Oregon State seemed an unlikely candidate to do much more than finish near the bottom of the Pac-10 when this season began.
Instead, the No. 24 Beavers (9-4) pulled off an upset of one of the top programs in the nation and moved into the Top 25 for the first time in three years, and they’ll finish an outstanding season against Missouri in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on Dec. 29.
The Sun Bowl will be the sixth bowl game Oregon State has played in over the last eight seasons, but that invitation wasn’t expected by many observers before the Beavers began play in 2006.
Oregon State went 5-6 last year and was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 in a preseason poll of media members. After opening 2-3, those predictions seemed accurate.
The Beavers, though, didn’t get discouraged by the slow start, and finished the regular season with wins in seven of their last eight games to place third in the conference.
The high point for Oregon State came Oct. 28 in a stunning 33-31 upset of then-No. 3 USC at Reser Stadium—just the Beavers’ second win over the Trojans in 32 meetings. That loss helped keep the USC out of the national title game.
Oregon State also defeated archrival Oregon 30-28 on Nov. 24, and one week later knocked off then-No. 24 Hawaii 35-32.
The Beavers moved into the Top 25 for the first time since Oct. 29, 2003 in the Dec. 3 poll. They’re on the verge of recording double digits in wins for the first time since going 11-1 in 2000.
“That’s fun stuff,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “We looked like we might be seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th or 11th (in the Pac-10) in the beginning.
“There’s a lot of excitement left for these young men.”
While the Beavers have played some of their best football down the stretch, Missouri (8-4) stumbled to the end of the regular season.
Missouri opened 6-0 for the first time in 33 years, but managed only two wins in its final six games.
The Tigers, though, still managed to place second in the Big 12 North and can finish with nine wins for the first time since going 9-2 in 1969, when they finished with a No. 6 ranking.
“The reason you come here is to have success and I think we’re running in the right direction,” linebacker Dedrick Harrington said.
Harrington is a senior captain who will have played in all three of the Tigers’ bowl games over the past four years. Prior to this stretch of bowl invites, Missouri had gone to just two bowl games between 1984-2002.
Gary Pinkel took over as the Tigers coach in 2001 and has been responsible for the turnaround. Missouri is making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1997-98, and Pinkel signed a five-year contract extension Nov. 17.
The Tigers won the Independence Bowl over South Carolina last season, 38-31, and are 10-13 in bowl games.
Missouri last played in the Sun Bowl in 1973, defeating Auburn 34-17 in the last year the Tigers started 6-0.
Quarterback Chase Daniel leads a high-powered Tigers offense that averages 414.3 yards, 12th-best in the nation.
Daniel threw for a career-high 356 yards and tossed four touchdowns for the third time this season in Missouri’s 42-17 victory over Kansas in its regular season finale Nov. 25.
He finished with the 10th-most passing yards in the nation (3,197) and had 26 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, although he struggled in the Tigers’ losses.
Daniel had just four TDs to five interceptions in Missouri’s defeats, and Oregon State has been one of the country’s best teams at creating turnovers.
The Beavers have 17 interceptions this year, and defeated USC in large part because they were able to force the Trojans to turn the ball over a season-high four times.
Oregon State is tied with Western Michigan for the fourth-most turnovers created with 31, and have forced at least two turnovers in each of their last seven games.
“I know they’re playing good defense, their turnover margin I know is very good,” Pinkel said. “I think it’s a really great opportunity to play a good football team like this.”
Offensively, Oregon State has been led by senior quarterback Matt Moore and junior running back Yvenson Bernard.
Moore threw for 245 yards and a season-high three touchdowns in the season finale against Hawaii, and has been very effective starting with the USC game. He has thrown for 1,395 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions, and also has three rushing touchdowns in the last six contests.
Bernard had his sixth 100-yard game of the season while also scoring his 12th touchdown of the year against the Warriors. He is 111 yards shy of reaching last season’s rushing total of 1,321 yards—the fifth-highest in Oregon State history.
Oregon State, 7-4 in bowl games, is making its first Sun Bowl appearance.
The Beavers won their only meeting with the Tigers 19-16 on Sept. 22, 1956.