavers made a quick slide into the cellar. Oregon State had a losing record every year from 1971 to 1998. They were so bad that their 21-20 win over 4-2 Washington in 1985 was the previous record holder for the biggest point spread upset in history before the 2007 Stanford-USC game.

Oregon St V Stanford
For most of the 20th Century, this wasn’t a very competitive or relevant game.

The Oregon State-Stanford series was never all that competitive in the second half of the 20th Century. The Cardinal were mostly a rather mediocre team, but they were generally much more competitive than the Beavers, who were usually nowhere close to a .500 record. Stanford won ten in a row from 1969 to 1978, and won 23 games in 27 years from ’69 to 1995.

Oregon State hired Mike Riley in 1997, and the long-awaited rebuild officially began. After a 3-8 record in his first season, Riley guided the Beavers to a 5-6 mark in 1998. Astonishing as it is to say, it was Oregon State’s best year since 1971. This modest increase in wins was enough to lure an NFL team into hiring Riley, who left Corvallis for the San Diego Chargers. Instead of collapse, the Beavers were able to draw Dennis Erickson to OSU, who had led Miami to two national championships in 1989 and 1991.

Riley had set the stage, and Erickson delivered. In 1999, Oregon State had their first winning season in 29 years. The quaint 7-5 record wouldn’t be considered a good season for many programs, but it was a huge step for the Beavers. What’s more, Oregon State improved yet again in 2000, this time dramatically. The Beavers stunned the college football world with a 10-1 regular season. Only a three point loss at Washington prevented OSU from having their first ever undefeated record as a member of the PAC-10 and a chance to play for the national championship. Unfortunately, Oregon State’s loss to Washington prevented them from even playing in the Rose Bowl, as they tied the Huskies in the standings. Instead, the Beavers played Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, and torched the Irish 41-9.

Oregon State v Stanford
Since 2000, this series has been much more competitive.

Erickson left Oregon State in 2003 for the NFL, but a familiar face returned to hold the gains that had been won. Mike Riley was the Beavers’ head coach from 2003 to 2014, and had only four losing seasons in that span. The new millennium has easily been Oregon State’s most successful run since the Prothro days. Needless to say, the relationship between the Beavers and Stanford changed, especially since the Cardinal slunk into the basement in the 2000’s. From 1996 to 2009, OSU beat Stanford in 9 out of 13 meetings.

The 2010’s saw a regression to the previous trends. Oregon State had a couple of good seasons, but they’ve been unable to compete with a resurgent Stanford team. The Cardinal have won the past seven meetings with their PAC-12 North foe.

Stanford leads the all-time series 55-25-3.