No. 22: Oregon State
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 12, 2010
Only one Pac-10 program has finished among the top three in the final conference standings in each of the past four years: Oregon State. Yes, the Beavers finished alone in third place in 2006-7, and tied for second in each of the last two seasons. No, not U.S.C., not Oregon: the Beavers have been the most consistent team in the Pac-10 over the past four years. If you scoff at this fact, either you’re living in the past — say, from 1972-96 — or you’re a Duck.
15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 4
T.C.U. (in Dallas)
- Sept. 18
- Sept. 25
at Boise St.
- Oct. 2
- Oct. 9
- Oct. 16
- Oct. 30
- Nov. 6
- Nov. 13
- Nov. 20
- Nov. 27
- Dec. 4
Last year’s prediction
But how good can the Beavers be? Very good, in my opinion. The team has a nice mix of senior leadership and young talent on offense, though O.S.U. must locate new starters on the offensive line and a new No. 1 receiver. All told, I’m not expecting any sizable drop-off in terms of wins and losses (I predict an eight-win finish), but I cannot see the Beavers again finishing in the top two of the Pac-10. I have a lot of respect for both what this program has accomplished and how it goes about doing it.
In a nutshell The Beavers won at least eight games for the fourth consecutive season, scoring 409 points — a program-high since 2003, the first year of the second Mike Riley era — in the process. The defense wasn’t great, though that was to be expected: Oregon State had to replace eight starters on this side of the ball, including a superb end pairing and all four starters in the secondary. Not to say the defense was worse than average: 57th nationally in scoring defense (25 points per game) and 25th in rush defense (114.4 yards per game), though the Beavers struggled against the pass (84th nationally) and in getting to the quarterback (101st). Those two categories are often related, of course. Oregon State struggled early, perhaps finding its stride with several new faces in the starting lineup, and was only 4-3 heading into the final day of October. As this team normally does under Riley, however, the Beavers finished strong: four straight wins from Oct. 31 — Nov. 21, though that stretch was marred by a season-ending loss to rival Oregon.
High point Perhaps no major upsets, but the Beavers did top Stanford, 38-28, on Oct. 10 and then-No. 20 California, 31-14, four weeks later. Those were two of six wins in a seven-week span from Oct. 3 – Nov. 21.
Low point Losing the Civil War always hurts. Ask the South. Oregon State’s loss to rival Oregon didn’t merely cost the Beavers much-desired bragging rights; it cost Oregon State the Pac-10 championship and subsequent Rose Bowl birth. Ouch. In late September, a five-point loss to Arizona gave the Wildcats second place in the conference due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Tidbit Thanks to another fine year, Riley has now won at least seven games six times at Oregon State. In comparison, every O.S.U. coach from 1965 through Riley’s arrival in Corvallis in 1997 lost seven games or more at least four times: Dee Andros (1972-75), Craig Fertig (1976-79), Joe Avezzano (1980-84), Dave Kragthorpe (1985-87, 1989-90) and Jerry Pettibone (1991-96). I know I hammer this point home every year, but just so we’re clear, Oregon State lost fewer than seven games only once from 1972 until Riley was hired in 1997.
Tidbit (errant predictions tidbit) Over the last four seasons, the best stretch in Beaver history, Oregon State has been picked to finish seventh (2006), fifth (2007), sixth (2008) and fourth (2009) in the Pac-10 preseason media poll. Oregon State has gone on to finish third, third, tied for second and tied for second in those seasons. Even the Countdown’s not immune: I had the Beavers fifth in the Pac-10 heading into 2008, trailing U.S.C., Arizona State, California and Oregon. In reality, the Beavers finished behind U.S.C. and Oregon – the latter due to the head-to-head tiebreaker. Last summer, I predicted O.S.U. to come in third; not a bad guess, though I had the Beavers as the 33rd-best team in the country. The team eventually came in at No. 24 in my re-ranking.
Former players in the N.F.L.
