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Oregon State had nowhere to go but up following Gary Andersen’s disappointing debut season in Corvallis when the Beavers went 2-10 and failed to win a single Pac-12 conference game.
A year ago, OSU was more competitive, finishing 4-8 overall (3-6 in Pac-12) and closing the campaign on an upbeat note with victories over Arizona and Civil War rival Oregon.
Two months later, the Beavers signed 25 prospects, 17 of whom were rated three or four stars by Rivals.com, and finished an encouraging ninth among Pac-12 schools in Rivals’ recruiting rankings.
USA Today Sports
The current two-game winning streak and a promising signing class has Beaver Believers optimistic that Oregon State could take the next logical step in 2017 – bowl eligibility.
In fact, some national publications are predicting OSU will participate in the post-season for the first time since 2013, former Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion’s junior campaign when Oregon State beat Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Since that victory, Oregon State is 11-25. Nonetheless, Andersen views Oregon State’s ability to compete with everybody else in the Pac-12 as an important step in returning the Beavers to respectability.
“In Year 1, we had literally no chance to compete with some of those teams with where we were with youth and physicality,” Andersen said. “We got better. It showed last season with the games we won and many of the games where we were close and went down to the wire with teams that manhandled us the year before. We have closed the gap on some very good teams in this conference.”
In order for the Beavers to attain bowl eligibility, they must maneuver through a challenging 2017 schedule that opens Aug. 26 at Colorado State, and includes a Week 7 visit by Colorado on Oct. 14 to Reser Stadium in Corvallis.
It will be Colorado’s third consecutive clash against a team that won four or fewer games in 2016.
Oregon State could start the season 3-0, but then comes as difficult of a midseason five-game stretch as you’ll find anywhere in the country. Before hosting the Buffaloes, OSU sandwiches road trips to Washington State and USC with a home contest against defending Pac-12 champion Washington.
Five days after Colorado invades Corvallis, the Beavers host Stanford in a Thursday night nationally televised matchup.
Oregon State demonstrated they could run the football in 2016, averaging close to 200 years per game and finishing in the middle tier of the Pac-12.
However, the Beavers passing attack was anemic, averaging less than 175 yards through the air as OSU quarterbacks (Marcus McMaryion and Darell Garretson each started six games) combined to complete just 54.7 percent of their passes for 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
“We have to throw the ball better and score more points. Period,” Andersen said. “In this league, you have to score points. We have to be able to throw the ball more effectively, which in turn will allow us to score more points. We’ve worked our scheme towards that and recruited to that.”
Searching for more efficiency on offense, Oregon State has turned to 6-foot-7, 230-pound JUCO signal caller Jake Luton, who set single season records at Ventura College in 2016 by amassing 3,551 passing yards and 40 touchdown passes and was named the conference offensive player of the year.
Luton, though, was sidelined for part of the spring with an injury, opening the door for McMaryion and Garretson to impress the OSU coaches.
“We have three guys and we have to find somebody who can make the game-changing plays,” Andersen said. “We have three guys who can manage the game. Marcus and Darell have shown they can win games in this conference in the right setting. We have to find the guy that can make the special plays, throw the ball and allow us to score more points. It’s a work in progress.”
In spite of the attention the quarterback battle has attracted, the Oregon State offense revolves around running back Ryan Nall, who rushed for 951 yards, scored 13 touchdowns and averaged 6.5 yards per carry in 10 games a season ago.
The Beavers offense should receive a boost from the return of 6-foot-4, 245-pound starting tight end Noah Togiai, who suffered a serious right knee injury on the opening kickoff of the second game last season. He was granted a medical hardship by the NCAA, making him redshirt sophomore in 2017.
Togiai’s absence force Oregon State to scale back the playbook. He is now back to full health and the Beavers hope his presence expands their options on offense by virtue of his elite athleticism.
Togiai played quarterback in high school, was offered a basketball scholarship by Utah and appeared in two games for the Oregon State men’s basketball team in 2015-16.
“There's not a more talented, athletic tight end in this conference than Noah," OSU tight ends coach Dave Baldwin said. “Noah's got all the ability to make plays. We just have to get him to be comfortable at the line of scrimmage and with his run blocking. When he does that, his downfield play is outstanding. If he can match his athleticism with blocking, he's gonna be a really special tight end."
Defensively, the Beavers return most of the defensive line while Manase Hungalu headlines a potentially solid linebacker corps that must settle on two new starters. In the secondary, CB Xavier Crawford and S Brandon Arnold return, but CB Treston Decoud and S Devin Chappell have departed.
Oregon State must improve stopping the run as they allowed 218 rushing yards per game last season. Only Oregon and California were worse. The Beavers must also pressure opposing quarterback better and create more turnovers.
OREGON STATE 2017 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE:
Aug. 26 at Colorado State, 12:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Sept. 2 PORTLAND STATE, noon (Pac-12 Network)
Sept. 9 MINNESOTA, 8 p.m. (FS1)
Sept. 16 at Washington State, 3:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Sept. 23 Bye
Sept. 30 WASHINGTON
Oct. 7 at USC
Oct. 14 COLORADO
Oct. 21 Bye
Oct. 26 STANFORD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)(Thur.)
Nov. 4 at California
Nov. 11 at Arizona
Nov. 18 ARIZONA STATE
Nov. 25 at Oregon
(All Times Mountain)
What are Colorado's remaining needs in the 2018 class? https://t.co/bZId98k9gB
— CUSportsNation (@CUSportsNation) July 5, 2017