2013 Oregon State football's 10 things to know: Which was the outlier, 2011 or 2012?

Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

After a rather sudden collapse in 2011, Oregon State bounced back in a major way last fall. Now Mike Riley's Beavers have to prove that 2011 was the oddity. For more OSU, visit Building The Dam.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Welcome back, Beavers

To the fans of teams like Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, maybe Virginia Tech, and other schools that have made a recent habit of taking lower-ranked recruits and producing higher-level results before fading in 2012, know this: There is hope. If Oregon State can bounce back from a mighty stumble, so can your team.

In 2007, Oregon State's defense ranked sixth in the country in Def. F/+. In 2011, it ranked 70th. In 2009, the Beavers' offense ranked 13th in Off. F/+; in 2011, it ranked 100th. Overall, OSU had ranked as high as 20th in the F/+ rankings (2010), had played at a nearly elite level on both sides of the ball rather recently, and had won between five and 10 games for 13 straight years going back to the first Mike Riley era in Corvallis.

But the wheels came flying off in 2011; a mixture of youth and injuries caused the Beavers to plunge to 3-9 and 88th. As I put it in last year's team preview, "one would have expected [head coach Mike] Riley's program to have a higher floor than that." It was alarming.

It was easy to expect a small rebound in 2012, really. Oregon State was healthy and quite a bit more experienced. But in an improving Pac-12, it was difficult to see the Beavers rebounding too terribly much in the standings, at least immediately.

But Riley had other ideas. His offense and defense both improved to top-25 levels, and his squad produced elite talent at receiver (Markus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks), defensive end (Scott Crichton), and cornerback (Jordan Poyer). Beyond that, however, the improvement in depth, which emerged directly from 2011's problems, was staggering. The offensive line was only decent, and there wasn't much of a pass rush beyond Crichton, but in a single season Oregon State went from nearly down-and-out to strong again. And after winning just eight combined games in 2010-11, the Beavers won nine in 2012.

Two of the four above stars are gone, but the depth that carried Oregon State in 2012 could do so again this fall. It can be done, Hawkeyes, Tigers, Razorbacks, Hokies, etc.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 18
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
8-Sep Wisconsin 10-7 W 23.8 - 11.0 W
22-Sep at UCLA 27-20 W 32.6 - 25.1 W
29-Sep at Arizona 38-35 W 35.5 - 31.2 W
6-Oct Washington State 19-6 W 21.4 - 21.5 L
13-Oct at BYU 42-24 W 56.3 - 23.1 W
20-Oct Utah 21-7 W 22.2 - 19.4 W
27-Oct at Washington 17-20 L 33.6 - 23.0 W
3-Nov Arizona State 36-26 W 34.7 - 14.8 W
10-Nov at Stanford 23-27 L 33.1 - 40.5 L
17-Nov California 62-14 W 42.9 - 22.5 W
24-Nov Oregon 24-48 L 33.1 - 27.9 W
1-Dec Nicholls State 77-3 W 35.7 - 39.3 L
29-Dec vs. Texas 27-31 L 18.9 - 19.5 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 32.5 37 20.6 22
Adj. Points Per Game 32.6 36 24.5 33

2. A late-season fade (that didn't really matter)

As good as last season was for Oregon State, it was close to being even better; three of the Beavers' four losses came away from home by four points or fewer. And if the defense hadn't faded late in the year, the Beavers might have taken home a win over Stanford.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): OSU 32.5, Opponent 21.3 (plus-11.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): OSU 32.7, Opponent 29.9 (plus-2.8)

In all, even if Oregon State had beaten both Washington and Stanford, there was no beating Oregon, which means there was no winning the Pac-12 North. (And in a way, the losses helped one thing -- if the Beavers beat Stanford, then their rival Ducks win the Pac-12 North.) OSU missed out on a better bowl, but that's down the list of complaints. The bigger issue is figuring out why the defense regressed by about eight points late in the year.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 43 23 29 20
RUSHING 101 54 36 57
PASSING 20 17 28 17
Standard Downs 21 32 19
Passing Downs 38 40 37
Redzone 39 47 37
Q1 Rk 28 1st Down Rk 18
Q2 Rk 17 2nd Down Rk 17
Q3 Rk 18 3rd Down Rk 67
Q4 Rk 57

3. A little-league offense

Here's where I call offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf's approach a little-league offense and mean it in the best possible way. Everybody gets to touch the ball.