25 S Al Afalava (Chicago), QB Derek Anderson (Arizona), LB Nick Barnett (Green Bay), LB Victor Butler (Dallas), QB Sean Canfield (New Orleans), OG Kyle DeVan (Indianapolis), DT Dwan Edwards (Buffalo), LB Keith Ellison (Buffalo), WR Mike Hass (Seattle), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Seattle), CB Brandon Hughes (San Diego), RB Steven Jackson (St. Louis), OT Adam Koets (New York Giants), LB Keaton Kristick (San Francisco), CB Gerard Lawson (Cleveland), OG Andy Levitre (Buffalo), CB Keenan Lewis (Pittsburgh), QB Matt Moore (Carolina), LB Slade Norris (Oakland), WR Chad Ochocinco (Cincinnati), P Sam Paulescu (Tampa Bay), OG Gregg Peat (Seattle), S Sabby Piscitelli (Tampa Bay), OG Roy Schuening (Detroit), WR Sammie Stroughter (Tampa Bay).
Arbitrary top five list
Suggestive college mascots
1. The Fighting Pickle (U.N.C. School of the Arts).
2. Benny the beaver (Oregon State).
3. Gaylord the Camel (Campbell University).
4. Big Stuff the eagle (Winthrop University).
5. Vixen (Sweet Briar College).
Mike Riley (Alabama ’75), 64-47 over eight seasons in Corvallis. This record is compiled over two separate stints: the first, from 1997-98, had Riley go 8-14, while the second, more successful stay (2003-present), has seen Riley finish 57-33. The two spells were interrupted by a four-year term in the N.F.L.: an unsuccessful three-year period as the Chargers’ head coach (14-34 from 1999-2001) followed by one season as an assistant with the Saints. Though there is a large dichotomy between his two stints with the Beavers, his initial two-year stint saw Oregon State begin to change the losing culture that had pervaded the program for more than a generation. After going 3-8 in 1997, Riley led the Beavers to a 5-6 1998 season, the program’s best finish in 27 years. Dennis Erickson, now the head coach at Arizona State, reaped the benefits of that groundwork to go 31-17 from 1999-2002. When Erickson left Corvallis for another shot at the N.F.L., Riley was the logical – and perfect – choice for the job. He has had only one losing season since returning (5-6 in 2005), and Oregon State’s 28 wins from 2004-7 placed it second in the Pac-10 over that span, trailing only U.S.C. Before coming to Oregon State, Riley spent four seasons (1993-6) as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under John Robinson at U.S.C. So there’s the resume, short and sweet. What Riley has done in Corvallis, and what he continues to achieve, really can’t be explained in 200 words. There’s a reason this guy’s name is associated with almost every major job opening the country: and I’m not talking small jobs — try U.S.C, Alabama and the like.
Players to watch
How in the world did Jacquizz Rodgers get out of Texas? I can understand how the Longhorns let him get away: U.T. only takes the cream of the crop, and can’t be blamed for not offering this diminutive running back. Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor — the Bears to a lesser degree — and T.C.U.? No excuse. The Lone Star State’s loss has been Oregon State’s gain, and then some. The junior, now a heavy Heisman contender, has been nothing short of superb since stepping on campus in 2008, rushing for 2,693 yards and 32 scores over his two seasons. Last fall, Rodgers rushed for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns — and added 76 receptions for 522 yards. Now you understand why many are touting Rodgers as the best running back in the country. He is deserving of this praise — and more. He didn’t begin to make noise on the national level until tearing apart U.S.C. midway through his rookie campaign, but Rodgers has recently landed acclaim on both coasts. He’s a superstar, the best offensive player in the Pac-10 and the key to Oregon State’s success. As for that latter point, chew on this: Rodgers averaged 130.3 yards rushing in Oregon State’s eight wins, 79.6 yards in its five losses.
His brother’s not bad, either. James, the elder of the pair, led Oregon State in receptions (91), receiving yards (1,034) and touchdowns (9) last fall, shattering his previous career highs in each category. While Rodgers had served as a valuable offensive weapon as a freshman and sophomore, he had made only 70 career receptions heading into last season; he was able to increase his receiving output while remaining a dangerous ball-carrier, though his 303 yards rushing was his lowest total yet. Rodgers is due to take on an even larger receiving role in 2010, as Oregon State must replace starter Damola Adeniji. Look for junior Joe Halahuni to help pick up the slack: he made 35 receptions for 486 yards last fall, with both totals ranked fourth on the team. Sophomore Jordan Bishop and senior Aaron Nichols will see their roles increased in 2010, hopefully giving the Beavers another pair of capable options.
