2012 Recap: Two bowl-less seasons in 2010 and 2011 had left Mike Riley on the hot seat. The Beavers responded with a strong bounce-back year, going 9-3. They started the season 5-0, with a start that included Wisconsin and road games at UCLA, at Arizona and at BYU. They lost to Stanford and Washington on the road by a combined seven points. Oregon was still a game into the third quarter.
Quarterback Battle: Sean Mannion is the guy most people (including the players) expect to win the job. He was a highly touted recruit. He was a freshman All-American in 2011. He lost the job while struggling with injuries in 2012. His hamartia has been interceptions. Mannion threw 12 in the four games vs. FBS he saw significant time after Oct. 1 last year. He had 18 as a freshman. Senior Cody Vaz has less upside, but has a track record of starting and winning. He threw one pick in 157 regular season pass attempts last year.
Offense: Regardless of the quarterback choice, the Beavers should still be productive. They have an experienced offensive line, with 90 starts returning. They return their top three rushers from last season, including a healthy Storm Woods. Wideout Markus Wheaton left for the NFL, but their top returning receiver Brandin Cooks (67 catches for 1,151 yards in 2012) can step into his place. The issue will be that second guy emerging to keep defenses honest.
Defense: Oregon State held its own against conventional rushing attacks in 2012, holding six opponents under 10 yards. In 2013, there will be a lot of turnover up front, with a gaggle of JUCO recruits replacing two starters at defensive tackle. There are also concerns defending the pass. TBL Top 50 player Scott Crichton, nine sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his sophomore year, comes back. But he’s their only proven pass rusher. They lose Jordan Poyer who finished second in the nation with seven interceptions.
Ceiling: 11-1. Mannion fulfills his potential. The defense solidifies up front. The Beavers hit mid-October undefeated and go a quite admirable 4-1 through what should be a brutal back-end stretch: Stanford, Arizona State, at USC, Washington, at Oregon.
Floor: 5-7. A slight decline in a competitive Pac 12 North becomes catastrophic. The defense does not come together. Perhaps a run of injuries on offense. OSU does well enough through the soft, initial portion of their schedule, but gets lit up toward the end to miss a bowl game.
Prediction: 9-3. OSU builds up a head of steam, starting 7-0. Then drops a few games with dignity on the back end. They get beat up by Stanford, then play USC the next week on short rest. A bit too much to ask. Oregon State is very good, but not quite good enough to win the division.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]
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