A week from now, the first game of the 2013 season will be in the books for the Oregon State football team.
Think back to a year ago and not many expected the Beavers to be in the national limelight when the season began. That was fair as the Beavers were coming off two losing seasons, missing the postseason in the process.
There were questions about Mike Riley’s job and those of his coordinators.
But six games into the season and the Beavers were 6-0 and ranked No. 7 in the country. And while the Beavers faltered down the stretch with the tougher part of the schedule, they did finish 9-3 in the regular season and earned a berth to the Alamo Bowl.
That game ended with a frustrating 31-27 loss to Texas that denied the Beavers their first 10-win season since the 2006 campaign, when they played 14 games.
Despite the strong turnaround, the loss to Texas provided plenty of motivation for the players to not rest on their laurels.
“We’re basically coming off a loss. As you know, teams coming off a loss, they come back hungry and that’s how we feel,” Brandin Cooks said early in fall camp.
While the defense has some holes to fill, the Beavers return a potent offense anchored by a veteran offensive line. The running backs are solid with Storm Woods and Terron Ward and Cooks is back at a receiver spot. The biggest question is who plays quarterback – Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz, or both?
The schedule sets up for another fast start as it is quite possible the Beavers could surpass that 6-0 mark from last year. Once again, the second half of the schedule is loaded with games against USC, Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon in the last five.
Last year I said the Beavers could have anywhere between four and nine wins before settling on an 8-4 mark. So what’s my prediction for this season?
Eastern Washington: Mannion and Vaz could both play in this game, and that wouldn’t spell disaster like two seasons ago when Mannion relieved Ryan Katz in the shocking season-opening loss to FCS foe Sacramento State. OSU has too much offense not to score enough points to win this one.
Hawaii: Again, a game the Beavers should have little trouble winning. Hawaii, predicted to finish near the bottom of the Mountain West, will most likely be coming off a lopsided loss to USC the week before.
Utah: The first road game of the season is also the Pac-12 opener, never an easy task. But with two games under their belt, the Beavers should win this one against a team picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South.
San Diego State: A second straight road game against a team that is coming off a bye after likely being pummeled by Ohio State. But the Aztecs did win a share of the MWC last season and has gone to three consecutive bowl games, so the Beavers will have their hands full.
Colorado: The Beavers missed the Pac-12’s cellar dweller the past two seasons but get the Buffaloes at home. I can’t see the Beavers losing this one, and a 5-0 start heading into the first of two byes is likely.
Washington State: Coming off a bye, the Beavers head to the Palouse. Last year, it was a battle until a late touchdown sealed a 19-6 win at home. Having a week off to get healthy if needed should be an advantage for the Beavers.
California: The Beavers will get their first look at new Golden Bears coach Sonny Dykes, known for his high-powered offense. The Bears have a lot of newcomers on offense, which may not be all that bad with the coaching change. A win on the road here could mean the program’s first ever 7-0 start.
Stanford: The Beavers played the Cardinal tough on the road last year only to suffer a tough 27-23 loss. The game is at home this time and the Cardinal will be coming off a tough game at UCLA with Oregon up next. Sounds like a perfect recipe for a possible upset.
USC: The Trojans come to town for a Friday night game. The Trojans have lost four of the last five times they have played in Reser with the one win coming by the 2004 team (28-20) that went undefeated and won the national title.
Arizona State: After a bye, the Beavers head to Tempe to take on Arizona State, where they have never found much success. Unlike in Tucson, where the Beavers have won six straight, OSU is just 4-19 all-time in Tempe and 1-5 since the 2001 season.
Washington: Many people feel this is the season the Huskies get back to national prominence. I just don’t see it. And the Beavers want a little payback from ending their undefeated season last year.
Oregon: How crazy would it be for the Beavers and Ducks to enter the Civil War undefeated? And we thought the 2009 Civil War was big! It could happen, although I would be surprised if the Beavers make it through unscathed. Even with a loss, the game could very easily be for the North title and berth to the Pac-12 title game. We can all hope for that!
So there you have it. The Beavers won’t sneak up on anyone this year as they enter the season ranked No. 25 in both preseason polls. But they have enough talent and experience to duplicate last season’s success.
I went out on a limb last year with that 8-4 mark. So I’ll say 10-2 this season.