Sean Canfield might have been the most overlooked quarterback in the country last fall, completing slightly less than 68 percent of his passes while throwing for more than 250 yards passing per game. The Beavers must also replace past starter Lyle Moevao, who missed nearly all of last season due to injury. What was the silver lining behind Moevao’s injury? That it allowed sophomore Ryan Katz to earn significant action as Canfield’s backup, experience that will surely pay dividends in 2010. Katz, who threw for 232 yards and a score in his backup duties, is the undisputed new starter under center, where Oregon State hopes his big-time arm can loosen up defenses, allowing Jacquizz Rodgers wider running lanes. A strong arm can only take you so far, of course, and Katz must illustrate an ability to read the speedy, athletic defenses to be found in the Pac-10. Still, it’s hard not to be excited about his potential in this offense.
The defensive line returns three starters, a trio led by all-American tackle Stephen Paea. How good is the senior? Well, not Ndamukong Suh good, in my opinion. That’s not a slight, as anyone who watched Suh last fall can attest. Nevertheless, Paea is easily in the top tier of interior linemen — defensive linemen in general, in fact — in the F.B.S., and a major contender for national hardware. Don’t try to measure Paea’s success on his numbers; his importance to this defense, in how he attracts attention, occupying blockers, is unmeasurable. He’s very much an all-American.
Paea is joined in the middle by fellow returning starter Brennan Olander, who made 28 tackles (8 for loss) a year ago. He started the last 10 games of last season, replacing departed senior Latu Moala in the starting lineup against Arizona State and never relinquishing his spot. The Beavers won six of their next seven, holding five of those seven opponents to 121 yards rushing or less. Senior Gabe Miller (23 tackles, 3 sacks) returns at one end spot, though the Beavers will have to find a starter on the opposite side after moving junior Kevin Frahm inside to tackle; Frahm will be a leading reserve on the interior of the line. Sophomore Taylor Henry currently holds the starting role at end, though Oregon State could also turn to redshirt freshman John Braun or senior Mitchel Hunt. The key for this defensive line will be getting to the quarterback: as noted, Oregon State did this poorly in 2009.
Linebacker was a strength heading into last season, returning two starters on a group that lost nine key contributors. A year later, Oregon State must supplant a pair of starters as it returns depth and experience both along the line and in the secondary. The lone returning starter is senior weak side linebacker Dwight Roberson, who made some plays in his first season in the lineup: 55 tackles (7.5 for loss) and 2 sacks. I think it’s fair to consider senior Keith Pankey a returning starter, even if Pankey didn’t make a single start a year ago. He was a leading reserve, however, earning honorable mention all-conference honors (44 tackles, 1.5 sacks) thanks to his ability to make the most of his on-field action. Pankey did start every game of the 2008 season on the weak side, but he’ll be asked to man the strong side in 2010.
The linebacker corps could have been deeper — better, actually: would-be junior David Pa’aluhi III left the team following last season due to personal reasons. That leaves Oregon State without an experienced middle linebacker, with sophomores Tony Wilson and Rueben Robinson the most likely starters come September. Wilson currently holds an edge, leading Robinson on the depth chart, but he’ll have to show he’s fully recovered from the knee injury that cost him last season.
Three more starters are back in the secondary; if you remember, Oregon State featured four new starters in the defensive backfield last season. It showed: the Beavers allowed 23 touchdowns while intercepting only eight passes. Both totals tied for worst in the Pac-10. Again, an inability to rush the quarterback didn’t help this secondary. Senior cornerback James Dockery certainly paid a price, suffering through an up-and-down debut campaign in the starting lineup. He’ll be improved in 2010, thanks to improved experience; the same can be said of returning safeties Lance Mitchell (72 tackles, team-best 3 interceptions) and Cameron Collins (70 tackles, 1.5 for loss). Junior Brandon Hardin is a logical replacement for departed starter Tim Clark, as Hardin made three starts a year ago — Arizona State, California and B.Y.U. Depth at cornerback would be nice, though sophomore Jordan Poyer is the only other returning contributor at the position. The Beavers will need to find depth from the group of sophomore Keynan Parker and redshirt freshmen Sean Martin and Rashaad Reynolds.