Running back Storm Woods had 192 carries and 51 pass targets. Backup running backs Terron Ward and Malcolm Agnew got 131 carries and 19 targets. Markus Wheaton had 140 targets and 20 carries. Brandin Cooks had 97 targets and 19 carries. In 2012, Oregon State had three players getting at least eight touches per game, two more getting at least five, and three more getting at least two. This distribution is certainly common with pass-first offenses, but OSU was, and has for a while been, quite creative in the ways it goes about getting the ball to its stars. Now the Beavers just need to figure out how to run the ball a little better, especially in Wheaton's absence.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Sean Mannion 6'5, 214 Jr. **** (5.8) 200 309 2,446 64.7% 15 13 12 3.7% 7.3
Cody Vaz 6'1, 202 Sr. *** (5.5) 109 185 1,480 58.9% 11 3 22 10.6% 6.3
Richie Harrington


6 9 66 66.7% 1 0 0 0.0% 7.3
Brent VanderVeen 6'4, 217 RSFr. *** (5.7)






4. Everybody loves a QB race, right? … Right?

As a freshman in 2011, Sean Mannion held his own, completing 65 percent of his passes and avoiding sacks reasonably well. A four-star recruit, Mannion was the presumptive starter in 2012 and did perfectly well, but when he got hurt, backup Cody Vaz took over and held his own as well. Mannion had a higher completion rate and averaged a yard better per attempt, but his interception rate (nearly four percent in two years) is too high for comfort; Vaz, meanwhile, is much better at avoiding killer mistakes but takes a lot of sacks -- and yes, the 10 sacks in the bowl game versus Texas devastated his average, but it was still more than twice as high as Mannion's before Texas -- and doesn't move the ball downfield as well.

Mannion is higher-risk, higher-reward at this point, and it appears that, after each recuperated from injuries this offseason (Mannion had a knee injury, Vaz an ankle injury), neither seized outright control of the job.

My gut says Mannion wins the job once again this year, but the picks are a problem, and it does bear mentioning that, in games in which Vaz was the primary signal-caller, OSU's per-game Adj. Points average was higher (33.5 for Vaz, 31.8 for Mannion). Whoever wins this race before the season begins will have to keep winning this race as the season unfolds.

Cody Vaz. Steve Dykes, Getty.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Storm Woods RB 6'0, 197 So. *** (5.5) 192 940 4.9 3.5 13 -1.1
Terron Ward RB 5'7, 200 Jr. *** (5.6) 68 415 6.1 6.4 6 +8.1
Malcolm Agnew RB 63 269 4.3 3.8 1 -4.5
Markus Wheaton SE 20 142 7.1 4.9 2 +3.1
Brandin Cooks FL 5'10, 181 Jr. **** (5.8) 19 82 4.3 4.4 0 -0.5
Tyler Anderson FB 5'10, 211 Jr. NR 13 51 3.9 6.3 3 -1.4
Cody Vaz QB 6'1, 202 Sr. *** (5.5) 6 6 1.0 3.5 0 -1.7
Sean Mannion QB 6'5, 214 Jr. **** (5.8) 6 4 0.7 3.1 0 -2.1
Chris Brown RB 5'10, 198 RSFr. *** (5.7)





Damien Haskins RB 5'9, 213 Fr. *** (5.6)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Markus Wheaton SE 140 90 1235 64.3% 8.8 29.7% 73.6% 8.7 172.3
Brandin Cooks FL 5'10, 181 Jr. **** (5.8) 97 68 1160 70.1% 12.0 20.6% 58.8% 12.0 161.8
Storm Woods RB 6'0, 197 So. *** (5.5) 51 38 313 74.5% 6.1 10.8% 54.9% 6.2 43.7
Connor Hamlett HB 6'7, 264 Jr. ** (5.3) 40 32 403 80.0% 10.1 8.5% 52.5% 10.2 56.2
Colby Prince TE 35 18 136 51.4% 3.9 7.4% 57.1% 3.8 19.0
Kevin Cummings SLOT 6'1, 180 Sr. *** (5.5) 27 18 208 66.7% 7.7 5.7% 40.7% 8.1 29.0
Terron Ward RB 5'7, 200 Jr. *** (5.6) 18 10 79 55.6% 4.4 3.8% 27.8% 2.8 11.0
Richard Mullaney SE 6'3, 192 So. *** (5.6) 15 12 142 80.0% 9.5 3.2% 53.3% 8.9 19.8
Micah Hatfield FL 6'1, 180 Sr. ** (5.0) 12 9 86 75.0% 7.2 2.5% 100.0% 4.3 12.0
Tyler Anderson FB 5'10, 211 Jr. NR 9 4 22 44.4% 2.4 1.9% 88.9% 1.7 3.1
Obum Gwacham SE 6'5, 227 Jr. ** (5.2) 8 2 12 25.0% 1.5 1.7% 50.0% 1.6 1.7
Mitch Singler SLOT 6'3, 208 Sr. ** (5.1) 4 4 64 100.0% 16.0 0.8% 100.0% 9.7 8.9
Caleb Smith TE 6'6, 258 So. **** (5.8) 3 2 19 66.7% 6.3 0.6% 66.7% 7.2 2.7
Kellen Clute HB 6'5, 230 So. ** (5.4)








