If Oregon State can knock off Utah this weekend, the victory would be — and I don’t offer this description lightly — historic.
You see, the Beavers will have started the season with six straight victories. And that’s never been done in the history of the program … at least not in my viewpoint.
A quick flip through the history section of OSU’s media guide reveals that the school had a 6-0 season in 1907. Well, heck, that would count as a 6-0 start, even if it encompasses the entire season, right?
Not so fast. I’m going to raise the question, should that 6-0 start be included in this conversation at all?
No, and I’ll explain.
In the early years of college football, schools played games not only against other colleges, but against athletic clubs, town teams, high schools, etc. Games were also arranged between a varsity team and its own alumni, or against the freshman squad.
To me, such games should not count on the “intercollegiate” record. They were not games against college opponents and in the majority of cases, they were nothing more than “practice games” so a school could get ready for the season.
Oregon Agricultural College — as OSU was known at the time — opened the 1907 season with a 27-0 victory over the Astoria Athletic Club. The school’s remaining five games were all wins over collegiate opponents and should appropriately be included. If so, that leaves a 5-0 college record.
Thus, if the Beavers win on Saturday, I believe it should be recognized as the school’s first legitimate 6-0 start in the program’s history.
Despite my take on opponents and records, the 1907 team deserves its own place in local football lore. Fred Norcross was entering his second season as head coach at OAC. Team captain for Michigan in 1905, Norcross wanted to bring the high-powered offensive philosophy that he had learned under Fielding “Hurry Up” Yost to Corvallis.
OAC had to overcome early-season challenges, such as a hazing controversy and injuries to a few of the team’s top players. OAC was supposed to open the season with a practice game against the Columbia Athletic Club from The Dalles but that did not materialize and the Astoria team was penciled in.
The Aggies, or Farmers, if you prefer — both were common nicknames for OAC in news columns of the day — then defeated Whitworth (not Whitman as listed by several sources) by a 6-0 count when R.H. Cady returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown.
On Nov. 2, OAC easily beat Pacific University, 49-0. That gave the Aggies a 3-0 record heading into the Nov. 9 showdown at Kincaid Field in Eugene against Oregon.
Oregon came into the game with a 3-0 record as well, beating Pacific University (52-0), Idaho (21-5) and Willamette (11-0). OAC had not beaten Oregon since 1897.
Playing before a crowd of 4,000 people — called at the time the largest to ever see a college football game in Oregon — the Aggies took a 4-0 victory.
“The teams were evenly matched and both teams played exceptionally good football,” Norcross told the Oregonian. “The Agricultural College team was favored slightly by good luck.”
OAC took advantage of good field position following a UO fumble at its own 30-yard line. The game’s only points were scored on a field goal by Carl Wolff. At that time, field goals were worth four points.
The Aggies followed with a 42-0 victory on Nov. 16 in Corvallis over Willamette. OAC dominated with an advantage in rushing yards of 383 to 18 while holding the Salem school to no first downs.
That left a big game in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day against previously-unbeaten St. Vincent. OAC rolled to a 10-0 win.
“When the students at St. Vincent College lost the coast intercollegiate championship to Oregon Agricultural College at Los Angeles, Thanksgiving Day, they wept,” one newspaper columnist reported. “Tears and football hardly make a good gridiron combination.”
Joel Emily (end), Bill Jamison (tackle) and team captain Frank Pendergrass (guard) were named to an All-Northwest team. Wolff had an exceptional season by scoring nearly half of OAC’s points. He accounted for all of the points scored in the big wins over Oregon and St. Vincent.
Schools in the neighboring states of Washington and Idaho did not believe OAC deserved any championship designation because of its limited schedule. OAC faced only Oregon among the schools that were often referred to at that time as the “big six” — OAC, Oregon, Washington, Washington State, Idaho and Whitman.
In fact, following the season, it was suggested that college football in the region be regulated with common eligibility rules for players and extended schedules so a true champion could emerge.
The bottom line: If the Beavers can win on Saturday, it will the football program’s greatest start — ever.
Brad Fuqua is a sports copy editor and sports writer at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.