Position battles to watch
Offensive line With a new starter under center — not to mention the importance Oregon State places upon a steady ground game — the Beavers must put forth a competent offensive line. It’s a good thing that the Beavers bring back four starters, though this group needs to put forth a better performance in 2009, particularly in protecting the quarterback: Oregon State finished 82nd nationally in sacks allowed, though the team did attempt the 15th-most passes in the country. So the number of sacks allowed is slightly misleading; still, as noted, this front must keep Katz clean while he acclimates himself to the starting role. One thing to note about this line: sophomore left tackle Michael Philipp becomes the blind side protector, as Katz, a right-handed thrower, replaces Sean Canfield, a southpaw. Is he up to the task? Most likely, if last season is any indication. Junior Mike Remmers remains at right tackle, where he’ll continue to play a large role in the ground game. Another junior, Grant Johnson, returns at left guard. The most experienced returning lineman is senior center Alex Linnenkohl, who brings 26 career starts into his final season. There is a hole at right guard, where the Beavers must replace two-year starter Gregg Peat. Junior Burke Ellis currently stands atop the depth chart, ahead of sophomore Colin Kelly. It’s important to remember that last year’s starting five did not miss a single start all season due to injury. That might happen again, though it’s rare — knock on wood — that such a group remains completely healthy in successive seasons.
Game(s) to watch
Outside of Pac-10 play, the Beavers take on T.C.U. and Boise State. No, that’s no misprint. While the rest of the country avoids this pair like the plague — particularly the Broncos — Oregon State could care less. Play a non-B.C.S. conference power? Sure! On the road? Heck, why not? In conference play, there’s the Civil War, then there’s everything else. Yet again, the season finale should determine which team heads to the Rose Bowl.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell I stand and applaud Oregon State for its non-conference schedule. Kudos to you, Beavers, for having the guts to schedule two games against top 10 opposition outside of Pac-10 play. The rest of the country could learn a thing or two from Oregon State, and not just based on how this program plans its schedule: the Beavers don’t care about style points; couldn’t care less whether they win pretty, ugly, or somewhere in between; care only about the bottom line — winning. Now, do the Beavers win every time they go out? No, they certainly don’t. Is this team going to finish 12-0, making a run at the national title? Again, no. This schedule is going to really going to test Oregon State, particularly outside of non-conference play. Getting T.C.U. and Boise State away from home in a three-week span is not a great thing for a team breaking in a new, unproven quarterback, even one with Katz’s upside. Barring an upset or two — and a win over T.C.U. or Boise State would be an upset, believe it or not — the Beavers will enter Pac-10 play outside the Top 25. As for conference action, however, there isn’t a team Oregon State can’t beat: U.S.C., Arizona, Stanford, or Oregon. Even though Katz might struggle early, the offense is talented enough to again rank among the top three in the Pac-10 in scoring. The heart of this attack, of course, is Jacquizz Rodgers: barring injury, he’s a prime time Heisman contender. I think the defense will be improved, thanks to the experienced gained by several returning starters a year ago. The key to the defense will lie in its ability to get to the quarterback, a missing ingredient from last year’s group that did little to aid a brand-new secondary. No, the Beavers won’t finish 12-0, thanks to a rough schedule. Nevertheless, Oregon State could very easily win seven games in Pac-10 play, potentially landing a Rose Bowl berth with a season-ending win over rival Oregon.
Dream season A perfect non-conference mark sets the stage for an 11-1 finish, which includes a win over Oregon, a Pac-10 championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Best season in program history, right?
Nightmare season A poor non-conference season blends into Oregon State’s conference play: 5-7, 4-5 in the Pac-10.
In case you were wondering
Where do Oregon State fans congregate? You can find an independent viewpoint at Beaver Sports Central II, though I continue to be curious as to the whereabouts of Beaver Sports Central I. Recruiting coverage can be found at Beaver Football and Beaver Blitz. For a blog’s take, check out Building The Dam.
Who is No. 21? Automatic Slim’s used to be the best end-of-night bar in Manhattan. During its heyday, last call was accompanied by a boisterous rendition of our next university’s theme song.
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
Tags: Mike Riley, Oregon State
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