Eastern Washington at Oregon State
KICKOFF: Saturday, 6:07 p.m. ET
SITE: Reser Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.
TV: Pac-12 Network
SERIES: Oregon State leads 2-0. The most recent meeting was 56-17 in 2006.
RANKINGS: Oregon State (25th), Eastern Washington (4th in FCS preseason poll)
Eastern Washington is far from a cupcake, and Pac-12 near-victims Washington and Washington State can provide a testimonial about the Big Sky foe's veracity.
The Eagles have had their share of close calls against Pac-12 competition, but they're 0-9 overall.
Oregon State won't be tempted to look past a Football Championship Subdivision opponent on coach Mike Riley's watch. It was just two years ago when Sacramento State took the Beavers to overtime before OSU escaped with a 29-28 overtime victory.
Sean Mannion earned the starting job or Oregon State after a long quarterback competition. Senior Cody Vaz remains on the roster and Riley said the Beavers are fortunate to have depth.
To the benefit of the entire offense, Oregon State has two running backs capable of carrying the load in Terron Ward and Storm Woods, who led the Beavers with 940 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Eastern Washington will be making a step up in competition to play the Beavers, but how big of one, really? Eastern has become one of the top FCS programs, reaching the national semifinals last season, and has thrown a scare into Pac-12 teams Washington and Washington State in recent seasons.
EWU dominated Idaho in an early win last season.
The Beavers don't get much of a testing ground for quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz in their battle to be the starter.
OSU coach Mike Riley tried to lessen the importance placed on which starts by saying he'll play both of them. And he assured reporters that both have been given ample preparation for the game, and the season.
"We wouldn't want to get any quarterback (starter or backup) any more turns than they're getting already," Riley said of workouts. "Right now they're alternating with the (first unit), they're getting all the prep they need."
With four starters returning in the offensive line along with last season's top two rushers in Storm Woods and Terron Ward, the Beavers will attempt to show that running the football will be even more of a factor than last season. Woods has been slowed by some minor leg injuries in fall camp, but OSU feels there's no drop-off with Ward taking over, though Woods is probably the better receiver.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--MLB Joel Skotte was a standout on special teams in 2012 when he was one of five true freshmen to play for the Beavers. Now he needs to make a major impact on the defense, taking over the middle linebacker position. The Beavers like to funnel ball carriers to the middle linebacker, and Skotte needs to deliver at a position where there is little depth.
--WR Brandin Cooks becomes the featured deep target for the Beavers, inheriting the role from Markus Wheaton, now playing in the NFL. Cooks had 67 receptions for 1,151 yards in 2012, the seventh-highest total ever at OSU, but took advantage of teams focusing their coverage on Wheaton. He needs to make the transition to being the primary deep threat for the Beavers.
--DE Scott Crichton was named to the all-conference team by Pac-12 coaches last season as a sophomore after recording nine quarterback sacks among his 17.5 tackles for lost yardage. He missed spring drills after undergoing shoulder surgery, but all indications are he's back to full go, and how better to show it than with an impressive opener against an opponent in Eastern Washington that likes to pass often.
--LB Ronnie Hamlin is a preseason All-American who has 221 career tackles entering the season.
--CB T.J. Lee III has 149 career tackles and joins Hamlin on the preseason All-American team.
--OT Jake Rodgers started 12 games at Washington State last season and is one of eight former Pac-12 products in the program. Junior safety Tevin McDonald (24 starts at UCLA) is the other headliner.