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Kerry Says

by: COURTESY OF DENNIS WOLVERTON - Brandin Cooks heads a strong corps of receivers for Oregon State.This is an Oregon State team that could go 10-2 or 6-6.

There is plenty of "good stuff," as veteran coach Mike Riley puts it. And there are question marks, and lack of depth at some positions, that provide the possibility for a disappointing season.

The offense seems well-stocked, with a solid running back in Storm Woods, a nice stable of receivers led by all-Pac-12-caliber Brandin Cooks, a terrific corps of tight ends and an interior line with four returning starters, including prize sophomore center Isaac Seumalo.

Then there is the quarterback position. Junior Sean Mannion and senior Cody Vaz — who each led OSU to Pac-12 victories a year ago — battled for the spot through spring ball and training camp without separation. Riley is looking for consistent performance, and each will get a shot during Saturday's opener against Eastern Washington at Reser Stadium. Production at the QB spot will be essential to the Beavers' hopes for a year-end national ranking and upper-crust bowl appearance.

The defense has more holes. Starting tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo will be difficult to replace. The play of JC transfers Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau will be instrumental in Oregon State's ability to stop the run, a strength a year ago.

Linebacker is another concern. Outside 'backers D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor are two of the better players on the defense, but Alexander will miss at least the first two games with a knee injury. There is little experience behind them, and middle 'backer Joel Skotte, a sophomore, will get his first career start against the Eagles.

The strength of the defense is at end, where first-team all-Pac-12 selection Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, both juniors and third-year starters, should wreak some havoc with opposing quarterbacks. And in the secondary, where three returning starters, plus senior Sean Martin and JC transfer Steven Nelson, should give the Beavers one of the better back ends in the conference.

Special teams feature the Pac-12's most accurate field-goal kicker last season in Trevor Romaine and a rising star in punter Keith Kostol, both juniors.

Oregon State can't afford injuries to the O-line, which is particularly thin at tackle, or at linebacker. The loss of Cooks, Isaac Seumalo or safety Ryan Murphy for an extended period would be disastrous.

Mannion or Vaz must step up to the plate and provide veteran leadership. They don't have to be great, just good enough to avoid critical mistakes and allow the talent around them to flourish.

The schedule sets up well. If things progress, the Beavers could go into each of the first seven games as favorites. Then comes murderers' row — Stanford, Southern Cal, at Arizona State, Washington and at Oregon, the cream of the conference crop.

The Beavers could lose all five, or win at least three and set themselves up for a memorable campaign.

It all begins tonight against an Eastern Washington team that made the FCS semifinals a year ago and is ranked No. 4 in the preseason. The Eagles, who lost 30-27 at Washington in 2011 and 24-20 at Washington State a year ago, have enough talent and moxie to make Riley and his coaching staff nervous.

This won't be a repeat of the Sacramento State debacle two years ago, but it will be enough of a challenge to make Beaver Nation fret about what's ahead this fall.

THE FIRST-GAME PICK: Oregon State 30, Eastern Washington 17

kerryeggers@portlandtribune.com

Twitter: @kerryeggers