Normally, Oregon State-Sacramento State is a yawner, no matter how strong the Division I-AA Hornets might be.

Sac State is on the rise, but that's not the reason why Saturday's game at Reser Stadium might not be a mismatch.

Oregon State will be minus at least four of its leaders - flanker James Rodgers, tight end Joe Halahuni, defensive tackle Kevin Frahm and cornerback Brandon Hardin - due to injury. That shouldn't matter against a Big Sky Conference school, but with all the other questions marks with which the Beavers enter the season, it might.

The Hornets return 16 starters from a 6-5 team that lost four of its games by four points or fewer. Those back for Sac State include stud QB Jeff Fleming and 5-11, 215-pound tailback Bryan Hilliard (no relation to former OSU basketball player Brian Hilliard). The Hornets should be a contender in the Big Sky this fall.

OSU coach Mike Riley is concerned enough that he decided to play D-tackle Castro Masaniai, who faces a one-game suspension (for a domestic abuse misdemeanor) at some point this season. Sac State is clearly the weakest opponent the Beavers will face, but Riley says he needs to get Masaniai - who hasn't played since injuring a shoulder midway through last season - back into gear.

It's a mistake, by the way, for two reasons. One, Oregon State will beat Sac State with or without Masaniai and freshman tight end Connor Hamlett, who will also serve his one-game suspension (for a minor in possession of alcohol charge) later in the season because of the paucity of players at his position. Two, when a suspension is announced, it should be served as soon as possible - not at the behest of the head coach. The NCAA allowing Ohio State to have its athletes compete in the Sugar Bowl, then sit the first five games of the regular season, was reprehensible.

Riley never said any of the suspensions would be for the first game, though, and he hasn't 'lifted' any of them, as has been reported by some other media outlets. It's his prerogative to determine when Masaniai and Hamlett sit, however ill-advised his decision may be.

The Beavers, with as many as 15 first-time starters, will struggle at times but will have enough to win. Ryan Katz and the OSU offense, with or without injured receiver Markus Wheaton, will show sparks of what will come on a more regular basis later in the season. The Beaver defense will make mistakes but show more speed than the unit did a year ago.

It may not be pretty, but it will still go into the 'W' column.

THE PICK: Oregon State 31, Sacramento State 17

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