Malik Gilmore WR-X 6'3, 214 RSFr. *** (5.7)






J.C. Grim SLOT 6'1, 185 RSFr. NR






Blair Cavanaugh FL 5'8, 172 RSFr. NR






Hunter Jarmon WR 6'0, 190 Fr. *** (5.7)






5. How much difference can a single star make?

With the return of Woods and Ward at running back and four starters on the offensive line -- including three-year starter Michael Philipp and four-star sophomore Isaac Seumalo, who started every game as a true freshman -- it's fair to think the run game will improve in 2013. It wasn't bad last year, but it wasn't great either. Woods averaged 5.2 yards per intended touch (carries plus targets), while Ward, a more explosive runner, averaged 5.7, and while the line was solid in short-yardage situations, it could have created a few more opportunities for them. It very well could in 2013.

Of course, the running game might potentially have to improve to offset what might be a little bit of regression in the passing game. Brandin Cooks returns and should quite easily fill Markus Wheaton's role of No. 1 receiver; his per-target averages were outstanding, and he is one of the fastest receivers in the country. He is in no way bigger like Wheaton, but that is of only marginal concern. The bigger concern, then, is who replaces Cooks at No. 2.

The one-two combination made Oregon State interesting and explosive last year; the Beavers improved from 84th to 17th in Passing S&P+ and from 50th to 38th in Passing Downs S&P+; whoever wins the quarterback job should be perfectly solid, but a second option needs to emerge, and there is no obvious answer. Junior Obum Gwacham is, like Wheaton and Cooks, a track star in the offseason (he's a high-jumper, not a sprinter), but he didn't get a chance to prove much last year. And while there are a couple of interesting H-backs/tight ends in the mix as efficiency options (junior Connor Hamlett, sophomore Caleb Smith), who steps up in a big-play capacity?

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 103.6 2.86 3.09 39.7% 73.7% 17.4% 98.9 5.7% 8.5%
Rank 56 80 74 57 31 37 64 81 93
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Michael Philipp LT 6'4, 329 Sr. **** (6.0) 35 career starts
Colin Kelly RT 25 career starts
Grant Enger RG 6'6, 290 Sr. *** (5.6) 21 career starts
Josh Andrews LG 6'3, 303 Sr. *** (5.6) 19 career starts
Isaac Seumalo C 6'3, 300 So. **** (6.0) 13 career starts
Derek Nielsen LT 2 career starts
Justin Addie LG 6'2, 329 So. *** (5.5)
Roman Sapolu C 6'2, 286 Jr. *** (5.5)
Josh Mitchell LG 6'2, 286 So. *** (5.5)
Gavin Andrews RT 6'5, 327 So. *** (5.6)
David Keller LT 6'3, 314 So. *** (5.6)
Garrett Weinreich LT 6'5, 310 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Grant Bays RG 6'1, 300 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Nolan Hansen RT 6'6, 269 RSFr. NR
Sean Harlow OL 6'5, 260 Fr. *** (5.7)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 30 28 31 25
RUSHING 28 27 29 28
PASSING 50 29 27 28
Standard Downs 56 48 56
Passing Downs 7 14 7
Redzone 49 78 29
Q1 Rk 22 1st Down Rk 53
Q2 Rk 38 2nd Down Rk 18
Q3 Rk 39 3rd Down Rk 8
Q4 Rk 37

6. Shutting it down

Oregon State's defense had quite a few issues on standard downs last fall. Opponents had reason to doubt their ability to open holes against OSU's front seven, but they found quite a bit of success in throwing the ball to stay on schedule. OSU had no early-down pass rush to speak of, and a solid secondary stayed rather conservative in such situations.

The Beavers were very, very average on standard downs overall, but if they leveraged you into passing downs, your drive ended soon thereafter. Scott Crichton was able to pin his ears back as a one-man blitz (he was the only defender with more than three sacks), and agile, fast set of linebackers was able to clog the passing lanes, and corner Jordan Poyer was able to more than hold his own with opponents' No. 1 receivers. It was a delicate balance -- one-man pass rushes typically are -- but it worked in 2012.

