Beavers sporting chip on their shoulder
Return to bowl game part of Oregon State incentive
CORVALLIS - There are rehabilitation issues with injured players, a difficult schedule and holes to fill all through the lineup and even a new conference alignment.
Nobody is picking Oregon State, which opens training camp on Aug. 8, to win the North Division of the new Pac-12. But junior quarterback Ryan Katz says the OSU players will carry a 'chip on their shoulder' into the season that begins Sept. 3 against Sacramento State.
Coach Mike Riley says that only makes sense after a 5-7 record left Oregon State out of the bowl picture for only the third time in the past dozen seasons.
'You would hope that (the players) would not forget what took place last season and why it happened and use that for motivation for the future,' says Riley, 69-54 as he enters his 11th season at the OSU helm. 'If not, it's kind of all wasted. You didn't accomplish what you wanted to.'
Last season, Oregon State was 4-3 - even after a heartbreaking 35-34 double-overtime loss at Washington - before losing four of its last five. The Beavers faced five teams ranked among the top 10 - Texas Christian (sixth), Boise State (third), Arizona (ninth), Stanford (seventh) and Oregon (first) - along the way. Sagarin rated OSU's schedule the most difficult in the country.
There were victories over Arizona State, Arizona, California and 20th-ranked Southern Cal, but the loss of star flanker James Rodgers midway through the season took away OSU's most versatile offensive weapon.
'It would have been interesting to see how good we could have become had James been in there for us all year,' Riley says.
Rodgers returns this season after surgeries to his left knee in October and February, and Riley says doctors' reports have the 5-7, 190-pound senior ahead of schedule in his recovery.
'James should be able to play at some point during (training) camp,' Riley says. 'But I'm going to err on the side of caution with him.'
Oregon State returns 14 consensus starters from its 2010 squad, including eight on the offensive side. But the Beavers lose some of their premier players, including tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, defensive linemen Stephen Paea and Gabe Miller and center Alex Linnenkohl.
The Beavers will go into 2011 with reconstructed lines on both sides of the ball, no proven commodity at tailback and a true freshman kicker in Trevor Romaine.
Only once since 1998 has Oregon State entered a season without a big-time tailback. That was in 2004, when Steven Jackson left after his junior season for the NFL. With senior Dwight Wright rushing for a team-best 784 yards rushing (and a 3.8-yard average), junior Derek Anderson threw for 3,615 yards and 29 touchdowns and the Beavers won six of their final seven games to finish 7-5, blasting Notre Dame 38-21 in the Insight Bowl.
OSU might need that kind of performance out of Katz, who seems poised for a breakout year in his second season as the starting QB.
'But it's really hard to throw if you're not balanced,' Riley says. 'We need to find our tailback.'
Senior Ryan McCants, junior Jordan Jenkins, sophomore Jovan Stevenson, redshirt freshman Malcolm Marable and grayshirt freshman Terron Ward will be joined by true freshmen Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew in the competition. It's anybody's bet who will win the job. It could be tailback by committee, but Riley would prefer somebody steps up to claim the majority of the carries.
Much will hinge, too, on the development of an offensive line that was a disappointment last season.
'After a solid spring, every one of our starters is better,' Riley says.
'And the depth is better than we've had in a while.'
Competition during training camp will determine who will start at right guard (Burke Ellis or Michael Lamb, both seniors) and right tackle (Michael Philipp or Colin Kelly, both juniors).
Receiver should be a strength, especially if Rodgers can return to anywhere near his old form. Juniors Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop, along with senior tight end Joe Halahuni, could be honors candidates. And there is plenty of depth behind them, including a quartet of freshman wideouts who could play immediately.
But Rodgers, Bishop (ankle) and Halahuni (shoulder) are all coming back off of surgeries. Their health will be instrumental to OSU's success.
The Beavers' strongest area could be the secondary, with returning senior starters Brandon Hardin at cornerback and Lance Mitchell at safety along with junior cornerback Jordan Poyer, one of the team's best and most versatile athletes.
Defensive ends Dominic Glover and Andrew Seumalo have moved inside to tackle, and redshirt freshman Scott Critchton and junior-college transfers Rusty Fernando and Blake Harrah are being counted upon for immediate help at end.
There is plenty of speed at linebacker, with senior Cameron Collins, junior Shiloah Te'o, sophomore Michael Doctor and freshmen D.J. Welch and Shaydon Akuna on the outside and junior Feti Unga in the middle. Junior Rueben Robinson, who started much of last season on the inside, could see some time on the outside, too, this fall.
Senior Johnny Hekker returns and should be one of the best punters in the conference. Romaine, brash and talented, will be thrown into the fire immediately as the kicker.
'Trevor is going to be good,' Riley says. 'He has good leg strength and accuracy. The worst day he had was in the spring game. He had a rough day, and his holder and snapper had a rough day, too.'
The schedule shouldn't be quite as rugged as last season, but it still includes an early trip to Madison, Wisc., to face a top-10 Wisconsin team. There are road games against three of the most highly regarded Pac-12 teams - Arizona State, Utah and Oregon.
'It's going to be tough again, no doubt about it,' Riley says. 'We'll be challenged very early.'
The addition of Utah and Colorado to the conference has added excitement.
'The bar is raised all around the league,' Riley says. 'Each game is going to have Super Bowl status. Our team is going to have to grow up fast.'
The coach doesn't mind that the Beavers won't go into the season highly rated. He is looking for growth from game to game and, by the end of the season, a plus number in the column of wins to losses.
'We're a mystery right now,' he says, 'but the opportunity for this team is big. I like the group. I've liked it from the start of our offseason program.
'There's a hungry attitude, and I like the leadership in our veterans. If things come together as I hope, it's going to be a fun year.'
OSU projected depth chart
SE: *Markus Wheaton, junior; Obum Gwachum, redshirt freshman
SL: *Jordan Bishop, junior; Geno Munoz, junior
LT: *Mike Remmers, senior; Geoff Garner, sophomore
LG: Josh Andrews, sophomore; Grant Enger, sophomore
C: *Grant Johnson, senior; Roman Sapolu, redshirt freshman
RG: *Burke Ellis, senior; Michael Lamb, senior
RT: *Michael Philipp, junior; Colin Kelly, junior
TE: *Joe Halahuni, senior; Colby Prince, junior
FL: *James Rodgers, senior; Darrell Catchings, senior
QB: *Ryan Katz, junior; Cody Vaz, sophomore
TB:Ryan McCants, senior; Jovan Stevenson, sophomore
FB: Clayton York, junior; Tyler Anderson, redshirt freshman
PK:Trevor Romaine, freshman
LE: Scott Critchton, redshirt freshman; Rusty Fernando, junior
LT: *Dominic Glover, senior; Andrew Seumalo, junior
RT: *Kevin Frahm, senior; Castro Masaniai, junior
RE: Taylor Henry, junior; Blake Harrah, junior
SLB: Cameron Collins, senior; Shiloah Te'o, junior
MLB: Feti Unga, junior; *Rueben Robinson, junior, and Tony Wilson, junior
WLB: Michael Doctor, sophomore; D.J. Welch, freshman
LCB: Jordan Poyer, junior; Sean Martin, sophomore
RCB: *Brandon Hardin, senior; Rashaad Reynolds, sophomore
S:*Lance Mitchell, senior; Josh LaGrone, junior
S: Anthony Watkins, junior; Ryan Murphy, redshirt freshman
P: *Johnny Hekker, senior