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Can UW's 'Mad Scientist' Help Huskies Break 10-Year Losing Spell Against Oregon?

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Ben Margot
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AP Photo
UW coach Chris Petersen on the sidelines of the Huskies' game against California, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014.

The unranked Washington Huskies take on the No. 9 Oregon Ducks Saturday in Eugene. The Ducks are heavily favored to win, as they have the past 10 years.

But the Huskies may be able to turn their luck around this year with the help of a man known as “the mad scientist.”Can He Conjure Up A Win?

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says that “mad scientist” is new UW head football coach Chris Petersen.

“He’s sort of the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel for the Huskies,” he said.

Petersen earned the mad scientist moniker because of his offensive innovation when he was an assistant coach at Oregon from 1995 until 2000. Not only does he know how the Oregon football program works, he’s had success against it as well. Petersen beat Oregon in 2008 and 2009 as the head coach of Boise State.

"He's downplayed this week what he knows and what he can plot to end this Oregon hegemony. That only tells me he's got something up his sleeve," Art said. "I think that mad scientist thing has to play big Saturday afternoon if the Huskies have a chance."

Ducks Have Been Dominant

The Ducks are 21-point favorites in the game, even though both teams are 5-1. Art says that's because Oregon has won the past 10 contests with Washington by more than 17 points each time.

“That's an astonishing feat by the Ducks,” Art said. “In college football, there's a turnover of 25% every year when each class graduates. And over 10 years they've turned it over two-and-a-half times and they've still beat the Huskies."

"You would think the ball would bounce once right with the Huskies. They're a competitive, Pac-12 Conference team with the Ducks in terms of the rules and the ability to recruit. And certainly now the Huskies have a stadium and facilities that are close to the equal of the Ducks,” Art said. "But really, nobody does it like the Oregon Ducks when it comes to investment in football."

Big Bucks From Native Son

The difference is Phil Knight, the co-founder and chairman of Nike. Knight is an Oregon native who attended the University of Oregon. Nike is based in the nearby Beaverton area.

“He has donated more than $100 million in upgrades to the football facility, to the basketball facility,” Art said. “They now have a new football headquarters down there that would be the envy of any Wall Street office in terms of its opulence.”

"[Nike has] been to Eugene what GM once was to Detroit. [Oregon] is celebrated in the football world because they have gotten the facilities that attract the coaches and the players to this program in Eugene."

But it's not all smooth sailing along the Willamette River that divides the school's academic and athletic sides.

"The academic side resents what's happening there because Phil Knight has been donating so much money to athletics and has not donated in 15 years to the academic side," Art said. "That may be changing but the upshot is a great deal of resentment by the academic side who say not only is the tail wagging the dog at the University of Oregon, they're not being transparent about it."

"There's a lot of suspicion going on between the two sides of the school. It's almost like Republicans and Democrats."

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You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between historylink.org and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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