There are two tasks, then, for OSU moving forward. First, the Beavers need to improve on standard downs so that they aren't as reliant on passing downs stops; second, they need to figure out how to replace Poyer and maintain their general passing downs dominance. Easy, right?

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 110.2 2.98 2.27 38.1% 66.7% 21.8% 76.2 3.0% 8.0%
Rank 23 71 10 53 50 33 99 106 40
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dylan Wynn DE 6'2, 260 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 35.5 5.2% 2 1 0 1 1 1
Scott Crichton DE 6'3, 260 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 33.5 4.9% 17.5 9 0 3 1 2
Andrew Seumalo DT 13 25.5 3.8% 4.5 3 0 0 0 0
Rudolf Fifita DE 12 18.5 2.7% 5.5 2.5 0 0 1 1
Castro Masanial DT 13 17.0 2.5% 5 2 0 0 0 0
Rusty Fernando DE 13 9.5 1.4% 3.5 0 0 0 0 0
Devon Kell DE 6'4, 234 Sr. NR 13 6.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
John Braun DE 6'5, 286 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 1
Akeem Gonzales DE 6'3, 235 So. *** (5.6) 2 3.0 0.4% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Mana Rosa DT 6'3, 275 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 3.0 0.4% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Ali’i Robins DT 6'2, 272 So. NR

Edwin Delva DT 6'3, 295 Jr. *** (5.7)
Siale Hautau DT 6'1, 320 Jr. *** (5.6)
Kyle Peko DT 6'2, 295 Jr. *** (5.6)
Charlie Tuaau DE 6'4, 265 Jr. *** (5.6)
Lyndon Tulimasealii DE 6'4, 270 Jr. *** (5.5)

7. Bring in the reinforcements

For what the Beavers lacked in pass rushing ability, they made up for in their ability to stuff the run. They sliced into the backfield against ground games with frequency and constantly stuffed draw plays and most scrambles.

But while Crichton and end Dylan Wynn return, the next four linemen do not, including both starting tackles. The third-leading returning tackler on the line is a former walk-on (Devon Kell) who logged 6.5 tackles last year.

That's a problem, one Riley is attempting to remedy with junior college transfers. He signed five JUCO linemen in February, and a couple of them (Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau) were already first-stringers by the time spring ball began. OSU desperately needs these tackle transfers to come through. If they do, and if JUCO ends Charlie Tuaau and Lyndon Tulimasealii can provide some pass rush ability to complement Crichton, then the defense could be just fine. But those are some serious ifs.

The good news is that the linebacker position should be perfectly solid with the return of Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander. Doctor went from tackling machine to serious play-maker in 2012, while Alexander came out of nowhere to provide strongside help. There is almost no experience at middle linebacker, but it is difficult to worry much about the linebackers, at least compared to the other units on the defense.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Doctor WILL 6'0, 225 Sr. *** (5.7) 13 63.5 9.4% 11 0 1 4 0 1
D.J. Alexander SAM 6'2, 228 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 45.5 6.7% 7 1.5 0 2 1 0
Feti 'Unga MLB 13 38.5 5.7% 2 0 1 2 1 0
Rueben Robinson SAM 13 19.0 2.8% 2 1 1 1 0 0
Joel Skotte MLB 6'2, 229 So. *** (5.6) 13 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Dyllon Mafi WILL 6'2, 227 Sr. *** (5.5) 2 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Jabral Johnson SAM 6'1, 228 Jr. *** (5.5) 8 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jaswha James MLB 6'2, 231 So. *** (5.5) 3 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 1
Josh Williams MLB 6'1, 232 Jr. NR

Caleb Saulo WILL 6'1, 224 RSFr. ** (5.4)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Rashaad Reynolds CB 5'11, 189 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 64.5 9.5% 1.5 0 3 13 1 0
Ryan Murphy FS 6'3, 210 Jr. *** (5.5) 13 52.0 7.7% 2.5 0 2 3 0 0
Tyrequek Zimmerman SS 6'0, 211 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 51.0 7.5% 0 0 0 3 1 0
Jordan Poyer CB 12 42.5 6.3% 5 2 7 7 1 1
Sean Martin CB 6'0, 185 Sr. ** (5.3) 12 37.5 5.5% 1 0 2 3 0 1
Anthony Watkins SS 12 36.5 5.4% 5.5 3 1 2 1 0
Steven Christian FS 6'0, 189 Sr. *** (5.5) 7 3.5 0.5% 0 0 1 1 1 0
Malcolm Marable CB 5'7, 167 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Jovan Stevenson CB 5'11, 189 Sr. *** (5.5) 8 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cyril Noland-Lewis SS 6'0, 198 RSFr. *** (5.6)

