(Photo credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports)
The championship of the Pac-2 will be on the line Saturday when No. 14 Oregon State plays No. 21 Washington State in Pullman, Wash.
OK, it's still the Pac-12 for now. And a mighty impressive one, with eight teams ranked in the top 12.
But a year from now, when Oregon, Southern California, UCLA and Washington bolt for the Big Ten; Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado join the Big 12; and Cal and Stanford set sail for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Beavers and Cougars will be all that's left of the so-called Conference of Champions.
"We belong in the Power 5," Washington State coach Jake Dickert said on ESPN after his Cougars defeated then-ranked Wisconsin 31-22 on Sept. 9.
The Cougars (3-0), who have also won handily at Colorado State and against Northern Colorado, have adopted an "us-against-the-world" philosophy.
"Washington State's gonna thrive ... The Cougars are gonna make it," Dickert said. "Cougs vs. everybody."
WSU's Cameron Ward has completed 77 of 107 passes (72.0 percent) while throwing for 990 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions as the Cougars have averaged 48.3 points per game.
Ward has found plenty of rest in the two blowouts, keeping him fresh for conference play.
"It's helped me physically for sure, to start Pac play," Ward said. "The past three games, they really don't mean anything. Everything comes down to this Saturday.
"This is what we worked for this summer. It all comes down to Saturdays. We try to go 1-0. So it's a mindset, but it for sure helps me physically."
The Beavers (3-0) easily defeated San Jose State and UC Davis to open the season before a 26-9 victory against visiting San Diego State last weekend.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, a transfer from Clemson, has completed 42 of 68 passes for 630 yards and six TDs with two interceptions. He has also rushed for four scores.
Oregon State running back Damien Martinez has 351 yards on 40 carries.
Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith has generally steered clear of discussion of the Beavers' future past this season.
"We're focused with the task at hand, what is right in front of us," Smith said. "I totally agree with Coach Dickert in regard that Oregon State and Washington State belonging and competing at the highest level.
"There's a proven product, not just in football but in all sports. Both ... have had serious success and that should continue."
Instead, Smith has kept focused on Saturday's conference opener.
"The meaning is Game 1 of conference play, and you want to get off to a good start," Smith said. "It's going to be competitive over there and obviously, we're trying to win the game. Those are the kinds of things I think about."
Pullman has been a tough place for the Beavers to play in recent seasons.
In 2019, Max Borghi scored a touchdown with two seconds left to lift Washington State to a 54-53 victory. Two years ago, WSU prevailed 31-24 after the Beavers' potential tying drive stalled inside the Cougars' 10-yard line with 33 seconds left.
Smith said those losses should serve as motivation for the Beavers this week.
"I think it helps. They do carry it, and they recognize how tough it is to win up there," Smith said.
--Field Level Media