If there's one team that qualifies as a Cinderella story in 2012, it's undoubtedly Oregon State. After finishing an abysmal 3-9 in 2011 and coming into the season with head coach Mike Riley on a decidedly toasty seat, the Beavers have responded by achieving their first 6-0 start since 1907, including convincing wins against ranked opponents in Wisconsin and UCLA. With Oregon State currently ranked seventh in the BCS standings, the Huskies will need to put together a momentous effort to register a win that many Washington fans tallied as an automatic win in the preseason.
Quarterback: Sean Mannion, after appearing to be a mediocre afterthought in 2011, has absolutely blown up in 2012 to become one of the best signal callers in the conference, if not the nation. Though he doesn't yet have enough attempts to be featured in the national rankings due to a knee injury that kept him out of OSU's previous two contests, his passing yards per game average (339.5) would be fourth in the nation were he included in those rankings. Two aspects of the redshirt sophomore's game that the Huskies will likely look to take advantage of are his tendency to turn the ball over (four interceptions in 169 attempts --- not catastrophic, but hardly elite) and the absence of his threat as a runner. Mannion also might be a bit rusty coming into Saturday's game, having missed OSU's last two games after undergoing minor knee surgery. However, if backup QB Cody Vaz is called upon to play, Beaver fans hardly have reason to panic: The junior filled in admirably for Mannion in his first two career starts, leading the team to convincing wins over a talented BYU squad in Provo and against Utah in Corvallis.
Running Back: Redshirt freshman Storm Woods has emerged as the go-to workhorse for the Beavers, averaging a respectable 75 yards on 17.0 touches per game. Furthermore, he's coming off one of his best games of the season against a stout Utah defense in which Woods picked up only 46 yards but found the end zone three times. Backing up Woods is Malcolm Agnew, who seems to have overcome the hamstring issues that kept him sidelined much of last season as a true freshman.
Offensive Line: Though many of OSU's units deserve credit for the team's impressive turnaround from its 2011 doldrums, it's difficult to pinpoint any group more deserving of that praise than the offensive line, which has become one of the conference's best units this year. Compared to 2011, OSU has gone from 73rd to 48 in total offense, 69th to 37th in sacks allowed, and 35th to 18th in tackles for loss allowed. Part of that is the inevitable maturation of a young squad (the Beavers welcome back four starters from 2011, with true freshman Isaac Seumalo as the sole newcomer), but another aspect that can't be ignored is the fact that this squad is composed of players who have bought into what Mike Riley is selling, and is playing better than any of college football's so-called experts reasonably expected of them in August.
Tight End: OSU has struggled to find a replacement at this position for Joe Halahuni, and so far, Colby Prince hasn't given opposing defensive coordinators much to worry about, tallying just 11 catches for 89 yards and a score in six games.
Wide Receivers: Coming into the season, USC was widely regarded as having the most dangerous receiving duo in the Pac-12, and while the numbers may yet bear that prediction out, that crown for the moment belongs to Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton. Cooks ranks ninth in the nation by receiving yards per game (111.2), while Wheaton occupies the 10 spot directly behind him (109.0). To put that in perspective, only one other team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, West Virginia, can claim to have two receivers in the nation's top-10. Wheaton alone accounts for six of the Beavers' 10 touchdown receptions, and keeping him from lighting up the scoreboard will be paramount to the Huskies' efforts to keep this game from getting out of hand early.
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics and ESPN for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.
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