By: chalifour.eric | 5/11/12, 12:21 PM EDT
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You can read the entire Oregon State preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 Pac-12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#61 Oregon State
Pac-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mike Riley, 72-63 (11 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Danny Langsdorf | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Banker
If all goes according to plan, Oregon State’s one-dimensional offense of last year will be just a memory. The Beavers return starting quarterback Sean Mannion, who is close to becoming a bona fide star in the Pac-12 after throwing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdown, and they’ve got a duo of pass-catchers who can take it to the house in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks.
An offense that produced just 21.8 points and 373.7 yards per game in a dreary 3–9 2011 season will go as far as OSU’s re-tooled offensive line and running game can take it. The Beavers rushed for less than 50 net yards in six games last year (all losses), leaving Mannion to carry the load with his arm.
If returning leading rusher Malcolm Agnew doesn’t emerge as the featured back (he’s had hamstring problems), then coach Mike Riley has promised to give touted incoming freshman Chris Brown a long look in the fall. Riley says the blocking will be better — there could be some new faces on the O-line, including true freshman Isaac Seumalo — and the coach is adamant that Oregon State won’t once again rank among the worst rushing teams in the country. “Last year,” says Riley with a shudder, “that wasn’t us.”
The good news? Eight starters return. The bad news? Those starters were part of a unit that couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t get teams off the field on third down. Defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn are impressive, but the potentially glaring weaknesses at defensive tackle (the position was plagued by injuries) remain. Riley hopes a year of experience will translate into big seasons for interior players such as Andrew Seumalo, Mana Rosa, Joe Lopez and Mana Tuivailala. Run-stuffing tackle Castro Masaniai was recovering from a broken leg during spring ball and needs to get in better shape before the fall.
Oregon State should be solid at linebacker with emerging outside backer D.J. Welch joining a group that includes Feti Unga and Michael Doctor. The secondary could be strong, led by decorated left corner Jordan Poyer. There are good athletes at safety and solid depth at corner.
At a school known for its linebackers and tough run defense, what happened last year was either an aberration or a sign of major deterioration. Riley hopes it was just a hiccup.
OSU is usually rock-solid on special teams with former NFL special teams coach (Giants and Cowboys) Bruce Read roaming the sidelines, and the Beavers figure to be solid again despite losing often-spectacular punter Johnny Hekker. Hekker’s spot is being taken over by Aussie Tim McMullen, while Trevor Romaine (15-of-22 FGs, 27-of-28 PATs) returns for his sophomore season at placekicker.
Riley’s 12th season in Corvallis isn’t make or break, but his seat definitely gets warm if Oregon State follows disappointing 5–7 and 3–9 campaigns with another clunker. If the Beavers finish above .500 and get back to a bowl game, much will be forgiven.
Riley says that if the young players thrown to the wolves last season have grown up and become bigger and stronger (he raved about OSU’s offseason work ethic), “then we’re going to have a good team.” How good? It depends on the offense being balanced, the offensive line blocking somebody, and the defense stopping the run. That’s a lot of what-ifs, but given the athletes on the roster and Riley’s body of work in Corvallis, no one will be surprised if the Beavers surprise.