It's always going to be hard to compete in the Pac-12 North, as long as Oregon is Oregon and Stanford is Stanford. But Oregon State figured out how to take third place last year, and returns a host of important starters -- can Mike Riley's squad manage to contend for the division crown?
Well, probably not. But another season of nine -- or more -- wins isn't impossible.
2013 Oregon State schedule
Projections from Football Outsiders' 2013 college football almanac.
The Beavers lose an elite player on both sides of the ball: sprinter/wide receiver Markus Wheaton, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and consensus All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer, now with the Philadelphia Eagles. But they return 17 starters, including punter and kicker, the third-most in the conference. Both of the Beavers' quarterbacks, Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, were successful when they weren't injured, combining for 3,926 yards passing. Storm Woods probably would have eclipsed 1,000 yards had he played in every game instead of just 12. And the defense brings back seven starters from a unit that allowed just 20.6 points per game, 22nd in the country. That's great for Riley, who isn't a fan of switching things up.
After starting the season 6-0 last year, Oregon State once again has a chance to get off to a strong start: the Beavers have their three non-conference games mixed in with matchups against some of the easiest opponents the conference has to offer: Utah, Colorado, Cal and Washington State all finished below .500 last year. Of course, then the heat gets turned up, as the Beavers have to face the strongest programs in the Pac-12 down the stretch.
The Beavers play two Friday feature games, starting with a home matchup against USC on November 1. Oregon State hasn't exactly been a good host of late: The two teams haven't even met since the Pac-10 became the Pac-12, and the Beavers have taken the last three games in Corvallis, a streak dating back to 2006.
The other is the Civil War, the 117th annual matchup between the Beavers and the Ducks. Oregon has taken five in a row to bring the all-time series record to 60-46-10 in favor of Oregon, and although they have a new head coach, few expect De'Anthony Thomas and the Ducks to struggle in 2013.