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Saturday, November 16, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW Football

Proof's in the playing today

Seattle Times staff reporter

EUGENE, Ore. — A battle that has been waged in Internet chat rooms, living rooms and the public-relations departments of the two schools the last 26 months finally hits the football field again today.

Oregon and Washington, bound in rivalry first by geography and recently by the fact that they are often the roadblock in each other's path to the top, meet at 12:30 p.m. today at Autzen Stadium after taking last season off because of a quirk in the schedule.

That these two programs are still at war despite the rare year away from battle was clear yesterday in the pointed words of Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti, who was responding to comments earlier in the week from UW Coach Rick Neuheisel.

On Monday, Neuheisel called Oregon a "propaganda machine" in how it promotes its program.

Neuheisel said he meant the comment as a compliment, though he seemed to take exception to how Oregon attempts to portray itself as the winningest Pac-10 program in recent years.

But Bellotti said he saw nothing complimentary at all about what Neuheisel said.

"Propaganda, in my mind, usually has to do with untruths, and all we do is tell the truth here about the records and everything else," Bellotti said before the Ducks hit the field for a walk-through yesterday afternoon.

"When (we) say we're the winningest program, it's about the number of wins we've gotten over the years, and there's nobody else that's close."

As Neuheisel said, though, it depends a little on which segment of time you're talking about.

Oregon's press release this week, for instance, points out that the Ducks have the best overall record in the conference the last eight years — 67-26 (72 percent) — with Washington second at 61-32-1 (65.4 percent), which is also the exact length of Bellotti's tenure with the Ducks.

Washington's press release this week, meanwhile, takes a longer-term view, stating proudly that the Huskies are the only team to earn a Rose Bowl berth in each of the last nine decades.

"There's no one in the league that can top the success that we have enjoyed if you go back 10, 20, 30 years," Neuheisel said Monday. "No one that can. So it's all based on who you are listening to. Who is in the door last."

All that will really matter by tonight, however, is which team proves to be the winningest program on this particular day.

Bellotti seemed to feel good about his team's chances of doing that, too, pointing out that the weather is supposed to be decent around kickoff time but could turn nasty later in the afternoon.

"We are more balanced (than Washington is), and hopefully if there is bad weather, that should be a positive for us," Bellotti said.

The Huskies will surely take that as a shot at their running game. But it's hard to argue with stats that show UW is ahead of only the disaster that is Arizona in rushing in the Pac-10 at 74.2 yards per game.

Neuheisel, however, said earlier in the week that there might be some chances for his team to run the ball against Oregon.

Certainly, all the Huskies feel better about every aspect of their game after beating Oregon State 41-29 last week to stop a three-game losing streak and get to 5-5 for the season.

The win gave the Huskies much-needed momentum heading into a brutal season-ending stretch that sees UW play its two most heated rivals on the road. UW plays at WSU next Saturday.

"We still have a long road ahead of us," said safety Greg Carothers. "But winning that game just makes you feel better about the work you put in. Everybody had been coming out here day after day, week after week, putting everything on the line only to get your guts torn out three weeks in a row.

"When you win, at least you feel like you are doing it for a reason. But it was getting bad, getting to the point where we were asking, 'What the hell is going on with this team?' Now we're not so worried about what's wrong with this team. It's more what are we going to do to stop (Oregon)."

If the Huskies can figure out a way to stop the Ducks and get a win today, their likely reward is a bowl game. There has been much speculation that even a 6-6 record will be good enough to land Washington in a bowl somewhere, possibly in the hometown Seattle Bowl.

"I think we would be happy enough to go anywhere right now," running back Rich Alexis said when asked about the possibility of playing in the Seattle Bowl.

But first, the Huskies will have to weather the storm at Autzen — they haven't won there since 1996 — both from the elements and from the crowd, which is sure to be doing its own propagandizing all afternoon.

"Going to Oregon's a trip," said Alexis, who was on the team that lost 23-16 when the schools last met here in 2000. "Everybody was crazy. You see these little nice grandmothers down there screaming at you. It was a little shocking to me.

"But that's the kind of environment you want to go play in. That's college football at its best."

Depending on whom you're listening to, anyway.

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