I've been a Husky fan since the day I was born in 1958; never have I thought I would see the day when I envied the Oregon State Beavers football program. What Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson, and Mike Riley again have put together in Corvallis over the last decade is amazing. The Beavers are a consistent upper division Pac 10 program that reloads every year and have become a regular fixture in holiday bowl schedules. They even occasionally knock off USC, something nearly no other school can claim.
Oregon State had an interesting season in 2008. The Beavers began with losing to Stanford and Penn State, as it looked like OSU would be one of the worst teams in the conference. However, they ended up knocking off USC, Arizona State and California, among others, en route to an extremely successful 9-4 campaign.
Mike Riley teams get better as the season goes on, a testament to his coaching ability. Riley is also among the final remnants of the Bear Bryant coaching tree, having played under Bryant at Alabama, though born and raised in Corvallis.
The biggest reason for the Beavers' success in 2008 was the play of the Rodgers brothers. Jacquizz led the team with 1,253 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns as a true frosh. James, however, is the more dynamic threat; second on the team in rushing with 408 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, the top returning receiver with 51 receptions for 607 yards and four touchdowns, as well as a kick returner who is always a threat to take it all the way.
Quarterback Lyle Moevao is a blue collar QB who simply gets things done. Lyle tossed for 2,534 yards and 19 touchdowns, he even added a couple more trips to the end zone on the ground. Moevao, however, is prone to make poor decisions under pressure.
At receiver, James Rodgers will be joined by junior Darrell Catchings, who’s coming off his best spring with the program, as well as Junior Casey Kjos. Senior Howard Croom, known more for his blocking than pass catching, returns at tight end.
The offensive line is anchored by junior center Alex Linnenkohl, a 13-game starter in his first season of extensive action. Gregg Peat, who started every game at guard in 2008, lines up beside Linnenkohl, as does junior Ryan Pohl. Sophomore Mike Remmers, a starter during the first half of last season will man a tackle spot, but the biggest question mark will be at left tackle, where RS Colin Kelly took a slight edge out of spring meaning Moevao will have a rookie protecting his blind side.
The Beavers face a major rebuilding job on defense in 2009, as eight starters have graduated. Linebackers Keaton Kristick and Keith Pankey both started all 13 games last year, with Kristick poised to emerge as the team’s leader on defense. Dwight Robertson will step in to fill the remaining hole at LB, and sophomore David Pa'aluhi playing a key role as a reserve linbacker this fall.
The Beavers led the conference in sacks in 2008 but that won't continue in 2009. Sophomore defensive tackle Stephen Paea is the lone returnee on the defensive line. Ben Terry, a former junior college transfer, and sophomore Kevin Frahm have the jobs at defensive end locked up after spring practice. Paea is a star in the making and will man the other defensive tackle slot next to Perry. Keep an eye on junior Mitchell Hunt to be a key reserve this season, while defensive end Gabe Miller has shifted from tight end and will play a key role on the D-Line.
The Beavers don't return any starters in the secondary. Free saftey/cornerback senior Patrick Henderson and senior corner Tim Clark are slated to move into starting roles this season, with junior corner James Dockery most likely starting opposite Clark. The starters will be backed up by sophomore corner Brandon Hardin, who physically looks more like a safety, plus sophomore safeties Lance Michell and Cameron Collins.
Though the secondary doesn't measure up to the 2008 squad, it has the ingredients to be every bit as athletic and fast to the ball. The Beavers have recruited this area very well in recent years, attracting big athletes who can flat out fly. Look for them to struggle a bit early and improve rapidly as the season progresses.
The experts have a lot of respect for Riley and his coaching staff. Every time they predict a downswing, the Beavers confound them by competing in the upper division and knocking off the heavyweights like USC. Despite the losses in talent from 2008, the Beavers look to finish in the upper division again and contend with Oregon, and Cal for the runner up spot behind USC. I am not going to bet against OSU again, as I believe they are one of the top four teams in the conference going into the 2009 season.
When are we going to start beating Oregon State again? We get them late in the season and on the road, which can be a bad thing because Riley teams get better every game. I have to go with Oregon State at this point because of the Rodgers brothers and the overall system that the Beavers have developed under Riley. It is going to be close and UW with Locker is capable of beating this team, however the smart money in July is on the Beavers.