The football season is getting closer, and while our Bruins are getting ready for the 2015 season, so is the rest of the Pac-12. So we're taking a quick look around the conference to see how the other 11 teams are stacking up. We posed the same 4 questions to each of our Pac-12 conference mates so we can get to know their team and expectations a bit better, and added a 5th question geared for each school individually. We add some notes on the teams key losses and returns after the Q&A, as well.
Our Pac-12 preseason continue with the scotty256's favorite team, the Oregon State Beavers. Our friend Andy Wooldridge, the Managing Editor of (the real) OSU's outstanding SBN site Building The Dam took time from his busy schedule to share some insights with us at BN. Check out his thoughts in the Q&A below, and for the best inside look at Oregon State anywhere, head on over to Building The Dam and join in the conversation there.
BN: Who are the players on offense we don't know about, but should?
Andy: Since the Beavers and Bruins missed each other the last 2 years in the Pac-12 schedule rotation, and haven't played since September of 2012, probably almost everyone. That goes for Oregon St. fans looking ahead at UCLA as well. But we'll narrow it down a bit.
Unless you were watching the second half of last season pretty closely, you probably didn't notice the emergence of WR Jordan Villamin. The 6'4", 235 lb. sophomore needed a few games to get going, but is a mismatch for most members of most secondaries.
Senior tight end Caleb Smith is another challenge for opposing defenses. At 6'6" & 265, he's a load blocking and in traffic. But he is even more imposing when he's split out, and in Gary Andersen's spread offense, he will be. Smith has had some ups and downs in his career, but heading into his senior year, has left the little mistakes that plagued him all along behind.
BN: Who are the players on defense we don't know about, but should?
Andy: Again, with only 2 returning starters, probably almost everyone.
Senior JC transfer DT Kyle Peko is an unknown to everyone except those who delve deeply into recruiting. Peko was highly regarded, and originally heavily targeted by former coach Mike Riley. Andersen and his new staff saw the same potential, and while almost everything else has changed, including the defense switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base, the anticipation for the 305 lb. big man hasn't.
It took a year and a half for Peko to get eligible after beginning the transfer process, which kept him out of view all of last season, but he should have a substantial presence, both figuratively and literally, in the middle of Oregon St.'s d-line this year.
Another to take note of is junior safety Cyril Noland-Lewis. Nolan-Lewis has been a special teams stalwart, and saw some action in the secondary in rotations and mop up, and looks ready to have a break-out year. At all of 6'1" and about 210 lbs., he fits the mold of big, athletic safeties, who can physically challenge receivers, and also play the run.
BN: What game has the biggest circle on the calendar and why?
Andy: Believe it or not, it might be the UCLA game on Nov. 7. While Oregon St. plays 3 home games in September, only 1 is on a Saturday, and it's against San Jose St. And the Beavers only play 1 home game in all of October. That's Homecoming, but it's also against Colorado.
Whether this transition season is considered a success will hinge on whether Oregon St. can at least contend for bowl eligibility, and as usual, in the Pac-12, the games that everyone remembers, for better or worse, are played in November. Coming off a potentially pivotal Halloween trip to Salt Lake City, the Beavers host UCLA, before going down to Berkeley, and then host the Huskies. The game against the Bruins could be the one that swings the season one way or the other.
BN: What is your prediction for your season record?
Andy: There's reason for optimism in a number of skilled and athletic players, but there's also been the not unreasonable to expect inconsistency that comes with inexperienced quarterbacks (Bruin fans can no doubt relate here!). There's also a lot of relatively inexperienced defensive players, and as a result, precipitous drop-offs should beyond the starting rotation. Oregon St., like a lot of Pac-12 teams, will see a potential several game swing in the season ending record based on how healthy they stay, but the Beavers are probably even more susceptible than most.
The result is likely to be a lot of games that are competitive for a while, but ones that ultimately get away, and its why though you can break down the schedule, and the considerable questions about a lot of other teams, and make a case for possibly winning 7-8 games, you can also quite easily see how a 3-9 campaign could happen.
I doubt this will be the year everything goes right, but I also doubt everything will go wrong, given the track record of the new coaches, and the raw talent on hand, which is better than in years past, so I'm splitting the difference, and looking for 5-7.
BN: There have been some changes in Corvallis this year. The departure of long time coach Mike Riley was filled with a great hire in Wisconsin's Gary Anderson, so the loss of long time QB Sean Mannion may be a bigger obstacle for the Beavers to overcome. Anderson looks to have a long way to go to get the Beavers back in contention in the Pac-12 North. What are your long term expectations and time frames for the new coaching staff?
Andy: Contending for the Pac-12 North, and the conference overall, has proven quite a challenge for everyone but Stanford since Oregon's rise, and the Ducks aren't going away any time soon, much to the disappointment of quite a few. But everyone has taken steps in that direction, so even battling through the middle of the division has gotten much more difficult.
Nevertheless, that's got to be the ultimate end game, and there's no viable reason not to expect to get there. It's a ladder that has to be climbed one rung at a time though.
This year, the expectation is a team that's competitive well into games, even if they lose. Bowl eligibility would be a very positive sign, but not losing games due more to their own mistakes than what the opponent did, and not having games where the team is apparently massively under or mis-prepared in, and there's no in game adjustment when there is a surprise, will be the requirement.
Next year, absent massive health issues, a bowl game is a must, as there will have been time to address the first year hiccups and roster imbalances that come to light.
The 3rd year of any coaches' tenure is when you can really gauge where you are, and where you can go from there. I don't think anyone can predict with any confidence who will win any division or conference that far in advance, because so much can change in 3 years, but you should be able to predict whether your program can put themselves in position to compete. By then, there will be 3 recruiting classes in place, and 2 of them should be ready to contribute pretty much across the board.
Facilities projects and unprecedented spending on staffing and support will also be far enough along to be making a difference, and not be an obstacle, too.
By year 3, we will also know if Andersen's approach, both xs and os and his philosophy/culture, are working in the circumstances at hand. 2017 should see Oregon St. in the hunt for a bowl above the bottom tier, and competitive against all opponents.
From there, it's a year by year deal as to how the programs in the region stack up against each other. But the big valleys should be a thing of the past.
Oregon State Beavers
Head Coach: Gary Andersen, 1st year
2014 season: 5-7, 2-7 (conf), 5th place in Pac-12 North
2014 Bowl: noneKey returnees: OL Isaac Seumalo (rJr), RB Storm Woods (Sr), OL Sean Harlow (Jr), WR Jordan Villamin (So), WR Victor Bolden (Jr), S Justin Strong (So)
Key losses: QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, S Tyrequek Zimmerman, LB D.J. Alexander, and nearly all the rest of the defense
AP Preseaon Rank: NR
Matchup with UCLA: @ Oregon State, Sat Nov 7, kickoff time TBA