Zack Robinson SS 6'1, 200 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Tyler Hasty CB 5'10, 185 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Kendall Hill FS 6'1, 197 RSFr. ** (5.3)

Steven Nelson CB 5'10, 191 Jr. *** (5.7)
Dashon Hunt DB 5'10, 175 Fr. **** (5.8)

Brandon Arnold DB 6'0, 183 Fr. *** (5.7)

8. Still some star power

Jordan Poyer had an incredible season for Oregon State last year, and his absence could certainly be a problem. But in Rashaad Reynolds and Sean Martin, the Beavers still have solid experience at the position, and while Reynolds didn't make as many big plays as Poyer (he also logged 20 more tackles, which means he was either better against the run or worse at preventing his man from catching passes), he actually defensed more passes (16 to 14). His ball skills are certainly solid in their own right, and he could be more than capable of stepping into the No. 1 role. And JUCO corner Steven Nelson could be ready to contribute soon, as well.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Keith Kostol 6'3, 197 Jr. 59 41.9 3 23 24 79.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Trevor Romaine 6'0, 200 Jr. 82 61.6 36 43.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Trevor Romaine 6'0, 200 Jr. 51-54 11-12 91.7% 5-6 83.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Terron Ward KR 5'7, 200 Jr. 17 22.5 0
Malcolm Marable KR 5'7, 167 Jr. 9 16.9 0
Jovan Stevenson KR 5'11, 189 Sr. 5 14.6 0
Jordan Poyer PR 10 7.1 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 54
Net Punting 35
Net Kickoffs 19
Touchback Pct 34
Field Goal Pct 6
Kick Returns Avg 113
Punt Returns Avg 91

9. Add one Brandin Cooks, stir to combine

How many hits per game do you think Brandin Cooks can withstand? Because he might be OSU's best receiver, kick returner and punt returner, all in one 180-pound package. If the Beavers can remedy last year's return woes, they could have an altogether solid special teams unit with the return of punter (and fair catches machine) Keith Kostol and kicker Trevor Romaine.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Eastern Washinton NR
7-Sep Hawaii 100
14-Sep at Utah 52
21-Sep at San Diego State 53
28-Sep Colorado 115
12-Oct at Washington State 97
19-Oct at California 68
26-Oct Stanford 5
1-Nov USC 17
16-Nov at Arizona State 34
23-Nov Washington 45
29-Nov at Oregon 2
Five-Year F/+ Rk 35
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 38
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +8 / -1.5
TO Luck/Game +3.7
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin** -3.9

10. Start fast

Oregon State was both lucky and good last year, riding almost four points of turnovers luck per game into a few close wins but still ranking high on a play-for-play basis as well. The question for the Beavers moving forward is simply this: Was last year a course correction, or does that come in 2013?

Typically, sudden surges like OSU's 2012 jump are followed by some level of regression toward the mean, and the turnovers luck could certainly factor into that. But Oregon State performed a lot closer to its recent historical levels in 2012 than it had in 2011. Which one was the outlier?

We won't necessarily know the answer to that for a while longer, but we do know this: the Beavers have a chance to start very, very fast. They better, at least; in terms of Football Outsiders projections, they face their seven worst opponents in their first seven games. Trips to Utah, San Diego State, Washington State, and California are anything but cakewalks, but if OSU is going to approach last year's win totals, the games are almost must-wins.

I like this team quite a bit. Either quarterback will suffice, the run game should improve a bit, Brandin Cooks is awesome, Scott Crichton is awesome, and the back seven of the defense is deep and experienced enough to absorb a bit of turnover with minimal drop-off. The question marks -- defensive tackle, No. 2 receiver, etc. -- will prevent the Beavers from seriously threatening for the North crown, but they should still find a way to get to another bowl and play at a high enough level to put 2011 pretty far in the rear view. But if Cooks gets hurt, or if the new defensive tackles don't take, then the drop-off could be rather stark in a conference full of strong, improving programs.

More from SB Nation:

Projecting every 2013 college football conference race

The NFL considers a stupid NCAA idea (but we repeat ourselves)

Tons of top recruit interviews from SB Nation at The Opening

Bill Connelly’s Pac-12 team preview series is underway

National recruiting coverage

Today’s college football news headlines

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